Twenty years. That’s how long the Zienzele Foundation has been helping Zimbabwean orphans and their caregivers in the African nation.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” foundation co-founder Nancy Clark said.
From 5-8 p.m. on Thursday at the Dartmouth Outing Club, that work will be celebrated during an annual celebration and fundraiser.
The event includes music, dancing, a walk and food. It costs $30 per adult, with children under 10 free.
Parker, a nurse who lives in West Topsham, Vt., first visited Zimbabwe in 1998, where she met Prisca Nemapare who was leading “an Earthwatch (Institute) research project on the nutritional status of women and children in her native Zimbabwe,” according to the foundation’s website.
As Parker and Namapare met with the women, they realized just how many were caring for children who were orphaned by the AIDS crisis.
“They couldn’t clothe them or feed them or send them to school,” Parker recalled. They began discussing ways the women could earn an income to support the children and the community at large.
“There were groups of women who knew how to garden, but didn’t have seeds,” Parker said. They also knew how to sew, but had no fabric. They could make baskets, but didn’t have a market where they could sell them.
Parker and Namapare decided to change that. They sat worked with the women and came up with a plan “with the clear understanding that we could help them once, but that they would have to keep the projects going.”
And they have.
During the first year, they had two groups of women making baskets, two groups working on sewing projects and four gardens which raised enough funds to support the school fees for 20 children.
Last year, they supported 900 kids in school, had 48 groups making baskets, about 34 community gardens and six sewing projects.
“That’s been a change,” Parker said fondly.
The baskets are sold in locations around the Upper Valley. The income from the baskets — about $33,000 — is used to pay the school fees for the children.
“They’ve become totally empowered within their group,” Parker said. “They have independently branched out and started raising chickens and goats. They also have created a banking system within the group where they loan to each other which is great.”
At the same time, Parker and Namapare were providing health and nutritional support services to the women and children.
In the beginning, the entire health focus was on HIV and they targeted their education and advocacy efforts on prevention and getting women in rural areas tested.
“Then ultimately we were able to get the medication into the rural clinics … so that they were able to be treated,” Parker said, adding that they saw the peak of the pandemic in Zimbabwe. “It’s now gotten to a place where people are living with the disease, but they’re not dying, which was happening in the beginning.”
The last two years, the focus has shifted yet again. “Now, we’ve gotten more toward wellness and the advocacy for the women,” Parker said.
They’ve also seen many of the orphans grow up and finish school. One of the foundation’s students, Innocent Mpoki, is graduating from Middlebury College this month.
“For every year that they’re educated, it changes their life and the lives of their subsequent families,” Parker said. She visits Zimbabwe twice a year. “350 powerful women have certainly made a difference.”