Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2000
Orphanage burdened by AIDS epidemic
Special to the WCR
Chinyaradzo is the Shona word for "place of comfort."
For almost 40 years, the Chinyaradzo Children's Shelter has been one of several refuges for this country's orphaned and abandoned children.
Now with the accelerating HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe creating a new generation of orphans, the shelter needs to expand.
For a long time most of the children who came to Chinyaradzo were newborn babies whose mothers had either died in childbirth, were imprisoned or receiving psychiatric treatment.
More recently, some children have been referred by either police or the social welfare department in Zimbabwe. Others have simply been abandoned.
More and more of the children, however, arrive at Chinyaradzo after their parents have died of AIDS.
Sub-Saharan Africa, with Zimbabwe in the middle, is the global epicentre of AIDS, says Andrew Mutandwa, an information officer with SAFAIDS (Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service).
In Zimbabwe, a country of about 12 million people, about 2,000 people a week are dying of AIDS, he says. The Zimbabwean growth rate is 50 per cent lower than projected because of AIDS and it is expected to be reduced by 75 per cent or more by 2010.
With a troubled economy and high unemployment, the country's traditional extended family structure is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the increasing number of children left orphaned by AIDS.
And although there are no hard statistics, more and more of the children who arrive at the shelter are HIV.
The shelter, one of several operated by Zimbabwe's Child Protection Society, is considered one of the most well run in Harare, largely because of the efforts of Stella Mesikano, the shelter's long-time matron.
It receives $250 Zimbabwean ($9.41 Canadian) a month for each child from the society - not enough to cover all expenses.
So Mesikano, who visited Toronto on an CIDA exchange in 1994, is unceasing in her efforts to raise support for the 70 children living in the large, walled compound in the high-density (i.e. poor) suburb of Highfield.
Even cabin crews from Quantas Airlines stop by regularly to drop off surplus supplies, help out with odd jobs and spend a little time with the children.
For several years, the interdenominational shelter received funding from World Vision Zimbabwe. But as the international Christian development organization moved into larger regional development projects, funding was withdrawn.
Instead, there is a partnership with World Vision in which volunteers from Canada spend three to six weeks volunteering at the orphanage.
Despite its clean surroundings and the large, bright murals that decorate its centre court, the shelter is showing its age.
For the past five years, Mesikano has been trying to raise $3 million Zimbabwean - about $113,000 Canadian - to renovate and expand.
"Unfortunately the demand for places at Chinyaradzo is increasing," she says. "The society (Child Protection Society which runs Chinyaradzo) has not been able to raise this amount despite wide appeals."
Now plans call for the expansion to proceed in stages as funds become available. "This will increase the overall cost but some improvement is essential and urgent," she says.
While the extensions will increase the orphanage's operating costs, she hopes public support worldwide will help overcome the shortfall.