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Monday, January 23, 2012

New GRS Zimbabwe Video!

Check out this video - the staff and coaches in this documentary are the very people I work with every single day in Zimbabwe. They are incredibly dedicated and passionate.

Just stopped by the orphanage to set up a soccer game for Saturday morning. I'm going to drop off some cleats for the soccer players and get some pictures (thanks Brown family!). The orphanage has an awesome vibe and I can't wait to start spending more time there. Patience, the social worker in charge, chatted with me today to set up Saturday and then came out to the car to meet Nkosi. She said we should bring him this weekend - the kids will love him. It's the first time she'd patted a dog's head, she said. Dogs are not pets in Zimbabwe, and definitely not members of the family like Nkosi is! I found out the kids call Patience 'Sistah P', so from now on she will officially be Sis P, and no more of this Patience stuff.

So far we've just been settling back in and handling a rush of reports due on 31 January. Yesterday we went to Makokoba for dinner with Esnath, our Zimbabwean mom, and her EXTENDED family. I mean extended. Dinner in the ghetto in Bulawayo means blaring music and every relative you ever had crammed into a tiny flat until they're spilling out the door. It was a very very memorable evening, right down to the two live chickens we purchased in the market and stewed all afternoon to eat with the sadza. Pictures and a full update to come! This is a quick fix because internet has been terrible lately. We were down all weekend and only got it back at 5pm today.

More to come. GO PATS!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Emthunzini Wethemba

