My name is Mpumelelo Ncube. A passionate academic and social developement worker from Zimbabwe and residing in South Africa. Since joining activism in 2006, I have spent most of my professional and leisure time organizing and building capacities of various audiences on issues around human rights or against human rights violations with a particular interest in children and youth development.
Neither Barbie nor the Transformers has much market share in a place like Zimbabwe, where a teacher would have to work for a month to afford the most minimal of Mattel’s offerings. Life expectancy is just 34 years, and half the population is on the verge of hunger.
Yet even in such dire circumstances, kids will be kids – and Zimbabwe’s sort through the detritus of towns and cities for Vaseline jar caps and shoe polish lids, for pieces of wire, discarded buttons, scraps of cloth and bits of yarn that became their dolls, their cars, their fantasies.
Awed by their imagination and spirit, in 2005, I met an American sculptor (Dennis Gaboury) who was spending the year in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, who then sponsored a competition among the city’s orphans to encourage and reward their creativity. I mobilized, coordinated and managed more than 250 boys and girls to build dolls and trucks, motorcycles, airplanes and helicopters using wire. And in the spring of 2006, at a special awards show, the children all received prizes – movie tickets and backpacks, food packs and stationery, courtesy of local and international donors. Their toys were displayed in an exhibition mounted at the National Gallery in Bulawayo, and the top four toymakers garnered something even more spectacular – an airplane ride over their own hometown.
The orphans gained more than their prizes and their moment in the spotlight: When Dennis took a sampling of the toys home to New York, dozens of his friends and neighbors reached out with a helping hand by donating money for the toymakers. I used those donations to pay school fees for every child who participated, to buy baskets of food sufficient to feed a family for over a month, as well as notebooks and pencils. For the first time in their lives, the children glimpsed the possibility of helping their families by working with their own hands. In a world where charity and handouts are the coin of the realm, they caught an inkling of dignity.
What began as a one-time competition morphed into an annual happening and Dennis not only continued to provide food for orphans from across the city but rewarded the best toy makers from each neighborhood with a train trip to Victoria Falls and, in the Spring of 2007, a week-long adventure to an outdoor camp in the Matopos Hills just outside Bulawayo.
In the course of these activities, I teamed up with Dennis to establish a Children’s Centre - Children Solutions Centre. We have maintained our commitment to the dignity of work and independence and are now concentrating our efforts in one of Bulawayo’s poorest and most underserved neighborhoods, Nketa/Emganwini, and on a growing group of orphans between the ages of six and eighteen. Keeping it simple is my philosophy, as is recruiting the sort of people who understand the power of person-to-person connections.
After operating out of a neighborhood primary school for four years, in July 2012, we opened The ChildSol Center, a six roomed residential house rented with funding from scores of individual and corporate donors. It included an educational Resource Center with a kitchen, library; a Computer training room; a Sewing Training Center; and we used the nearby sports field for sport and fitness programmes.
The Center, which has since been closed due to lack of funding, is a legally registered Trust in Zimbabwe. Registration number MA127/2008.
It is from this background that we seek to fundraise to make the dreams of these children a reality once again. An after-school programme where kids can come together and get free after school lessons and tutoring, help with their home-work as most do not have a parent either because they succumbed to teh deaddly scourge or they are out vending or working to put food on the table. This initiative is paramount to development of responsible citizens in the long run.
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