Day 45. “You have changed our lives” & Goodbye.

This is it. The time has come.

It almost feels surreal to think that under 2 months ago, we’d never even set foot in Africa, let alone could have imagined how much we’d feel so at home there. It also feels surreal to imagine how much we have come to care about people who were strangers to us those same 2 months ago. Quite how we’ve got here, and how we have travelled on this journey is an absolute privilege; and I know I speak for both of us in that. To feel the warmth and friendship from a group of children who had been given so little, but have so much to give was a tearful, emotional rollercoaster of an experience and one I wouldn’t swap for the world. Making the friends we have along the way is also an absolute privilege.

So, how was our final day in Zimbabwe? Hectic.

We imagined that we might have a few moments in the mid afternoon where we’d be able to chill for a moment, but that proved impossible. We thought we’d be able to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our 40hour journey via 6 flights and 4 different countries, but that, too, proved allusive. But what we did manage to do was to pack our final day with so many memorable moments that I don’t think this blog will ever be able to do it all justice. I know what you are probably thinking: “Yeah yeah, it can’t have been like that really” but it was and its hard to put it all into words even though I’m going to try.

Our final day began relatively late at 9am, and we headed straight into town to pick up a few last minute items for the orphanage and to drop the books off with Great Hood Academy. We’d had them since last week but we fell victim of Zimbabwe’s schools having half days on Fridays and we missed our chance that day so had to wait until after the weekend.

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Headmaster and teachers from Grade 1 & 4 inspecting their new books.

“You don’t know how much you have affected the children’s lives, this is amazing”.

Handing over a massive box of books to the headmaster, Mr. Gift Bere, felt like being Santa Claus for the day. He and the teachers knew that this day was coming, just like children do in the days leading up to Christmas, but nothing quite prepares you for how well received a present can be, even if you know for a fact that they want what you have got them.

Wide beaming smiles, hand shakes and even hugs accompanied the introduction of each and every book from its packaging. I never knew that anyone could be so happy to see books like this, but those that have been reading our reports since day one will know just how desperate they have been for them. We could, and definitely should, have gotten the books much earlier in our journey but the sheer scale of the work facing us at the orphanage took over our thoughts since the day we walked in the front door. I wish we’d not left it until the last day, but its just how it happened unfortunately and we feel a little guilty for that.
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Every time a new teacher came in to check out the new books, they all had the same emotional look of joy on their faces. This truly is a school where the teachers care and want only the best for the children enrolled with them, and seeing their reactions was confirmation that we’d done a great thing. We’ve only been able to do this with YOUR help though. This donation of books was exactly what we thought we were coming here to do in the first place so it felt amazing to finally help affect children’s lives in such an easy and obvious way, but a way that equates to many months worth of a teachers salary in books. This is what your donations have done and if you have donated, you should feel proud. If you haven’t yet, then its never too late as we are committed to returning as soon as we can, and we are also committed to buying some new sports equipment for them (remotely after leaving) in the coming weeks too. So your donations WILL still have an effect.

After saying our tearful goodbyes to the teachers and hearing so many kind words from them about what we have done, it was time to say goodbye to the children too. This is where the first of the truly eye-opening moments of our final day happened and one I’ll try my best to convey here.

“Do you want to say goodbye to the children?” Mr Bere asked.

“Of course” replied Nicole.

Secretly though, I was looking at the clock and wondering if we had time. I was also worried and wondering if they would actually really care that much to want to say goodbye or if we’d done the important farewell’s with the teachers and the children might have just been oblivious to us leaving. I am so so happy to say that I was massively wrong. I was wasn’t expecting what happened, and not just with one class or a certain few children, but with them ALL.

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The children waving goodbye for the last time.

When you receive a hug, its really a quite intimate thing, isn’t it? Well, if its done right it is meant to be anyway. Of course, you can also do the emotionless, looking away as you do it and making it as quick as possible type of hug too, but we’re not talking about those kinds of hugs. These children are too young to know that kind. So when they hug you, it really means something. But when the ALL hug you, all at the same time the feeling is absolutely amazing and one that I knew I’d have difficulty in describing when it came to it here today. They know why we were at their school. They also know that we are doing it by way of no charity, nor church group, just two people wanting to help make the world a better place in whatever small way we can. Reacting to that when you are child doesn’t need words when 100’s of hugs are more than capable of doing all the talking you need.

“Can I give you a hug?” said the first child.

I thought it was just a particularly keen, maybe slightly odd student who liked to give hugs. Honestly, I was like “ok, sure” and didn’t think much of it, but then everyone got up. Many then piled into a group hug, others waited until it was over and then came for an individual hug, some even came back for 2nd and 3rd attempts. I really wasn’t ready for how that’d make me feel. I felt so proud that our small efforts and a bit of our time created such a feeling of warmth and affection in them. It just goes to show that all children want in their lives is your time and best efforts and they reward you with unconditional love. I’ve never before felt how I felt at that moment, and it was a feeling that was repeated as we went from class room to class room.

