By Dennis Gaboury – Founder, Chair Board of Trustees
Brian Dube in 2009
Zimkids has just marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Brian, a 10-year-old Zimkid born with HIV but undiagnosed and untreated until we intervened with his family. By then, his immune system was seriously compromised. He had contracted tuberculosis. And while we managed to get him on antiretroviral drugs and a TB regimen, it was too late. The day we drove his body to be buried at his rural home, we decided to honor Brian with a vow of “NEVER AGAIN.” All of our children were tested for HIV, those who are positive are enrolled at the local pediatric AIDS clinic for drug treatment, and we can now mark five years without a funeral.
It isn’t easy, unfortunately. Several months ago, Cynthia, who is 16 years old, fell ill. When we took her to the clinic, doctors realized that her antiretroviral treatment had stopped working and that she had tuberculosis. Happily, she was quickly put on a new drug regimen and beat back the TB. She is once again at school, thriving.
We’re still struggling with the health of Langilihle, also 16. Although the local pediatric AIDS center sees her regularly, the doctors there missed the fact that her antiretroviral regimen was no longer working. We struggled to get her help, waiting in long queues to little avail. We discovered that the only way to avoid waiting hours for attention at the emergency room was to arrange an ambulance to take her to the hospital. –Although we avoided the wait, the ambulance drivers who transported her were drunk, dropped her on the way from her house to the ambulance and stopped en route to the hospital for bananas! IV drips increased her strength, and her drug regimen was changed. Still, every day, Langilihle’s family has to carry her a mile each day to the local clinic for her TB drugs. We’re optimistic, but she’s not yet out of the woods.
Even as we battle to keep everyone healthy, we’re keeping our focus on building the young people in other ways. As I hope you’ve seen from the photographs we’re posting on our Facebook page (search zimkids orphan trust), our pre-school program is thriving almost beyond our wildest dreams. Our program was designed and is run by Samantha Jumira, 18, who has been with Zimkids since she was 10 years old. The local kindergarten teachers were so impressed with the training of the children who “graduated” last year that we had lines of people at our gate looking for places for their kids.
We’ve begun the process of certification for a licensed crèche, which means we can charge fees to non-orphans to cover the expenses of our orphans and make the crèche entirely self-supporting. At present we do not charge. We’d already sent Samantha for professional training, and she’s now about to receive her license. Pauline and Sithabisiwe, who’ve been working with Samantha, have started the same training. Our ability to serve the children well is bolstered by the counseling training we arranged for Sithabisiwe, who is about to finish a year-long course taught by European psychologists, the youngest person ever to do so. In fact, all 18 of her classmates, all older than her by a decade or more, quit the course. We’re hoping to open our doors to fee-paying non-orphans in January.
We’re getting ready to launch yet another training/income-generating project, a school uniform business. All Zimbabwean children are required to wear uniforms to school, and they’re an enormous financial burden on families. So we’ve sent two of our girls, Lindiwe and Charity, who are competent seamstresses to an advanced tailoring course so that we can produce uniforms below the cost charged in town – and train the younger girls in skills that can sustain them. Our hope is that as each group of girls become competent, we can send them off to open their own small businesses – perhaps with sewing machines because of the generosity of our amazing Texan grandmother Dee!
No, we haven’t neglected the vocational training programs we began with the construction of our Center. Colin and Foster, two of the first trainees, are now teaching the younger boys and girls to lay brick, repair equipment and weld. (In fact, one of our sewing trainees, Lindiwe, has just finished welding a new railing at our site!) They will take the lead in the construction of our new sewing building.
So, even as we struggle with regular medical nightmares and with an economy that has now waned beyond collapse, we’re still bringing joy, education and serious futures to a wonderful group of orphans – because of your help and support.
Look forward to our next report, which should include this year’s high school and primary school examination results. Last year, our Zimkids beat the national pass rate by 300 percent – and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for 400 percent this time round!
Langilihle & I go to get daily TB pill at clinic
Dr. Sashka does HIV Screening for our pre-school
Lindiwe & Charity are ready for their sewing class
First lesson in bricklaying
Multi-talented Lindiwe welding our railing