After operating for three years out of a single, unsecured classroom at a local primary school, we received donations in honor of one of our board members that allowed us to build the ADRIAN SUSKIN CENTER FOR ZIMKIDS on several acres of land given us by the city of Bulawayo.
So, who was this ADRIAN SUSKIN?
Adrian was born at Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and studied at both Khumalo Elementary and Milton High School. Although he long thought he’d become an architect, his first flight in an airplane – over the countryside around his home town – proved to be “the coolest thing I’d ever done,” as he says. His fate was sealed, and at the age of 17, he began taking flying lessons. When his family emigrated to Canada, he continued his life in the air, earning his private pilot’s license, his commercial license, his multi-engine rating and, finally, an Airline Transport Rating. In the mid-1980s, he moved to the United States and began flying for Airborne Express before moving on to UPS, where he worked for more than 23 years. But no matter where he lived, Adrian still felt a special tie to Zimbabwe. “It was heartbreaking to leave,” he recalls. “And it wasn’t just that I was leaving the only life I knew. It was about the people and the environment.”
That affection for home exploded after he was faced with the ultimate challenge: a cancer diagnosis. “My first reaction was: Wait a minute, this isn’t like having a root canal,” he remembers. “You mean I could die from this? Your little time on earth is over, that little hyphen between two dates.”
During one of the most trying moments of his treatment, Adrian realized that he needed to be someone more than a guy who helped out his family and a few old friends in Zimbabwe. “I grew up in Zimbabwe. I was educated and had a great life there. What am I doing for Zimbabwe? Not enough.”
Introduced to Dennis Gaboury, founder of Zimkids, by his sister Philippa, the two developed a special relationship. “Whenever we talked, Adrian would always begin with ‘What can I do? Can’t we help in this way?’” says Dennis. Adrian joined hands with Dennis and Tinashe at Zimkids – and never looked back. “Adrian’s concern and care for the orphans we serve, his support for our unique youth- administered programs and his tireless efforts to raise awareness about the plight of our children have helped make Zimkids such a success,” says Dennis Gaboury.
Adrian was not only Zimkids’ most tireless and dedicated fundraiser, but several times a year, between rounds of chemotherapy, he flew to Zimbabwe to share the experience with friends, spend time with the children and eat pizza with the Council of Elders. He even brought one of his nurses from the hospital where he was being treated.
“Everyone got so excited when Adrian came to town,” says Tinashe. “He was part of the family, and Zimbabweans always look forward to visits from relatives.”
Adrian Suskin passed away on November 23, 2014 at the age of 58 in Boynton Beach.
“Our family feels emptier without him,” Tinashe says.
Construction of the Center, designed to resemble a traditional rural Zimbabwean kraal, began in March 2011 and was completed in July 2012. It originally offered a multipurpose classroom/resource center with kitchen and library, a computer training center/Internet café stocked with laptops, storage facilities, toilet block, caretaker house/office, and a performance roundhouse. The surrounding land was landscaped for playing fields, a market garden and an obstacle course. The facilities were expanded with the addition of a Sewing Center in 2014 and a PreSchool building in 2016.
The entire facility operates off the grid, with solar panels installed by our kids.
The Center was built thanks to the generosity of numerous family members and friends of Adrian, particularly Martin Hotz, Martin Schwarz, Philippa Polskin and the Independent Pilots Association.