It was like there was a memo out and that they had all read it that morning or something, but of course this must be more of a local custom than anything else. Saying goodbye and thank you with honest affection .

They all wanted to hug us and to wish us well on our journey home and to tell us that they couldn’t wait for us to return. Nicole spent a whole extra day at the school with the kids whilst I was in Harare shopping for building materials, so I was expecting to see her get even more attention than I was getting, and I wasn’t wrong. My own group hug had only just petered out when I was able to get to my camera and take a photo of her here:933d8a22-4bd0-499f-b1ae-29ca1df82686

Pictures, as the say, speak a thousand words and you can see in their faces (and Nicole’s) how much happiness and emotion was in the room at that very moment.

With that, we left Great Hood Academy for the final time and to collect a few things in town ready for our proposed meal with the orphans at Tariro Orphanage that evening. We’ll be back, of course, and we’ll stay in touch with all the teachers in the coming months too. We can’t wait to hear how they are all getting on with the new text books and will keep on blogging as and when we get more information. I’d love to see exam results up on last year after our small input.

Making our way to the local take away to collect 60 pieces of chicken, 2 portions of fries and 12 litre of soft drink we were a mix of anticipation and trepidation. We so wanted our last day with the children to be special, but also didn’t want it to be a sad day for them with us leaving. We didn’t want them to feel abandoned by us, or that we were just another group of people that were leaving them. That’s been the biggest fear for us this whole time. How do we get involved, without them becoming dependent on us? I don’t mean dependent like they don’t have milk unless we deliver it to them, but dependent emotionally. We were acutely aware that every single one of these children had felt extreme loss of one kind or another and we desperately didn’t want to add to that.

Despite our best efforts though, we couldn’t help but fall in love with them all and have spent more time with them than with anyone else. These last 2 weeks or so, though, we’ve consciously decided to ration out our time with them to cut down any potential of it feeling that we suddenly just don’t show up anymore.

Anyways, we decided we’d try to recreate  market & restaurant our day out with them a little bit and brought them fried chicken. It went down such a storm last time that we were sure that it would be a sure fire hit again. It wasn’t.

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Everyone stuggling to eat the food we’ve brought…

We’d asked for the house mother to not cook for them that night as we had a surprise, but dirty pots in the kitchen and full bellies told a different story. She was adament that they hadn’t eaten yet, but the faces of children don’t lie… and they seemed to be saying: “we’re stuffed from dinner and can’t possibly eat another thing but we’ll try”… What a disaster! Still, we saw the funny side after the first initial few minutes. Same thing happened with the tray of cakes we’d brought them… A look of delight, followed by one of: “Where am I going to fit all that into by belly now!?”

So, dinner wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be and to top it off, the 3 youngest ones all had a chesty cough. Thomas in particular seemed to be on the receiving end of some serious flu like symptoms. We brought medicine for them all, but it still meant that he wasn’t in the mood to play. He simply sat on my lap in silence as I stroked his head and hugged him. He stayed like that for most of the evening. I tried to make him laugh, but he remained virtually expressionless. Its such a shame that this had to be our last day together after all the fun we’ve had these last few weeks. He loved to sit on my shoulders, or play tickle chase round the house and garden for hours, but today he just sat there looking sorry for himself as he coughed and coughed. Poor little fella.

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Thomas, seriously under the weather.

In the end, he fell asleep on me and we had to put him to bed early.

I wasn’t able to actually say goodbye to him properly. I waved and he waved as he was carried to the bedroom, but it didn’t feel like a real goodbye. I wanted a hug or something, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe it’s better this way. It doesn’t feel like it was right at that moment, but maybe its better for him to not fully understand that I’m going away and won’t be back for a long time. I’ve become so used to him coming running to me to be picked up into my arms every day as we arrive, that I hope that he doesn’t miss me too much when I’m gone. I hope that he’s not quite old enough to fully understand what is happening and that one day will blur into the next until I’m back again.

I will miss him though. I’ll miss his laugh and his smile and I wish I could take him with us. I never knew I could feel this way about anyone. I suppose it’s the feeling I’ll have when Nicole and I have our own children. Its an addictive feeling, though, that’s for sure, and one I feel privileged to have felt for all the children of Tariro, but particularly Thomas. Writing these feelings down here right now as I’m sat on the plane back to Madrid, its making me well up. I didn’t think that this would happen to me, even though Nicole worried that she’d feel like this after we left.

With Macdaniel & Thomas all in bed early to try and sleep off their sickness, we presented the house with our final gift. We hoped it would go down better than the food, but we couldn’t imagine exactly how well! It was like all their Christmas’ had come at once.

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An early look at the photo frame as we decided which ones to include.

