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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Tichakunda School

On Thursday, November 22, 2007, prior to my departure from Zimbabwe, my friends and I had planned to take a roadtrip to the Eastern Highlands. Our plans had to be postponed when my friend called to say her home had been burgled and she had cut her foot in the process. When I got there her family, friends and neighbours were there to check on her & see if she was ok. We decided to drive to Hatcliffe clinic where her mother is a nurse in order to get her a tetnus shot for her foot (the private clinic she'd gone to earlier had failed to giver her one). I had never been to this clinic before & thought it would be a great opportunity to find out what their needs were. I am a member of a new Facebook group called Yamura Zimbabwe (Help Zimbabwe) -, and we are currently in the process of identifying organizations in need of assistance, especially schools or organizations supporting children in Zimbabwe.

Hatcliffe is a low income high density area in Northern Harare & it is located about 2 - 5km from the wealthier northern suburbs. The clinic was was quite impressive. It was spotless, patients were few and were being attended to in rapid succession. I was relieved to note that our standards had not changed in spite of the harsh economic climate the country is currently facing.

The majority were young mothers who had brought their children for the basic injections required for babies when they reach certain ages. I watched as these cute little things smiled & gurgled at the nurses, not knowing what they were in for! One baby was injected on one thigh first then on the other. Poor thing just cried & cried! I watched with interest as the nurses joked with the patients and questioned the mothers about why their baby had a rash and what they had done about it etc...

Nurse Muchemwa also told us about the outreach work performed by the clinic. For example it was recently annonced that our neighbor, Namibia, had just had an outbreak of polio, a disease long eradicated from Zimbabwe. On December 8th, the nurses at the clinic were going to vaccinate the people in their designated geographical area to reduce the risk of the outbreak in the country. The local newspaper had also written an article about the outbreak and all clinics and hospitals were preparing for the outreach program.

After watching the 10th or so baby being injected my friend announced that the clinic used to have a feeding program where malnourished childred were brought and fed a nutritious meal. Her mother agreed but said the program was cancelled due to the introduction of an alternative supplement known as Plumpy Nut. She took out a sample and showed us. It's basically a small foil packet which contains a high level of engery & nutrition. It is given to mothers whose children are malnourished. She showed us how they determined if a child was undernourished too - see photo & video below.

I asked whether there was a need for any volunteers at the clinic and the nurse suprised me by saying no. She went on to say "not here, but at the creche (nursery school)". I wasn't sure what she meant then she explained that there are about 5 nursery schools in the greater Hatcliffe area which were formed by members of the community & with support from local organizations such as churches, and they have a great need for volunteers, equipment etc.. She offered to take us there and off we went. The homes in Hatcliffe Extension are very poor. Structures are made from plastic donated by the Catholic church. What struck me most was how clean and attractive the plastic homes looked even though the residents were living in poverty. There were flowers outside almost every house and the yards were swept clean. It reminded me of a the tin city in Soweto except there were fewer homes with a smaller population, and it was also fairly quiet compared to Soweto.

When we finally reached the nursery school, nothing had prepared me for what I saw. Coming from my temporary home in the West, the land of excess and credit cards, it was hard to reconcile my life over there with this school over here, in my own country!! It was one of those visits with little meaning unless you visit in person..but I will try my best to paint a clear picture.

As we got out of the car and walked towards the structures it still hadn't really registered that we were at a nursery school. A nursery school has a playground with grass and trees, swings and toys. A nursery school has color and cartoons on the walls. We walked into a plastic structure with the sign "Under 6" outside it & low & behold there were about 30 little faces sitting on the dirt floor, some standing. The teacher was beaming! She just seemed genuinely happy. She made the children stand up and sing a welcome song, and they did. Some sat i.e. the younger ones & just stared at us, and 2 of the older ones lead the others in the welcome song.

The kids sang, oblivious to my distress at the condition of their school... which I internalized. Their welcome song was so cute it made us all smile. They were so proud to sing for us. After listening to them for a few minutes we moved out and on to the next class.Below is the picture of the exterior of the classroom and a video of the youngest class, the first class we visited, singing us a welcome song.

