Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
Do you know there are inimitable moments that can change your life forever? In an instant, you realise your whole future is laid out in front of you.
Fungai Nyandoro experienced one such moment, though it remains just as fresh in the eye of her memory as the day it happened 10 years ago.
Picture a hot, tropical afternoon in the mountainous area of Mt Darwin. The air was humid and heavy. It seemed like the sky would explode with the first rains as she sat at their homestead, watching over the three children her late sister had left behind.
“We had just buried her”, recalls Nyandoro, of Fungai Foundation Trust.
The heartsick little kids were still in shock, and could not stand the pain, but kept weeping and staring at the floor.
Nyandoro’s elder sister, who tried to remain calm, just sat at the kitchen entrance, shelling beans into a shallow woven bowl.
“If you are a Christian,” the 39-year-old Nyandoro resumes, “you probably know the verse, James 1:27, which reads: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’”
She adds: “My husband, Isaac Lembani, came to stand next to me, trying to comfort me, but staring at the orphans and seeing their grief made me shed more tears.”
“But I knew I had to be strong. From that moment I started to have a clear understanding of God’s heart behind His command. My heart was moved. My husband and I took in the kids into our two-roomed Norton home.”
Following the incident, a wave of realisation dawned on Nyandoro and Lembani (45), her husband, which prompted them to take in six orphaned children from their extended family. Since then the numbers have been growing.
Currently, the couple is looking after 70 children from the age of one to 23 years; all from different backgrounds. Of the 70 children, 46 are in primary school, 18 in secondary school and six at tertiary level.
The couple believes that if supported, the children will be in a position to sustain their livelihoods in future. Realising that the number of children in need of care keeps on increasing, Nyandoro and her husband decided to convert their foster-parenting initiative into a foundation early this year.
“The foundation focuses on practical help to bring children out of poverty. The primary goals of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and locally, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology,” Nyandoro reveals.
“Being a charitable organisation that works with communities and families in Zimbabwe, the foundation has a 24-hour residential care centre, which provides holistic residential care services aimed at addressing the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual needs of traumatised, abandoned and orphaned children as well as other vulnerable groups.”
The foundation’s aim, she says, is to transform the lives of orphaned children through initiatives that help them to become healthy, independent and productive members of the community.
On our visit to the foundation located at No. 4061 Nharira Way, Norton, we are greeted by young energetic children of varying ages, with broad smiles on their faces.
There is this family togetherness among them that one finds it tasking to tell their different parentage. They appear to be Nyandoro and Lembani’s “biological” children.
As his foster son, Courtney Manzini (11), arrives at the home from Dudley Hall Primary School, Lembani fusses over him, encouraging him to eat the food that had been prepared for him and other children by the six women who help them at the foundation.
He seems to be the brightest among his age group, and this grabs our attention and makes us curious to chat with him.
We notice that Lembani knows how to make Courtney laugh as he pats his rotund tummy and compares it with Courtney’s slim frame.
Our conversation with the brilliant kid soon reveals that Lembani and his wife, with four children of their own, have provided the warm and loving home Courtney needs to feel safe. He says he will remain grateful for such a gesture all the days of his life.
“They taught me what unconditional love is, and I’m grateful for being part of this large family. We all love each other, and we live together as one in spite of our different backgrounds”, an elated Courtney says.
The same picture is mirrored in our interaction with the rest of the children. Each one of them has a testimony pointing to the values they impart on each other, having been groomed to love, respect and treat each other with dignity. They all seem to have their eyes set on a glorious future, with boundless opportunities. Their fervent prayer is that people out there find it in their good hearts to emulate what Nyandoro and Lembani are doing to create opportunities for empowering the underprivileged.
The eldest of them, Crona Kazai, a recent graduate of Nyadire Teachers’ College, also has a story to tell:
“They took over my welfare during my first year at the teachers’ college, as my parents were unable to raise the fees required to keep me in school.
“After my graduation, they gave me a chance to advance my education, and am currently enrolled with the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU), where I am studying Educational Management,” she says.
The 26-year-old Crona reveals that she is aspiring to lead the mooted foundation’s school, which is envisioned to be running in the next few years.
She encourages all her younger siblings to work hard and realise their dreams.
Through interaction with the couple we also learn that the foundation provides essential social work services: therapeutic, counselling, reunification of children, facilitation of foster care and adoption.
The foundation also aims to produce self-reliant, respectful and successful people, who will be active citizens of Zimbabwe and the world at large.
Since the couple started looking after the children, they have not been getting any aid from anyone. Now that the initiative has been formalised, it may be worthwhile that those willing to lend a hand do so.
This is important because Zimbabwe has many children living on the streets. However, the number of children on the country’s streets is hard to determine with accuracy.
According to the United Nations, globally, an estimated 150 million children live on the streets today.
The children end up living and working on the streets for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to the death of biological parents, family violence, economic hardships, breakdown of families, natural disasters and drug and alcohol abuse, among others.
On a daily basis in Harare and elsewhere, these children are seen begging and scavenging in order to find something to eat.
They do not have other means of survival and adopt survival strategies, such as petty theft, drug trafficking, substance abuse and prostitution. These children are at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Some are raped and many die due to diseases and accidents.
The nation should unite to protect vulnerable children from any forms of abuse by giving them the support and care they need to lead successful lives.
Sharing part of what one has to better the future of the underprivileged in our communities, equates to feeding one’s soul.