ZimKids Orphan Trust was built, bit-by-bit, brick by brick, in response to the pressing needs of the orphans in Pumula North, Bulawayo, the community we serve, rather than to some wider NGO handbook. The 300 orphans we work with are extremely fragile. Not only have they watched their parents die, but most have also been traded around among relatives, moved from rural areas to town and often back, used as servants by distant relatives, or trapped at the age of 12 raising two or three younger brothers and sisters.
We provide them with a new type of family, one in which they are valued as individuals and helped to reach their potential. We’re succeeding because the “heads” of that family are their brothers and sisters, alumni of our program who understand, on the one hand, their needs and challenges from the inside, and who, on the other, have learned, from Zimkids, new personal, interpersonal and practical skills.
Our preschool curriculum wasn’t copied from a government text; it was designed by a 17-year-old with input from professionals. Our older children who are HIV positive run a health and wellness program for their younger peers. Our counselor is an alumna of our program whom we sent for professional training. And our first aid is run by older girls who have received appropriate training and coordinate with the private physician who volunteers her services to us.
So when we say, “Built by Orphans, Run by Orphans, For Orphans,” we’re serious. Our 16-year-olds tutor our 12-year-olds. They plan and run our sports programs, teach chess, read to our preschoolers, keep an eye out for children might look upset, and fill our facility with joy. They do so in buildings constructed by earlier Zimkids – and our trainees maintain them, along with our solar array. They wire our buildings, build our furniture, and, in the process, learn how to become self-supporting. Young people who didn’t know how to turn on computers three years ago are now instructing 3-year-olds. And these same young people grow our fruit and vegetables, in the process learning about drip irrigation and low-tech greenhouses.