After the warm welcome from the first classs we moved next door to another class with slightly older children (about 5years old). Again, the teacher asked them to sing for us which they did with much enthusiasm. The head of the school is also a volunteer and his name is Mr Hove. He is the one who took us around the school to introduce us to the teachers and children. We stood outside the last classroom and surveyed the school yard. The sun and the heat were BRUTAL. In the distance we saw 2 small wooden structures:

"Those are the restrooms for our 400 children here" Mr Hove said in Shona (one of the main languages spoken in Zimbabwe).

I noticed that the kids had no hats on and some of them were not wearing any shoes either. The school yard had no grass and no trees. Can you imagine the health risks associated with sitting in the boiling sun all day, with no hat and feet burning from the heat of the hot soil? When I attended primary school in Zimbabwe (which is 1 to 7th grade) , hats were mandatory and anyone caught without one had to write an essay on skin cancer. Mr Hove pointed out a section where some of the classrooms were torn down to make way for wooden cabins donated by someone. It felt good to know that we were not the only ones concerned about how to help. The eldest group of children (6 year olds) were sitting in the school yard with their teacher. Mr Hove walked us towards them and asked them to recite poetry for us. One child after another took a step forward and recited a poem or a nursery rhyme for us in English. Some of the poems were about their aspirations (eg I want to be a fireman, so I can save lives, be a teacher, so I can teach..etc...); and others spoke about love, family and triumph over hardship and difficulties. It was all very moving but unfortunately as I started to record the poetry my memory card was full!!! I have added what I managed to record before my camera stopped the recording. ALL the children wanted to recite a poem for us until Mr Hove had to say "Zvakwana" (ie "that's enough now"). It was quite amusing to watch and their enthusiasm was infectious. As we continued to walk Mr Hove explained that the children attend school in shifts and this is how they end up with a head count of 400. I am definitely visiting this school again. In that moment (watching the mini-poets), I decided to make a personal committment to help them out. They had nothing. Small donations would make an unbeliveable difference. Mr Hove was given a cell phone by a Belgian visitor (probably from one of the embassies based in Harare) but he does not have a phone line. My friend decided she was going to get him one.

Next Mr Hove introduced us to the kitchen and the two ladies (volunteers) who cook the food for the children on a daily basis. He announced that they were 2 of the best cooks in the world, which made them smile at the compliment. The children are given a meal of cornmeal porridge twice a day - once at 11am and again at 2pm. The food comes with no sugar, milk or anything else. Mr Hove pointed to a pile of sticks outside the kitchen and said that each child is required to bring a piece of firewood to light the fire for the days meals.... Does anyone reading this blog have experience with solar energy or alternative energy? If you look at the pictures you can see that there are no trees to be seen for miles. This means the environment is also being affected. but what can they do? No fuel means no food, and so many trees are being cut down without being replaced. A donation of an alternative energy source would make a tremendous difference.

The final stop was Mr Hove's office. He showed us some of the things that had been donated to the school. Such donations included:

- books (some were too advanced though),

- toys (cloth dolls were covered in red soil due to the lack of surface and grass in the school yard. if you want to donate, plastic toys are much better)

- there were 2 or 3 blackboards leaning against the wall (no chalk, plus their classroom structures are too weak to hold the boards)

- Used A4 paper for the children to draw pictures
If you have children, think of their nursery school/kindergarten and visualize what it looks like. Then compare to this one. If you can't think of something to donate the comparison should help.

Our tour ended in Mr Hove's office. We went back to the classrooms to wave good bye to the kids and they all waved back at us. Some of the youngest kids danced for us & it was hilarious because one of the little boys was quite comical. As I was preparing to reverse our car away from the school I could see little heads poked behind their classrooms watching after us. Eventually they moved from behind the wall and came out into the open to say goodbye.

As we were driving away we heard one little voice shout "please bring us bannana's and oranges" and we all laughed.

We laughed, but really an orange and a bannana to these children, is a real treat. So again, if you're reading this blog, we're not asking for IPODS and Nintendo DX's or barbie dolls. Just an orange and a bannana. This was such a simple request but i knew it would be SUCH a delight to all these children. My time in Zimbabwe was running out so I was barely able to make inquires of fruit suppliers. What I do know though is that fruits and vegetables in Zimbabwe are plentiful and cheap. Every other person is selling seasonal fruits or vegetables. It would just be a matter of finding someone to supply and deliver them, which would be no problem either. has committed to donate 5% of all Afrobag gross sales to this nursery school. I hope to bring you more pictures and stories of positive changes being made at this school.

