I have to open this post with an admission. A couple of time each year, I start to feel overwhelmed with all of the challenges of running Tariro. Despite being the organization’s executive director. I am a non-paid volunteer. Yet at the end of the day, I find myself responsible for all of the various aspects of this small, but complex nonprofit. Are our girls making progress in school? Do we need to change our administrative structure? Update the website? Navigate between the girls’ obligations to attend church on Easter weekend and our dance director’s wish to hold extra rehearsals with them? Not to mention the biggest challenge, that of fundraising… I am always struggling to be sure we have the funds necessary to maintain our programs. And each time I start to get overwhelmed I think, maybe I should just let this thing go. Is it really all worth the effort? Are we even really making a change?
Lately, I’ve been feeling this way again. Until this past Saturday, that is, when a wonderful day of work with Tariro changed my attitude completely. And in addition to admitting to my frustration, I also recognize that every time I get discouraged with the challenges we face, a personal interaction with our families never fails to convince me of three very important things. One, we are making a huge difference in the lives of families caring for orphaned children. Two, we are able to make a life-changing intervention for many of our students, transforming their futures completely. And three, as long as we are able to have this huge effect, even if it is only in the lives of a few dozen students, I feel a strong desire to keep Tariro’s work going.
So what happened on Saturday to turn my perspective around? It’s a long story… but one worth reading. I’m going to give it to you in installments, with one post each day for the rest of this week… so for now, here’s the first part of what my Saturday looked like.
The disaster of the car
First, the disaster of the car. Public transport is notoriously slow here, consisting of a system of private minibuses, or kombis, with set routes radiating outward from the city center to various neighborhoods. To change from one route to the next, you may have to walk thirty minutes or more in the city center. This makes it tough to do more than one or two simple things in a day, and I’m very dependent on my car to enable me to work efficiently on days like Saturday, where my schedule looked like this:
- Pick up Mai Chipira on the corner of Takawira and 2nd St.
- But a box of green bar soap to distribute to our students’ guardians
- Stop by Tariro’s dance rehearsal at Chembira school to collect our student Rachel
- Take Rachel to the Tariro library to give embroidery instruction to Mai Chipira, as well as Tariro’s Epworth students
- Proceed to our trustee Cosmas Magaya’s house to attend a meeting with the guardians of Tariro’s Glen Norah and Highfield students
- Get back home, dressed, and off to capoeira class, on the other side of town, by 3:30pm
This was definitely a schedule that required my car… which was in the garage with its innards spilled out all over the place. So I hopped on a kombi and made my way into town, meeting Mai Chipira and walking thirty minutes to the corner where we could buy a box of soap and catch the kombis to Glen Norah. By this time, we was running over an hour late. It was clear that we weren’t going to make it in time to do an embroidery workshop before the meeting with our students’ guardians.
Enter Fadzi with a car!
Luckily, in response to the disaster of the car, there was Tariro’s program director, Fadzi. I think I detected a certain bright light shining around her head as she pulled up in a car which her sister very generously loaned us for the day. So we piled into the car with Mai Chipira and our twenty-four bars of soap and headed off to Glen Norah… picked up Rachel… and made it to the office with an hour to go before the meeting with the guardians…
The missing keys
…only to discover that Fadzi had left the library keys at home!!! The day was turning into a comedy of errors… good thing our librarian, Senzeni, has a second set of keys, and lives not far from the library. Finally, after a twenty minute detour to her house to collect the keys. we were all seated on the veranda outside of Tariro’s library, embroidery materials in hand, with Rachel at the ready to instruct our Epworth students, as well as Mai Chipira. I asked Fadzi to start the guardians’ meeting without me so that I could take some photos of the embroidery workshop. And as soon as I sat down on the veranda with the girls and started to observe the results of Tariro’s assistance to this group of students, I realized once again: this is really what our work is all about.
The small successes
I’ll start with the small successes. For me, the embroidery project is especially meaningful, as it was initiated by the students themselves. In addition, it combines some of the best aspects of being a collaborative project, and one which is self-sustaining. One collaborative aspect of the project is that the initial group of students to begin the sewing club, who live in the Mhondoro rural areas, were taught to sew by a member of another wonderful organization, Nhimbe for Progress. Nhimbe runs an amazing grassroots development project, with programs ranging from a preschool to a clinic. I love it that the women of Nhimbe cared enough about our girls to reach out and teach them to sew, representing a true sharing of skills at the grassroots level. Thank you Nhimbe!
A huge thank-you also goes out to all of our friends in the United States who donated embroidery thread, needles, hoops, and other materials for the project. With these materials, we will be able to keep the program running for at least several months.
And finally, in addition to bringing in a few dollars in extra income for the girls who are sewing the panels, the project has also contributed toward Tariro’s sustainability, as sales of the panels in the US brings in income which helps support our ongoing programs and activities.
The big successes
The embroidery club is a small way in which we are making a difference for our students. The truly transformative difference, however, lies in the formal education girls are able to complete with sponsorship from Tariro. As I sat on the verandah watching the girls sew, students started to pass by the library on their way to the guardians’ meeting. As schools have closed for a month-long break, our boarding school students are home for the holidays. Soon I was surrounded by four boarding students, each of them eager to show me their report book. Not surprisingly, our star students Pamela and Polite, are doing amazingly well, and continue to be among the top students at their school.
The really unexpected results, however, were those obtained by our other two boarding school students, Ruth and Netty. Last y ear, we placed both of these girls in boarding school not because of their academic potential, but because of the very desperate situations they were living it at home. Although they were failing at school, we decided to pay the extra money for boarding school primarily to remove them from their terrible home situations, without having any idea whether this opportunity would have any positive effect on their school performance. After just three terms at boarding school, however, both of these two young women are passing at least five subjects, the minimum number of O levels required to proceed to A level studies. I never would have predicted that either of these girls would be able to go on to A level studies. But it looks like both of them may have that chance, depending on their final exam results. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to see the changes we’ve made in their lives.
This kind of outcome is exactly what I dreamed of achieving when Tariro first started working with girls six years ago. It reaffirms our individualized approach to working with students on a one-on-one basis, and responding flexibly to each girl’s situation. It especially reaffirms our dedication to having the budgetary flexibility to allocate additional resources to girls with particular needs. For girls like Ruth and Netty, Tariro’s support is the difference between a life filled with opportunities and one without hope. And Tariro’s commitment to foster the same group of young women all the way though secondary school gives us the unique opportunity to watch these girls learn, grow, and develop into truly impressive young women with bright futures.
A thank you from our students’ guardians
Finally, my dedication to Tariro was further reinforced at the guardians’ meeting. Elderly grandmothers, aunts, and widowed mothers collected on the front porch of the home of one of our trustees, Cosmas Magaya, expressing their thankfulness and gratitude for Tariro’s support. Like Natalie S.’s grandmother, pictured above, many of the guardians made it clear that Tariro’s assistance is absolutely critical to enabling them to meet the expenses of raising the orphaned children under their care. Without our support, many of these girls would be attending school only sporadically, if at all.
Thanks to funds donated by friends in the United States, including many members of the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center, Tariro was able to provide each of our students guardians with a bar of soap as a thank-you for the time they took out of their days to attend the meeting. As one of our guardians said to us, maoko anopa anoropafadzwa naMwari, or “hands that give are blessed by God.” For me, the opportunity to give back to the community though Tariro’s work is truly the biggest blessing of all. To all readers and friends back home, thank you so, so much for supporting Tariro’s work!!