We reminded them, through Mrs. Magama who’d come to help us translate, that we’d been taking photos ever since first stepped foot in the orphanage. Quite what they thought about us doing this is another matter, but it wasn’t lost on them that we’d been taking photos for nearly 6 weeks now. They don’t really have a clue about the blog, so they didn’t really know what the photos we for. So they were absolutely delighted when we presented to them a picture frame with around 20 different photos of them all that we’d selected. Producing that picture frame was like setting off a bomb in the house. They crowded round the frame and couldn’t get enough of it as they laughed and pointed at themselves. I took a few photos of them as they looked, and as it was quite dark in the room at the time, I put the flash on and as it went off, they all looked in my direction and laughed at me taking yet more photos! I’d have to say that this was the best group reaction of any we’ve had since we arrived.

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Crowding round the photo frame to see.

They told us that they now have a home that they can be proud of, sleep in beds that they can get a good nights sleep in and feel part of a family again, not just a collection of children nobody wants. All of this deserved to be commemorated and through the photos we could see that they were all now happy, perhaps for the first times in their lives and its all down to the donations we’ve received and put into action. In that moment, they could see all the happy moments they’d had and that we’d captured, and live them again. It will also give us the chance to not be forgotten. We are in some of the photos too, so hopefully this will help the younger children to remember something of us so that we are not strangers when we come back.
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We also brought them some new shelves for each and every one of the children. A space to call their own and stack their own clothes, books, toys etc… They are moveable and will follow them to their next home (more to be revealed about that at a later date). The girls also particularly liked it that I was able to bring them a mirror for their bedroom for the first time too. They’d never had a mirror before and now they have one in their room so they can look their best each and every day.

Finally, it came time to say goodbye to the children. We wanted to leave on a high, so chose only a few minutes after the picture frame was revealed to make our exit. They decided to sing us not one, but two songs. One in broken English, and one in Shona. I had a smile from ear to ear, firstly entertained by them, then touched by the whole situation. That smile soon became very difficult to maintain as I realised that this would be the last time we’d see them for a while and realising the love that was behind those songs for us. I looked at Nicole and she looked at me and we exchanged a moment that didn’t require words to explain how we felt. They have said that we’ve come in and changed their lives, that we have given them a life, but in actual fact it’s a two way street. They have changed us and how we see the world. They have changed us and how we see ourselves. They have made us want to become better people and whether they realise it or not, we have only them to thank for it.

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The children stand to sing to us.

Zimbabwe has changed us forever and we’ll never be the same again. We can’t wait to come back and see everyone again. Our friends, the children, the teachers, everyone. All have played an amazing part in our journey and going back to work next week isn’t at all what I’m looking forward to be doing, but that’s life. The summer is on its way and the work that allows us to have half the year off so we can do these kinds of things is about to start again for another season. Zimbabwe will be on our minds, though, and we’ll be back.

Finally, thanks to you for reading, thank you for following, thank you for donating and thank you for your support these 2 months through thick and thin. This isn’t the last post, but it’s the last one written while still away. So watch this space. Until then, please if you would like to donate, here is where you click to do it. ALL money given goes to these children, NOTHING goes to middlemen or management. If you’d like to help, its only click away.

Nicole says:

“While Nathan was getting the last bits for our orphanage wish list to be completed I sat with Hildar, the house mother, and chatted for a while. She said the kids pray for us every day and they will really miss us. I tried to explain how much each and every one of them has changed the way we look at things and how we are, so I think in all fareness we got a lot out of these 7 weeks too.

For me, it was looking outside my bubble. The amount these kids had gone through and the fact they still have love to give is amazing. I also explained that they were our first priority and we will continue to stay in touch. I told her that Monday was to be our last day and the sadness on her face made me see how much we are going to be missed.
I felt like MacDaniel could sense something was happening and he wouldn’t leave my side. Every time I got up he would follow me. He finally fell asleep on me he was taken to bed. Thomas wasn’t himself either. He was ill, coughing a lot and also fell asleep on Nathan. It was a sad way to have to say our final goodbyes.

Mrs Magama came with us and she hugged me to say goodbye and I could feel her getting emotional. With that, tears came streaming down my face as well. I didn’t want to cry in front of the children; I didn’t think it was fair, but then they each have me a hug and I kissed each and every one of them and told them I wouldn’t forget them. One of the older girls hung on to me and was crying into my shoulder. I said to her be good and I promised that we’d be back.

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MacDaniel feeling under the weather too.


I think when first arriving I thought we would get to know these kids and care for them but it’s so much more than that now for me. I love each one of them with their crazy fun happy selves. I went through all my pictures and videos I had taken of them all and we sat for hours going through them. They were all talking and laughing and joking around about them. Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but all the same it was nice to have a great day with them all and when we presented them with the picture frame they could see some of those same pics and they loved it. They sang us a song and it was overwhelming. They gave us a little gift from them all, but to be honest the gift was us getting to know them . It was time to say goodbye, or as I like to say “See you later”. Goodbye seems so official, and with that MacDaniel came out of his bed room and wanted me to pick him up one last time. That was the hardest thing I have had to do. It was almost like the very first day all over again.

