The Sunday Mail
Tendai Chara and Kelvin Kondo
The death of Trainos Masaiti’s parents when he was two years old spelt disaster for the boy. None of the toddler’s relatives was interested in taking him in and by the age of five, Trainos had lived in five different households.
Some relatives treated him badly, denied him food and subjecting him to all sorts of abuse, and by the time he landed at Tichakunda Welfare Centre in Harare’s Hatcliffe suburb, he was just skin and bones.
At Tichakunda, a welfare sanctuary for orphans and vulnerable children, Trainos not only found a roof over his head but stability in his life.
Sixty-year-old Mrs Winnie Masaraure, the centre’s founder, raised Trainos along with nearly 1 000 other children she cares for at Tichakunda.
Her hope is that these children will amount to something, which goes in line with the centre’s name – which means “we shall overcome”.
The Sunday Mail Extra visited the centre last week to have a chat with one of Zimbabwe’s everyday heroes.
Trainos and 70 of his classmates use a disused chicken run as a class, while others learn in wood and metal shacks.
The centre has 338 children in Early Child Development, 550 primary and 100 secondary school pupils. Every night Trainos and 17 others he shares a room with, make do with a few blankets and huddle in corners to try and keep warm.
This room is divided by a curtain, with Mrs Masaraure and seven girls using the robed-off portion as their bedroom.
Breakfast is, without fail, plain porridge without peanut butter or margarine. Lunch tends to be sadza with cabbage or kapenta.
Here, people eat to survive.
Two pit latrines service the entire centre, and Mrs Masaraure says they have survived typhoid and cholera by “the grace of God”.
The children, though, are upbeat and grateful.
“Our situation is different from other children. We do not have enough food, shoes and clothing. I am, however, going to study hard and one day realise my dream of becoming a medical doctor,” Trainos, now 15, tell us.
Still in Grade 5 (he would ordinarily be in Form 3), Trainos says he will make it to secondary school soon.
“I once dropped out of school and was earning a living rummaging the Pomona dumpsite for anything of value. I also sold firewood and slept in an abandoned building after I was chased away from home,” added the youngster.
As a person who has lived on the streets, he now has a place to call home, deplorable as the conditions are.
Mr Lloyd Chihumwi, who is in charge of the centre’s construction department, has been working here as a volunteer for a decade. He is another unsung hero.
“At one time, the local authorities were threatening to close this place down, since there were no proper buildings, and it is then that I decided to chip in with my building skills,” Mr Chihumwi, a professional builder, tells us.
Working with 10 other volunteers, Mr Chihumwi has supervised construction of a building that now encompasses a kitchen, toilets, a bedroom and a classroom block.
Before this, the centre consisted of a string of wooden cabins.
Both the primary and secondary schools are headed by Mr Charles Masaraure, a retired teacher. Like other workers here, his services are free.
“Last year our best student got 19 units in the Grade 7 national examinations. This year, I am sure that one or two of our pupils will perform better,” Mr Masaraure said.
Emma Moyo, who writes those exams this year, believes she will excel.
“What is important for us is the fact that we are being taught. I am not worried about the state of my classroom. My target is to pass my examinations,” says the girl.
More than 36 people offer their sweat and minds as caregivers, teachers, builders, guards and general hands.
Mrs Masaraure opened the sanctuary in 1993 when she was at Hatcliffe Holding Centre, which housed families that had been displaced from Churu and Porta farms.
“Living conditions at the holding camps were bad to say the least. The situation was worsened by the HIV/AIDS scourge which left a lot of orphans in its wake,” she narrates.
When she started, she looked after 338 children – a number that shot to about 700 in two months. Mrs Masaraure sold two of her residential stands and moved in with the orphans.
“We had nowhere to sleep when we started and were at one time forced to sleep in a toilet which was still under construction. I was getting a lot of pressure from council which nearly repossessed the stand due to non-payment,” she recounts.
The mother of seven grown-ups says her love for children and desire to serve are her sources of inspiration.
“As a mother, I love children. I am also motivated by the desire to make this community a better place for our children. I am confident that doctors, lawyers, teachers and other prominent people will come out of this orphanage,” Mrs Masaraure affirms.
To feed the 550 children, the centre needs 64kg of mealie-meal, two litres of cooking oil and six kilogrammes of sugar every day. The nearby Pomona dump site, has proven to be a major setback when it comes to the attainment of the centre’s goals.
“The dumpsite is our major source of headaches. Some of our pupils are skipping lessons as they go and rummage the dump site for valuables that they will then sell. If I had my way I could make sure that people are not allowed anywhere near the site,” says Mrs Masaraure.
But with her band of volunteers and fellow heroes and heroines, Mrs Masaraure will forge onwards until she overcomes.