During the early 1990s the AIDS epidemic was devastating lives in Zimbabwe. In a short space of time, many parents in Matsika Village had succumbed to the disease, resulting in a sharp increase in the number of orphans in the Makoni District. Sadly, many of the orphans took to the streets of Rusape where they resorted to stealing and prostitution, begging and scavenging in an effort to survive.
Deeply moved by the plight of these street children, Hilda Kujokochera, in partnership with Christian Care International, established The Matsika Orphan Care Project in 2009 to assist children and extended families in the area, affected by the AIDS epidemic.
The Project is currently providing better lives and opportunities for 200 orphans. The children receive meals on a regular basis and are being looked after by the women at the village community centre.
Kujokochera, herself an orphan born in Matsika village, knew that educating and caring for the orphans was not something she could do alone.
"I believed that if the community members organized themselves, we could try and keep the children off the streets by providing care and love," Kujokochera said, in a recent interview with The Zimbawean. With only the seed of an idea, she approached the local church and traditional leaders in the village to discuss together solutions for a problem that was sweeping the village.
Kujokochera,who is a United States based Development Officer with an international NGO, used her personal financial resources to move around and question villagers about the difficulties they faced and encouraged them to come up with answers. She realized that to help the orphans, it would be up to the villagers themselves to create and maintain programmes. “We formed a committee to run the Project and action plans were drafted. I then wrote a project proposal to the CCI seeking funds and this was accepted. CCI agreed to be partners in the project and we wrote a memorandum of understanding leading to the establishment of the Project,” explained Kujokochera.
The villagers started a community garden to earn money for the Project, and began a community-based child-care center, where all the village children could go for food, educational activities and other support services.
The CCI Projects advisor, Naomi Pasirai, said they had noticed that Matsika was one of the poorest villages in the district and the number of children orphaned by AIDS was increasing rapidly.
“After assessing Kujokochera’s proposal, we realized that many of the orphans were struggling to survive without parents and were ending up on the streets. We asked ourselves what chance there was for these children, without food, opportunities for education and above all without parental love and support,” said Pasirai adding that, “It was then agreed that we should partner Hilda and her committee to develop the Project.”
Gladys Utseya who is the chairperson of the running committee of the Matsika Orphan Care Project said the orphans were being educated and were given regular health checks. “We have children who lost their homes so they are now being cared for at night as well as being supervised during the day. We have built little cottages where children, with their foster mothers, are able to be housed,” she said. Utseya added that the local support staff members are selected carefully. Interviews are held and ongoing training is given.
Headman Joel Matsika described Kujokochera as a dedicated care-giver, who at a time when other orphanages would not admit babies because of the cost, began admitting these little ones so that they would not be left to die. “With all these orphans in her care it is heart-warming to see how these children are blossoming and developing skills which will give them a brighter future,” said Headman Matsika.
Kujokochera is currently building a nursery for infants and for children under the age of two whose mothers have died from AIDS. In addition, she is planning to set up a technical school and secondary school, both for sponsored orphans and private paying students.Post published in: Gender Equality