What an amazing experience it has truly been and its something that will stay with us forever.

If you want to donate for the the children’ on going care, please click here to donate.”

Thanks!

 

Day 28 & 29. “It won’t take long.” Famous last words.

“So, what have you guys got planned for the rest of the week?”

“Well, we’re finally installing the bunk beds at the orphanage. Wanna come give us a hand putting them together, it won’t take long and you’ll get to meet the kids too.” I said.

What Kyle, Andrew & Duncan didn’t know, and me either to be fair, was that it would need 9 hours spread over 2 days, an angle grinder, welding kit, skill to use both of them and plenty of sweat to finally get them into place.

 

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We had them designed, we thought, to perfection, but in reality, the intricate nature of the corridor, and the narrowness of the bedroom doors meant that all the work that we had put in to have them made in the first place, was wasted. We had to take them all apart only to put them back together again in the bedrooms.

 

Lots of eventful things happened this weekend, but one of the best ones was meeting these guys. Helpful beyond all belief and exactly the right people that we needed to have with us when it came to all the eventual metal work. I’d have had no idea where to even begin. Faced with the real prospect of the bunkbeds having to be left out in the garden for the rest of their lives, Kyle & Co knew exactly what to do. People we’d only just met less than a week before were destined to help when us we needed it most.

I was hoping to give an update with all the photos to go along with it yesterday, but as the job was only half finished I figured it was best to wait until today and show the world what real joy looks like.

The children of Tariro Orphanage have never had their own beds before and we were worried that getting something that they have never had before might be a bit of an anticlimax. After all, how can you look forward to something that you have no experience of? We weren’t to be disappointed though.

As we knocked on the gate post to announce our arrival, they kids, as always, came running to greet us. Only this time it wasn’t just me and Nicole turning up in John’s pick-up and being left with some paints or other bits and pieces. This time we had a 10 tonne lorry overflowing with 15 separate steel bed frames and 15 waterproof mattresses arriving with us, 2 cars and 3 helpers too. I remember walking around town a few weeks ago with 2year old Thomas in my arms and the look of delight as he saw cars going past was a real treat. Now his eyes were wide with wonderment at what this huge orange truck was doing outside his house and what all these black frames were too. He also look confused as he looked at my face and my blood filled eye. He wanted to touch my face, but couldn’t quite bring himself to. As soon as I started tickling him and playing chase though, it was all back to normal and my fears of scaring the kids with our injuries was, in the end, un-founded.

Each frame had its very own code to make sure that it was paired with its partner so that each and every bed was perfect. As soon as we started chopping off legs to get them through the doors, we had to invent a whole new type of code that was different to the first one, to make sure the right leg went on the right frames. Needless to say this all got very confusing and made everyone’s head hurt as we had to search each piece to try and match them all up and by the time we found what we were looking for, we’d forgotten what it was we were meant to remember about why we were looking for it… 🙂

The first two beds took around 5 hours as we worked until after sunset but the end results were amazing. They knew that we were making them beds, but they hadn’t quite grasped how it would all look and had certainly never seen anything like these before. The big reveal was just as we had hoped it would be, and the excitement was palpable in the air. It had taken much longer than we’d hoped, and we could never have done it without our new friends, but all the stress and work was worth it I think you’ll agree.

Now with your donations (click here to donate if you haven’t already) we have some more things that we’ll be doing for the kids this week coming. A brand new fridge freezer is on the cards, hopefully some new sofas, new curtains, new rugs perhaps… We don’t have much time left to implement all that we want to, but we’ll try our best.

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Finally next week, we’re going to employ a matron for the “House Mother” to learn from. An experienced hand when it comes to showing how to prepare meals that taste different, but using the same ingredients that they already have access to, and to bring in some discipline.  I’m also going to be using some of the left over cash to invest in some professional looking charity coin boxes for businesses in Ibiza to display on their bar tops. If you are reading this, own a business in Ibiza (or anywhere really) and you’d like to help in this way, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I’ll certainly be putting them in all my bars knowing that anything put in them will go to the children who most need our help.

Now we’ve finished work for the day (after our 6am start), Nicole has to get her dressings changed and cleaned up ready for a few relaxing drinks in celebration tonight.

Its taken a few more weeks than we expected, but finally our big surprise for the children happened today and they loved it.
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Thank you for all your donations; and please keep them coming if you like what you read and see that we are making real differences to these children’s lives. It doesn’t cost much to help, but every penny that you donate goes to them. No middle men, no managers, no staffing costs, just real direct help.

Making these beds happen has been a huge team effort and everyone we have met has helped a little bit, but special thanks need to go to John & Jackie (for everything), Helen (for allowing us to be here in the first place), Graham (for free transport of the mattresses from Harare), Mike & Barry (for the use of the 10 tonne truck), Kyle, Andrew & Duncan (for their amazing problem solving abilities and installation skills), Amanda (for introducing us to Tariro in the first place), Nicola (for lending us her car so we can get around easily), Laury (for driving us around and finding us the welder & steel to make the beds), Mrs. Magama (for helping these children when no one else would).