So at the end of the day, even though our journey to the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe was postponed, we had a good day. I think this day happened for a reason. My friend may disagree as she is the one who was burgled!!! But yes, I think it happened for a reason because we would never have stumbled upon this school otherwise...

Answer: A Zimbabwean living in New Zealand has formed a non-profit organization to support this school. Shaye Boddington is a talented artist as well and she has donated one of her paintings towards the raffle. Please see more on

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Matthew Rusike Children's Home

Mrs Mashorokoto is one of the house mothers at Matthew Rusike Children's home. She was our guide during our unannounced visit. She says in the video:
"My name is Mrs Mashorokoto. I have 12 children under my care, including the baby on my back. The baby arrived when he was three weeks old and now he is one year, 5 months old. The eldest girl in this home attends secondary school (high school). She is thirteen years old and in form 2 (9th grade). Five of my kids are in grade 6 (6th grade) and one of them is in seventh grade. Next there is a nine year old girl in third grade followed by two children who graduated from nursery school and will be in first grade next year. So I will only have one child, a boy, attending nursery school next year. The child on my back does not go to nursery school."

I took a suitcase of Care Bears and music cassettes ranging from Peter Pan to Lion King for the kids at Matthew Rusike Childrens Home on Monday. I bought these on Craigslist for next to nothing. They were very grateful for this donation. Mr Kupeta, who runs the home, was not available when we arrived so one of the house mothers (Mai Mashorokoto) who has been there for over 15 years took me & my mum around. She was so cheerful and full of energy and you could tell that all the kids loved her. She took us on a tour of her home and some of the other homes – she has 12 kids in a 4 bedroomed home. Her house was one of the first to be built in 2004 and furnished entirely by one local Zimbabwean business woman who refused to be named. I was deeply amazed at the generosity of this one woman, whoever she is. The furniture was good quality & very well maintained & the kids bedrooms had lots of toys. Two of the other houses were fully furnished by the British embassy.
To your left some of the kids pose with the new Care Bears I purchased on Craigslist. I also donated the casettes below with childrens music & stories.

I also learnt that the toddler in this home, one cute little boy, has been adopted by a Zimbabwean couple in diaspora. He was adopted at age 2 months but has not moved in with his parents because they are waiting for his passport! Everyone tries to make him call his house mother Gogo or Ambuya (grandmother) but all the time we were there he was calling her Mama like his house siblings do. Below is his picture. He's so adorable!
As I toured the homes I tried to get a real sense for what was needed by observing & chatting with 4 of the 12 or so house mothers. The recurring request was for food. The Catholic Commission & Methodist church, as it was explained to me, are the only regular donors of food. One house mother I interviewed said her family had not eaten meat in a month. She showed me her fridge and it was empty - she is responsible for 11 kids! I have attached the photos for you all to see. I asked her what they ate on a daily basis & she said for breakfast they’ll eat bulgur wheat which has a high nutritional value, or tea with no milk plus bread if they are lucky, but with no margarine or jam. I arrived there during lunch and the kids were eating boiled chibage (mealies/corn) with nothing else. She said this is typical for lunch. For dinner they may have sadza (like polenta or grits) & veggies with no cooking oil, onions or tomatoes. They have no access to fruits, milk, bread and other staples on a regular basis.

To your right is the house mother's refrigerator. I was completely shocked!

The home used to have a chicken breeding project & a piggery, but this was discontinued due to lack of stockfeed. I’m sure any skills or donations in this area would be very much appreciated.
In spite of this, everyone was very cheerful and the kids seem happy and secure in their environment. The local police station has provided them a policeman to man the gate 24hrs since the Christmas season is when thefts occur. The house mothers have been trained on herbal remedies & each household has a herb garden to treat basic illnesses like a common cold or tummy ache. There is a clinic on the premises which was previously being run by the matron but now a registered nurse has been provided by the Ministry of Health who will also be available to the surrounding Epworth community. Painkillers etc.. would be welcomed too…
Children play after lunch

There are separate dormitories designated for teenage boys and girls. They live on their own and cook for themselves under the supervision of a house mother. They are sent for basic skills training like hair dressing & carpentry, and some have gone as far as becoming doctors and lawyers. Sadly one of their lawyers was killed in a car accident recently.
To your right is one of the girls dormitories. Here they cook for themselves (see 2 plate stove on the left side of the photograpgh) in order to prepare themselves for the outside world when they reach the age to leave the home.