Imagine 65 children, all orphans, living under one roof. Now imagine that 95% of those who are eligible for school attend classes every single day and that all 65 of them are clothed, fed, and cared for by only a few dedicated community members. This is Emthunzini Wethemba, an orphanage in Mziligazi Township that can’t even afford to pay all of its employees. The chief administrator is retained on a volunteer basis, and all of the employees care for the children as if they were their own. This is the reality of Zimbabwe: AIDS orphans have become Zimbabwe’s children because too many of Zimbabwe’s children have become AIDS orphans.
            By 2009 more than 1 million children, or 71% of all the orphans in Zimbabwe, had been orphaned by AIDS. Several weeks ago, as I prepared to leave for a brief visit to the United States before returning to continue my work with Grassroot Soccer in January 2012, I was searching for a deserving school to collect supplies for. I had been planning to collect clothing from family and friends as best I could when an old friend contacted me with a better solution: Aiden Cudhea, my buddy from Thetford Elementary school in Vermont, and his dad Cameron, would hold a clothing drive at Aiden’s school. I went in search of a recipient for the clothing and donations in the weeks before my return to the U.S., and a Zimbabwean acquaintance pointed me in the direction of Emthunzini Wethemba. What I found is going to change the nature of my relationship with the city of Bulawayo, and I can’t wait to begin playing soccer with the kids at the home and volunteering at the shelter on a weekly basis when I return to Bulawayo next week. Emthunzini Wethemba is a truly amazing place. I wanted to share my glimpse into life at the shelter, and I will continue to post stories and pictures as I volunteer there during the next 5 months.
            The orphanage is located less than 2 km north of Bulawayo City Center along Vic Falls road. It sits adjacent to the Mpilo Hospital OI clinic where Ale and I have spent a significant amount of time since our arrival in Bulawayo in August. The orphanage was founded by the late reverend E. Ndoda in 1992 to care for 6 orphaned boys, and has since expanded to house 65 orphans. The children who live at Emthunzini Wethemba, which translates as “Shelter of Hope,” come to the home from Bulawayo’s social welfare department, from the streets of Bulawayo, or from the Mpilo Hospital Opportunistic Infections clinic when the hospital learns that a child has lost his or her parents or caregivers to AIDS. Therefore, many of the 65 children have spent time on the streets or are AIDS orphans, and 6 of them are HIV-positive through vertical transmission. I had the opportunity to tour Emthunzini Wethemba, visit with the children, and speak with Patience, the volunteer caretaker of the shelter and its 65 young inhabitants, just before Christmas. I was immediately inspired by the sense of hope and joy amongst the children despite their circumstances, and by the dedication and professionalism of the home’s staff and volunteers.
            Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds stacked against AIDS orphans and the crippling lack of resources in Zimbabwe, Emthunzini Wethemba offers hope to the children of Bulawayo. The shelter’s mission is refreshingly simple:
1)      To restore youth to a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual well being sufficient for them to return to a normal lifestyle, preferably within the framework of their family or social structure.
2)      To equip them with entrepreneurial skills and empower them with attitudes and behaviors necessary for employment.
            In pursuit of goal number one, the home employs a young social worker named Patience on a volunteer basis. Patience graduated from the University of Zimbabwe with a degree in social work and psychology. She recently returned to her hometown of Bulawayo to take over the reigns as chief administrator at Emthunzini Wethemba. Patience sets the daily schedule at the home and cares for the children in every way, from setting the daily menu to chasing down the youngest boys attempting to shirk their daily bath. When I arrived at the home at 8:30am on a Thursday morning, Patience explained with an exasperated eye roll that the children were almost ready to greet me but it would be a few minutes because the “big girls” were still finishing with their morning baths and “getting ready.” Apparently teenagers will be teenagers no matter what the time zone or latitude. I laughed and could immediately feel the sense of normalcy and family that pervades the home despite its dilapidated physical appearance and the tragic circumstances that land young people on its doorstep.
            It didn’t take long to discover that Patience is the force behind the discipline and love which are so pivotal to helping the kids regain their sense of normalcy, structure, and hope. As chief administrator, Patience organizes schooling, meals, recreation, chores, and educational enrichment for the children 24/7. All but a handful of the 65 children at Emthunzini are currently attending school in the neighboring community of Mziligazi. Patience tells me proudly that several children have also earned scholarships to local private high schools thanks to their academic performance. The handful of children not attending school consists of those who are beyond schooling age and three who are mentally challenged. The home is currently investigating options for these children, including vocational training for the older children and special needs schools for the children with disabilities. When I visited Emthunzini Wethemba on 15 December, the children were on holiday from school, but Patience had set up a schedule which included morning chores and two hours each of morning and afternoon study time because, she explained, she wants the children to stay intellectually engaged even during their school breaks. This, of course, leads us to goal number two: equipping the children with skills to return to society as productive adults.
            The children live in dorm-style buildings of concrete and brick. I had the opportunity to visit both the girls’ and boys’ dormitories, and despite the fact that the living spaces lack rugs, lamps and many of the comforts we are accustomed to, their wooden bunk beds, brightly colored sheets, and the stuffed animal tucked neatly by each pillow gave an aura of summer camp which made me hopeful that the children are happy here. They certainly seem to be, and the youngest kids loved posing for my camera and were proud to show off the bedrooms they carefully maintain during morning chores. Patience showed me through all the school’s facilities and we made our way to several fields of crops behind the dormitory buildings. The children learn how to farm covo, spinach, and other vegetables at Emthunzini Wethemba. They gather mangoes and bananas from several trees on the property, and have duties to help cook at every meal using the vegetables they have helped to raise.
            Patience showed me a concrete building behind the dormitories that is under renovation. She explained that the city laws do not allow the shelter to retain children over 19 years of age. The 65 children she had introduced me to that morning ranged in age from 5 to 23. The kids older than 19 have graduated from high school and by law they are adults and should be removed from the orphanage. But with 80% unemployment plaguing the country, these young adults with few marketable skills would be thrown back onto the streets of Bulawayo from whence many of them came. Therefore, the shelter continues to provide for these older orphans and gives them increased leadership and mentoring opportunities within the home. Patience is currently working on a project to secure vocational training for the older children at the home. These young adults would then teach classes for the younger kids in order to earn their room and board at the shelter, creating a sustainable model for vocational training and giving the older children productive and fulfilling employment. Patience showed me woodworking equipment and even a pottery wheel in a storage room at the orphanage but explained that the shelter stopped offering classes for its children several years ago when money dried up in the city and no one would volunteer to teach the classes or teach for a modest allowance. Hopefully, now that the economy has sputtered back to life and is growing slowly, Patience will be able to find someone willing to train the older children so that they can breathe new life into vocational classes at Emthunzini Wethemba.
            Through donations from friends and family and the efforts of Aiden and Cameron, I have arranged to bring many donated clothes back to Zimbabwe this week to give to the children at Emthunzini Wethemba. My neighbors, the Brown Family, collected and donated more than 20 pairs of gently used youth soccer cleats. I also have more than $300 donated by my grandmother and aunt which I will use to take Patience on a shopping trip to Fazak’s, the local department store, upon my return to Zimbabwe. Patience explained that the shelter needs everything from pots and pans to curtains, sheets, light bulbs, toiletries, garden tools, utensils, paint brushes, cough medicine, children’s underwear….the list goes on and on. We hope to address a few of these needs.
            Emthunzini is an inspiring place. The shelter employs many practices that we aspire to here in the U.S.: the children learn to farm and grow much of their own food; they often bathe with rainwater collected in a large drum behind the shelter; they live together with few conflicts and maintain their own living spaces through rigorous daily chores; they attend school and several have earned the opportunity to pursue higher education; they live simply and ask for nothing. They do all of this with far fewer resources than we enjoy here at home, and they are extremely deserving. I am excited to have the opportunity to spend more time with them and to learn from their example.
            If you are interested in supporting the kids at Emthunzini Wethemba, please contact me and let me know ( You can make a donation to my intern fund online at and I will use any funds you earmark for the orphanage to help Patience purchase supplies. I can then provide you with a list of exactly what we purchased with your donation so you can see how you contributed! Patience also explained to me that she is trying to set up a new relationship with donors through a program called Friends of Emthunzini Wethemba. Donors may register as a friend to the home for a monthly minimum subscription of $5. This contribution of only $60 for the entire year will serve to raise funds for the daily needs of the home (volunteer stipends, groceries, electric and water bills) and generate income for long term projects such as the training of older members of the Emthunzini family to stay on as vocational counselors and mentors for younger children. I will continue to provide updates and pictures as I deliver the first round of supplies to the orphanage and as our relationship with Emthunzini Wethemba grows this year through soccer games and volunteer work. Thank you for the continued support!

The youth cleats, donated by the Brown family of Hudson, MA, are ready for the journey to Bulawayo. Thank you!