There are more people involved along the way and my memory is terrible at the best of times (as Nicole will tell you… that is her name, right?) but hopefully this was all the main players in this particular bed making mission.

Now, what should we do for the orphans next week? Suggestions are always welcome. Feel free to comment. 🙂
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Day 18. Who are the orphans of Tariro?

Although today’s blog is a day late (we’ve been without internet for a day, so was unable to post anything until now), we’d like to focus on the children more than what we’ve done. Its not like we’ve done nothing, of course, but I’ve had a few messages asking about the backgrounds of the children and I know that Nicole has too.

First we’ll get out of the way what we’ve been able to do do for them on day 17. It was a particularly satisfying day to be honest. We finally rolled and brushed on the very last bit of blue paint on to the final bedroom. With rising damp, bare & dusty concrete walls and 17 children running around whilst trying to paint, we are finally able to say that its done. Its not my finest bit of work, but its good enough and bright enough and most importantly the children love it. When the last room was finished, it just so happened to coincide with some of the kids coming home from school and they walked in with eyes wide open and smiles from ear to ear barely able to believe that this was the same place as they’d inhabited just a week ago. Its a small change and some have questioned why we bothered at all, but its that look that makes it all worth it. After all, would you like to wake up in what looks like a prison cell, or a place with colourful, bright walls? I know which one we’d choose. Plus it was all part of allowing the children the chance to feel like they actually owned something as they chose the colour for us to paint.

We also had a ton of visitors on day 17. Whilst I was painting with the new boy (more of that later) and Nicole was playing with the two youngest children, it seemed as though the whole world descended on the orphanage. It made for a very pleasant change as we’d been the only visitors for just about the whole previous week. We had two ladies come from the local social services department. They didn’t actually really seem to want to know much, more it was just to have a look around. We pressed upon them that the house was still without running water, despite all our best efforts, and that it didn’t seem right to allow that to happen to an orphanage. After all, its not their fault that there is a blockage in the sewer below their house. If it was a bill payment, you could understand perhaps and fingers could be pointed, but a blockage can only be down to the council and hopefully our calls and chats with the local officials will get something done about it. We can only hope.

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Former Tariro resident come back to say hello.

We also had a former resident come back to say hi. He was smartly dressed, ambitious about his future studies and was visiting his brother who was still staying at Tariro. It was good to see that being an orphan in Zimbabwe didn’t mean that your chances of a good life were all taken away from you. He had just finished his studies and wanted to go on to bible school in China. Finally there was Mary, a kind volunteer who does all she can for the children. She popped in to give us all a delicious fruit cake and the children some welcome fruits and vegetables. It was also a great opportunity to put a face to a name as we’d all be chatting in a WhatsApp group specifically set up to keep all the volunteers communicating and setting up new ways to help the children.

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In the day since we were last at the orphanage, there was also a food delivery from some of the other volunteers. Basic essentials but also treats like biscuits and peanut butter. This, unfortunately, means that I have to go back and put a lock on the storeroom door. The children have been raiding the goodies when no-one is looking, but rationing needs to go on when you never know when you next meal is coming.

We are here to help as much as we can, but we’ve decided that our involvement needs to be on a more long term basis rather than short term. This means that money raised from our donors (if you haven’t already, please donate here) will go on items that have a long term effect. This has meant us getting all their much needed kitchen utensils, a new gas stove, steel bunkbeds and water proof mattresses so that every child needn’t sleep on the floor anymore, pillows, curtains, storage space / cupboards/ draws for their rooms, school uniforms, school fee’s, clothes that they have picked for themselves and more. All these have a long lasting effect long after we have gone as we are really keen not to have the children depend on us too much. We know that we are going to be back in Ibiza in 4 weeks time, they perhaps don’t really understand that too well. Certainly if we were bringing them each a pizza or fancy food every afternoon for the next 4 weeks instead of all of the list above, not only would the money be “wasted” but the minute we leave, they’d be back to square one and without the goodies that we’d bring and the depression that may come as a result. We’re really keen to leave a lasting impression on their lives and work around their support network they already have in place. We want to compliment the sterling work that is already being done, voluntarily, by the local community, not replace it for a few weeks and then leave them to pick up the pieces. I hope everyone understands the logic behind this as I’m sure there are a few that would like to see us take them out for dinner and food every day of the week or something else that would be a quick fix rather than a long term one. We are doing everything we can for the futures of these children, not just trying to fix the present.

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That brings me to the present, and the addition of a new boy to the house. His name is Tanaka and he was sat quietly on the sofa as we arrived at 8.30am to start painting for the final day. Sometimes, not often, there is a residents friend visiting the house, so at first I wondered if this was the case with Tanaka. It wasn’t.

