The Sunday Mail
TIRED of living with a stepmother who regularly bashed him, denied him food and levelled false accusations against him following the untimely death of his mother, young Innocent (not his real name), who was 12-years-old then, woke up before dawn one Sunday morning and made good his escape.
He could no longer cope with the frequent beatings and unbearable tasks he was assigned daily. Neighbours who saw the way he was being mistreated sometimes gave him money to buy food for himself, and this is the money he used to escape to “freedom”.
On reaching the city centre, the young man found himself living and working on the streets. There, life was not as rosy.
He survived on begging and oftentimes slept on the pavements of Harare on an empty stomach. He soon joined the wrong crew of young people facing similar circumstances.
They started sniffing glue, drinking beer and stealing money and other valuables from strangers for resale to buy food and drugs.
“Life on the streets was tough. Imagine sleeping in the open. One day I saw my father in town looking for me and I ran away. Whenever I reported the abuse to him, he would take my stepmother’s side,” he said.
“Bathing was a problem and so was food. Sometimes we would go to Mukuvisi River for a bath, while a few kind-hearted people would provide us with hot meals.”
His father died two years later and Innocent did not attend his funeral since he only heard of his death several months after his burial.
All these challenges are, however, now past tales as Innocent is among a group of children who were removed from the streets of the country’s major cities and taken to Chambuta Children’s Home in Chiredzi, where hot meals are assured and they are now attending school, courtesy of the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.
“I am truly thankful to our mother, Amai vedu vane rudo, the First Lady, who helped put our lives back on the rails. Life on the streets was difficult, but now things have changed as we are attending school and she gave us shelter. We are being looked after well and being given clothes and food,” he said with a broad smile.
Prior to the intervention by the First Lady, Chambuta had decrepit buildings with roofs that were caving in.
Working with other partners that included local authorities and the business community, Amai Mnangagwa and her Angel of Hope Foundation has invested a lot of time and resources to give the home a facelift, with buildings that have a modern architectural design that can compete favourably with those in big cities.
Chambuta Children’s Home now boasts a fully-equipped computer lab where learners and those from the community can access the Internet, do research, their school work and play games.
There is also an imposing multi-disciplinary sports court where they can play tennis, volleyball, netball and soccer, to name but a few.
Gardens at the centre are now also well-manicured, giving the place a breath of fresh air and new look, which makes passersby green with envy.
Amai Mnangagwa officially opened the home on Monday last week.
Charmed by the work and commitment of the mother of the nation, the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe now wants Chambuta named after the First Lady.
Their president, Councillor Josiah Makombe, said they would approach authorities with the request.
Innocent is not the only one who is happy for being given a new lease of life.
“I want to thank our mother who took us from the streets and brought us here. She raised us from the dust and put us at a place which is full of milk and honey. She put us in nice homes where we have warm blankets, and we are going to school in preparation for a brighter future. May God bless her forever. Even the foster mothers we stay with must also be blessed,” said another boy living at the home.
But how did he find himself living and working on the streets?
“I was not wanted anywhere because my parents had separated while I was young and they later died. I started living on the streets at 10 years of age and now I am 15-years-old,” he said.
Another child at the centre said he left his home as a result of mischief, which led him to steal valuables.
“I left home where I was staying with a relative after having stolen two cellphones and started living and working on the streets at 14 years of age. I am now 17. Another relative saw me in the streets and took me to her home. I started going to church and later stopped and went back to my old ways. I stole a neighbour’s a bicycle which I sold because I wanted money for drugs. I was thoroughly beaten and this prompted me to run away and go back onto the streets,” he said.
But now his circumstances have changed for the better.
“I had become a petty thief, but this is now all in the past. I am now a changed person, a good child. Also I am now going to school and can now read and write. I am doing well in school; I came up eighth in class. Dai vasiri Amai vedu vane rudo, Amai Mnangagwa, ndiyaniwo aizotiona,” he said while fighting back tears.
The home’s superintendent, Mrs Tendai Adam, spoke glowingly about the recent renovations and how the First Lady made the place habitable.
“The renovations made the houses habitable and turned them into family units. The units allow the mother of the house to stay and spend time with the children. The renovated houses came with furniture such as beds, television sets, couches, electrical stoves, kitchen utensils among others,” she said.
This initiative by the First Lady to embrace the disadvantaged children, Mrs Adam said, helps to lower risk of behavioural problems and boost self-confidence.
“Most of them were troubled and bitter children who felt neglected by family members, society and the community at large, but the unconditional love portrayed by our mother is one of a kind. She tirelessly works with her Angel of Hope Foundation scouting, mobilising, holding fundraising events to source the resources for the children at Chambuta. They now have a place to develop and grow, as they are now being provided with food, shelter and education.
“They go to school in the morning and when they come back home from school, they are monitored and supervised during homework time by their foster mothers. In the evening, time is set aside to relax and watch TV. Story time and prayer time often signal end of day activities, and they sleep afterwards,” she said.
A foster mother at Chambuta Children’s Home, Mrs Esnath Zenda, said living and working with the children was a blessing.
“I look after these children. I live with them the way I do with my biological children. I take care of their upkeep and see whether or not they would have bathed and eaten. We also teach them that after waking up, they make the bed, bath and clean the house and yard. What we do with our children at home is what we do with them here. We now have a bond as though they are my biological children.”
Mrs Zenda said the children were respectful.
She also came out in full praise of the concept of foster families.
“This initiative by the First Lady is commendable because even when we are seated discussing with the children, if you hear some of the background stories they have, you see that these children went through a lot. Amai’s love has given them a place to stay and they are living well,” she said.
Just like children everywhere, these children have dreams and had a heart-to-heart talk with the First Lady when she visited them last week and spent some days staying with then at the home.
The children shared with the First Lady what they wanted to do in future.
Some said they wanted to be pilots while others said they wanted to be doctors and engineers.
Mrs Mhloava Mkupe, a member of the Chambuta community, said she was grateful to the First Lady for her benevolence.
“The institution had old, rickety structures which have now been modernised and we thank the First Lady for leading from the front in improving the welfare of children here and giving them a chance to believe again,” she said.
The same words were echoed by Kenzaniya Matilele from the same community.
“Since Independence in 1980, we had never seen a First Lady coming here to improve people’s lives the way Amai Mnangagwa has done. She has taught us love. May God grant her more,” he said.
Mr Thanks Chiula said: “This transformation is unbelievable. We wish to join hands with Amai in assisting those in need for it is everyone’s responsibility. She has done wonders for the people and for that we need to thank her and hope everyone is learning from our mother.”
Getting a shoulder to cry on in times of distress and someone to lift you up when down helps cultivate a sense of belonging which rests the mind.
Therefore, with the way these children have changed shows just how love and commitment, as shown by the First Lady, can change lives. Angel of Hope Foundation is indeed touching lives!