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Foundation Aim: Self-Reliance

The Zienzele Foundation has its headquarters in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. (In Shona, the native language of Zimbabwe, “zienzele” means “self-reliance”.) Working with Earthwatch, a nonprofit environmental research organization, founder Prisca Nemapare began looking at the issue of nutrition for women and children in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Nancy Clark, a nurse at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph and co-founder of the Zienzele Foundation, first met Nemapare when she went to Zimbabwe in 1998 as an Earthwatch volunteer.

By 2000, Earthwatch had pulled its volunteers out of the country because of the dangerous political situation: President Robert Mugabe had instituted a violent land-grab program from white farmers. But Nemapare and Clark decided to continue their work because the need was urgent.

Nemapare and Clark worked with the women in the villages to find ways they could earn money to provide children with nutrition, medication and education. “We could help them think about things they could do for themselves,” Clark said. “That’s the whole premise of our work.” Jim Clark, Nancy Clark’s husband, has also worked with her in Zimbabwe.

Since its inception, the Zienzele Foundation has helped women in 114 villages in Masvingo province, where Mupagamuri is located, to start small basket-making and sewing businesses, as well as planting vegetable gardens.

There are now 350 women making baskets, which are sold in the Upper Valley, Ohio and abroad, nine sewing groups, and 50 gardens, Clark said.

Some of the men in the villages have begun making wooden spoons to sell, because baskets and sewing are considered women’s work. Last year, the foundation paid $48,000 in school fees in 13 school districts so that children could be educated.

Whether the Zienzele Foundation would take the chance of bringing another young Zimbabwean to the U.S. is an open question, Clark said. Mpoki is the second student to come to the U.S. from Zimbabwe with the help of the foundation. The first, Langton Mahechani, studied at Ohio University and earned a master’s degree from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

But not every student wants to travel so far, is suited to the dislocation. Some students want to be able to learn a trade by enrolling in a technical college at home. There are fine colleges and universities in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“In terms of cost effectiveness and the cultural piece, too, in theory, if we had the support, we could send kids to school in Zimbabwe,” Clark said. “We’re definitely at a place where we need to look at that post-secondary education component to best help kids who could benefit.” — Nicola Smith

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