He’d been brought to the house the previous night after being found by the police in “a bush” where he’d been sleeping rough. He’s 14 years old and his father had died some time ago. After that had happened, his mother left him with his grandmother and hasn’t been seen since. His grandmother has since died and he was left alone with no way of finding his mother, even if she had wanted him. He had made his way, somehow, 40km away from where his last known school was and where his grandmother had died. Perhaps looking for his mother, perhaps just trying to get away from his old life. Either way, he made it to Kadoma and then to Tariro Orphanage. We’re not quite sure what will happen with him yet, but certainly the Police have no intention of doing very much about the situation, or locating a family member, so until something happens he is a new addition to the already overcrowded house.
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Being new, I think he was keen to fit in and with the lack of anyone else to “fit in” with, he offered his help to me to paint the remaining walls. His eyes lit up when I showed him he’d have his own overalls, like all of a sudden he was a grown up because he got to wear the same overalls as most of the working men in town wear. Each set only costs $19 in the shop and for that reason EVERYONE doing any kind of manual job has the same outfit. So, with his new kit on, and a surprisingly happy face, he started painting. He was, to be fair, the best of the children that I’ve had help me this last week or so. He understood, for the most part, that a roller shouldn’t touch, let alone go over, the light switches and plug sockets. There was also minimal paint splats on the floor to scrape up later, so I was pretty impressed and we made quick time of the rest of the house. When we’d done, we exchanged a high 5 and I asked him a little about himself. His accent was pretty good when he spoke English, but this disguised the fact that he couldn’t say very much. I did, however, get to ask him if he thought he would like to be here at the Orphanage until he was 18. He said yes. I suppose anything must be better than sleeping in a bush without a penny to your name and no way to earn that penny either.

The new boys arrival gave up the opportunity to ask what had happened to the rest of the children.  Up until now, everyone had been vague as to the specifics, but now they opened up. As there were only a small number of them at the house on this morning, it was easy to talk about those present. We’ll try to find out about the rest as soon as its appropriate, but this is what we found out about the very youngest children.

Makanaka (AKA Grace). 9 months old.

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Makanaka, as she is known now, was left at the train station. But she wasn’t left to be found by a kind passerby, she was left on the tracks to die. Her screams were heard before that moment ever came and she was brought to the orphanage at only 3 days old. She has never known anything other than living in Tariro, and likely never will. Her mother, for some reason, left a note with the intended name of the child (Grace), but it was decided that she should be renamed given the circumstances. Makanaka means “very good” in the local language Shona.

Macdaniel. 22months old.

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Readers of this blog, and following our travels thus far will be very familiar with this cheeky faced chap. He was the first to come running to Nicole as soon as we stepped through the doors 2 weeks ago. His smile is incredibly infectious and sweet, but he can be jealous when he is not centre of attention. He’s such a loveable little character though. He does have a father, so is not strictly speaking an “orphan”, but his father is very ill. We didn’t want to ask exactly what this illness was, but it was something that stopped him from taking care of his own son. He visits every 2 weeks if he can, but for how long he’ll be around for this to carry on, we just don’t know but its not thought to be long. His mother died when he was not even 1 year old. We imagine that both his parents have fallen victim of the HIV/AIDS virus given the limited info we have to go on, and its prevalence here in Africa.

Thomas. 2 years old.

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Again, Thomas has featured a lot of late in our blog. He was, at first, overshadowed by Macdaniel’s lively character, despite him being slightly older. He has such a quiet yet fun character. He’s really come out of his shell in recent times and now, finally, has all the excitability of a regular 2 year old. He has been at the orphanage for around a year. Nothing is known of his parents at all. He was found by a policeman named Thomas, and took his name as a result, at the local train station. He’d been abandoned by whoever was meant to be taking care of him. Who can imagine ever wanting to leave a child as amazing as this?

If you’d like to help these children, please donate here and all proceeds will go to making their lives better, easier and more productive. We are trying to make sure that they all attend school, have happy lives and each nourishing meals each day until they are old enough, and wise enough, to move on to the next step of their own lives.

If you can help, then please make today that day.

Day 16. Eaten Alive!

No, not cannibals. This is not that kind of story.

So if not cannibals, then what? Sand fleas!

Walking back from a neighbours house on Sunday morning, we were told of a short cut to our house and took it. We thought nothing of it, but certainly did think how great it was that we’d found a shorter route home. We won’t be making that mistake again. Although neither of us felt anything at all, or saw anything at all, walking through the tall grass at early morning just meant that we were ripe for the taking and have been bitten nearly 100 times. The section of grass we walked through didn’t take us longer than 30 seconds, but thats all it took to have our feet, ankles and lower legs looking like the face of a pubescent teenage boy. At first we thought it was just a mosquito bite or two, but every minute another lump would raise its ugly head and before we knew it, our feet were just itchy masses of flesh that were no use to anyone! With there also being a power cut all day and night, we were unable (until today) to use the power of google to find out exactly what it was so didn’t know how to treat it. Luckily, we are not too far from a pharmacy and this afternoon got some treatment that has calmed them down for a bit. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been great news for getting work done on the orphanage today.