There is a crèche (kindergarten/nursery school) which is open to the public as well as the children from the home. The crèche is on the premises & it has lots of swings in the playground. The playground could be spruced up a bit (paint etc..) but overall the equipment seems to be decent shape.The home continues to build new residences using donor funds. One of the main outside donors is the staff of Quantas airlines who started their relationship with the home many years ago & for which the Home is extremely grateful.

Children's creche and playground
There is a new section for teenage boys & girls but they have not yet moved in due to lack of furniture. The thing that struck me most about the home was how serene it was, how joyful the mothers & their kids were and how clean the place was. I mean ALL the kids bedrooms were amazingly neat & clean, from toddlers to the teenagers!!

I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible but if anyone has any questions please just let me know. If you want to donate money please e-mail me on The fundraising committee typically have a series of fundraising events within the Methodist church. For example a golf tournament or an annual dinner dance. Two or more committee members will go to Makro (mega grocery store) or wherever else to buy food & personally take the food rations, blankets etc.. to each house & make sure it’s in the pantry … If you prefer to send the funds directly please go to the Matthew Rusike website on The only problem with their website is that they accept checks in Zimbabwean currency only. Tashanda knows the fundraising committee members personally & guarantees proper delivery & accountability of funds or donations in kind.

Based on my own observations during the 2 hours I was there, the home needs the following in order of priority:
b) Furniture (ANY) for the new dormitories. Kids bedrooms look like they need new bedcovers.
c) Clothing – the home is expanding outside Harare
d) Penpals and sponsors for individual kids – one teenage girl remained asleep when we walked into the teenage girls dorm rooms. Her sisters claimed she was awake & they thought she was being rude. This girl was probably feeling depressed/sad & had no one to talk to. I felt bad for her & this is why I think mentoring through letters in general could be very effective. The house mothers or the kids take their letters to the office where they are posted free on their behalf. This small investment could have a huge impact on a kid.
e) Anyone with a skill that could benefit the home. This can range from agriculture to sewing, art, soccer, party planners, computer gurus – ANYTHING
f) Books! I saw lots of toys in the kids bedrooms but no books to help further their reading skills.
No appointment is necessary & they welcome visitors with open arms, always. The office is open during the week only but you can visit he house mothers anytime.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back from Zimbabwe

I've literally just returned from 2 weeks of vacationing and working in Zimbabwe. It was great to be back home, I enjoyed it immensely. I saw a side of my country I had never really paid attention to before and I believe it was a great experience for me. My e-mail access was limited to dial up when I was home, so daily blogging was out of the question. Instead I'm going to update this blog slowly over the next few months with tales of my arts & crafts adventures as well as some of my other adventures related to issues of poverty, women and land. I'll start with Batsiranai, the women's cooperative for mothers with disabled children, then I'll talk about the sadza batik craft, wire art, shona sculpture, tye & dye, natural jewellery making, woodcrafts, "granite-crafts" - if there is such a word and much more... I'll introduce you to the Association of Women's clubs, Kudhinda, Silvera House, Dangwe Arts and the Menyere brothers, makers of Tashanda's new Afrobag line. Finally I'll tell you about my visit to Mathew Rusike Children's Home, Hatcliff Clinic, Hatcliff Extension nursery school and my visit to a sub-divided commercial farm.

Keep checking this blog for updates!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bag, recycled curtain fabric

Audio Books at

This recycled bag is pretty cool. This is definitely a project I can use in Zimbabwe.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It Takes a Village

This blog is for all arts & crafts lovers. I am looking for ideas to take to Africa, to the women's cooperatives there, so they can improve their products and be more competitive in the international market.
My next trip is to Zimbabwe in November 2007. There I will meet with the director of the largest women's cooperative in the country to learn a) about the women involved in the projects b) what projects they are working on c) what obstacles they encounter d) how I can help.
I also love stone sculpture, so if you like sculpture, feel free to share. More on this blog later...