Nicole had such a severe reaction to the bites that she couldn’t sleep even a wink all night and spent most of it sat in the dark with her feet in a bucket of cold water to try to take some of the sensation away. Although I was scratching and seem to have even more bites, mine were not so bad at night and I was able to sleep relatively well and still went off to finish the painting today. I needed something to take my mind off of the bites too, as as soon as I finished the 3rd room of the day, I started to realise quite how bad my feet really were. Unfortunately this meant that I finished up an hour or so earlier than I normally would and headed home to get Nicole and to take us both to the doctors.

Its not life threatening or anything, but we were initially concerned that they may be mosquito bites and with us being in malaria territory, there is always that fear that it could have been much worse.

Even with it being a cut short day, both the boys and the girls bedrooms have been finished in regards to painting. The girls (and the youngest boys) share the same room and started unpacking everything to put it all back in its place. After our day at the market, they have a ton more stuff than they did the day before and I can see a real need to get everyone in the house some sort of storage, be it a stackable box or a set of draws of some sort. We’ll be using donations to get them something in the coming days.

One major development today, though, was finally having the new gas cooker installed. As you may remember if you’ve been following us since the start, the children were using damp fire wood to cook on a makeshift open fire in the corner of the kitchen as they had nothing else. A temporary fix of a 2 hob table top gas cooker (with one hob broken) was then brought in, but today they finally got a full 4 hobs AND oven to work with. I was expecting to just have the house mother be excited about this new development but when I was showing her how it all worked, the entire house came in to see it for themselves. They seemed amazed that you could have a fire to cook on, without a match and within seconds. The gasps of wonderment at how it could work were a particular highlight today and I caught at least 2 of the older children taking it in turns to light a hob to watch it go!

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4 hobs that all work, an even oven for the first time ever! What do you think to the blue colour that they chose for the house? Much brighter than the dirty, dusty concrete of before.

One disappointing thing today, however, was that despite promises, the children are still without running water. I was assured that it would be rectified today, and I can only hope that it happened after I left a bit earlier than usual. I’ll find out as soon as I can, but until then, to give you an idea of what having no water looks like, this is one of the boys having his daily wash in the garden from a bucket. No child should have to do this. Think about him next time you moan that your brother/sister/flatmate/partner has used up all the hot water. If you want to help him have a real shower each day instead of this, please donate here.
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Thank you for all your continued support. Your donations have made all of this happen. Tomorrow I’ll be heading into Harare (the capital city) to buy foam and pvc material to make bespoke mattresses for the bunk beds and more steel to make the next batch. Materials like this are much cheaper there compared to locally, although we’ll use locally skilled workmen to make and assemble the finished beds. Going to Harare means that we won’t get chance to deliver the first bed until Wednesday now. So watch this space for how that one goes down!

Nicole, after a night & day trying not to rip her own feet off meant not being able to leave the house, will go back to Great Hood Academy School again for the first time in a while to spend more time with the children there and go through the arrangements for us to give a presentation to the children about us, where we come from and what we are doing here in Zimbabwe. Hopefully it will result in us being able to really hit home to all the children that there are others that have even less than they do and that charity is something that we should all be involved in if given the opportunity.

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The boys wave goodbye and thank each and every one of their donors. They also love their new clothes that the donations bought them on Saturday.

Please keep your donations coming in, it all goes directly to help these amazing children and even a tenner can make all the difference. Todays shopping to feed 17 of them for one meal cost only $6. So see if you can find that in loose change in your pocket and donate that perhaps…

DONATE HERE

Day 14. African Orphanage Birthday Party.

What is more important: watching football or painting the house? Apparently football wins out big time.

We turned up at our usual bright and early time ready to do another coat of paint on the living room, only to be met with the kids having fully cleared their bedrooms all into a big pile in the middle of the rooms, ready for us to paint there instead… talk about giving a hint! Unlike yesterday, though, we were left to start painting on our own as the semi-final of the African Cup Of Nations was in its final 30mins and all the boys were watching it intently.

After Cameroon had won and made their way to the final, I was expecting Rafael (as the oldest boy likes to be called) to join me in painting as he’d been the instigator in doing it yesterday. Instead he disappeared with the wheelbarrow off down the street. I thought nothing of it as one of the other boys had got his own overalls from somewhere and started to help me in his place. He dressed and ready to get to it as soon as the final whistle had blown! Its a shame his painting skills mean that I’ll have to go back over it all again on my own, but the intent to help was there. 😉
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Shortly after we’d started on the boys room, Rafael returned with the wheelbarrow overloaded with 2 massive speakers and a stereo system borrowed from a friend to help celebrate Hildar, the house mother’s, birthday. And boy do they know how to let everyone in the town know that they are celebrating! With music booming out at max volume into the garden, and therefore into the neighbours too, there could be no doubt that something was happening. I can only imagine that they’ve never had such a powerful system before and they couldn’t help but see what it could do, and then stick with it once it’d been turned up to 11. So with all the biggest Shona language tunes blaring out and beating a repetitive bouncing bass line into my ears, we smashed out two bedrooms in quick time. It’s without a doubt the worst paint job I’ve ever had the misfortune to be involved in but the kids that helped out seemed to have fun doing it. I just hope that we can get them all in school on Monday so that I can get in there and do it properly myself!

All the while, Nicole had promised to cook pasta for everyone, seeing as pasta is seen as something very extravagant by the children. Its the kind of thing that posh white people ate, not by them or anyone that they knew. So, with all the best of intentions, pasta and ingredients to make the sauce were purchased along with the birthday cake first thing that morning. To say that we’d not fully realised how badly equipped the kitchen was before coming up with this amazing plan, would be an understatement. We’d not accounted for the fact that they’d be no sieve or colander for starters. Anyone who has made pasta without straining it first will be fully aware that it leaves it all sloppy and slavered in starchy slim. This, it would turn out, would be our specially cooked meal designed to impress and even we were barely able to eat it. How embarrassing.


I was able to capture a few moments where it appeared that Macdaniel was enjoying his food, but the inability for children to hide their true feelings in their faces told a different story the rest of the time.


“It was very delicious” Hildar said politely.

“It really wasn’t. I’m so sorry.” replied Nicole.

Nicole has been constantly reliving the kitchen nightmare all day:

“Tomato
Pasta
Garlic
Onions
Peppers

These basic ingredients seem like average every day items on a shopping list. I was hoping to put together an amazing meal and anyone that cooks knows that a little bit more of this and a little less of that makes all the difference. Well, it would if I had something to chop with, more than just a single malfunctioning hob and any utensils at all to use in the kitchen. I’d overestimated what could constitute a kitchen that had to provide food for 16 children 3 times a day!

I attempted to make pasta, but how do you drain pasta without a strainer? Cooking for 16 people turned into my worst nightmare. I had to chop garlic with my finger nails , and tomatoes crushed in my hands . I don’t cook often but when I do, I always cook pasta. At home its cheap, simple and tasty. Today it was the hardest meal to make, ever. Without a sink in the kitchen it was impossible to rinse the starch off and the pasta was left in its own water and turned to mush. I felt so bad, and so stressed. I really wanted it to be an nice meal for Hilder the birthday girl. I wanted to show her that using the same ingredients that she uses everyday for their own food, it could taste so different and special. She served me a portion and I my heart sank. I knew that it really didn’t look nice at all.  I said to her I’m so sorry it wasn’t what you expected and that I’d get her proper equipment for the kitchen so that she could have her life easier. Its hard enough cooking for a few people, let alone 16! It took 2 1/2 hours to make and I was left disappointed.
Thank god we brought a cake and some fizzy pop to make up for my slop!

It’s safe to say it’s difficult to live without your family but these kids have become each other’s family and they all made it a special day for Hilder.”

Still, the most important thing seemed to be that music needed to be at full volume and that seemed to be enough for everyone except the toddlers who were definitely out of sorts after being deprived of their afternoon naps.

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Trying to catch some ZZZZZ’s while the music is pumping.

 

On a plus note, the first triple bunkbed is completely finished and now sitting waiting for our first batch of mattresses which will arrive Monday. We’ll deliver the first one to the kids on Tuesday most likely, and then pull the trigger on the rest after our trip to Harare for raw materials as its much cheaper there and we’ll save some of your donated money by doing it that way.

Finally, after all our talk of it, we’ll be going to the market to get the kids their own clothes tomorrow. They’ve never done anything like it before, so we’ll have to see what they pick. So, if you donated €10, for example, that will clothe one child with at least 3-4 different items. Of course, as stated in day 2, all of the items at the market will be what people all around the world have donated to charity, then that said charity sends some of it to Zimbabwe, and then the people in charge of receiving it take all the best stuff for themselves and then the rest is sold to market traders and the money is pocketed. None of your clothes that you donate to the big charities make their way to those that most need it, certainly not in this country anyway. (This is all the local “word on the street” so I don’t have empirical evidence of all this, but its generally understood to be true here in the community.)

Its been an amazingly long few days, and we are both shattered. We’ve been tired and ratty with each other but it has been worth it. After spending 3 whole days with the kids, we can see the difference that we are making to their lives. Someone is taking an interest in them. Someone is working with them towards a common goal. Someone is playing games with them and making them laugh rather than all of these things happening amongst themselves. Its the little things like that that make you realise the difference that can be made in a child’s life just by paying them some attention.

We are not parents yet, but having seen Nicole with the children these last few days I know she’s going to make a great mum. Spending time with the forgotten children of Tariro has shown me a glimpse of our own future and I hope that future will forever feature them too. We’ve invested our time and our hearts and even if everyone else forgets them, we certainly won’t.

If you want to help give these children a life worth living, donate by clicking here.