I almost fell to the ground as Chido attacked me with a hug. And oh, was I happy to see her. She was there with another girl and they both wanted to carry my bags. I let them, fighting an impulse to control my possessions, as I knew they wouldn’t take anything.
“Uri kuenda here?” she asked. Are you leaving?
“Ehe, ndiri kuenda pashure two weeks.”
She hugged me and buried her face in my stomach. We stood like that for a long while, and when finally I gently released myself I could see that she was crying.
“You’re going to be fine, Chido,” I said, squatting down so that my face was at the same height as hers. “Just work hard in school, and you’ll do great. And if ever there is a problem, you can contact Alik and the other people at the clinic.”
She nodded, wiping her tears with her hands.
We had gone a long way, this twelve-year old girl and I. From that first time when she volunteered to be interviewed, and broke down in tears as I asked about her situation at home, until this day, a lot had happened. And the biggest drama was around the school fees….
Chido is a very bright kid, and last term she was second best in her class. This term however, her mother had not been able to afford to send her to school and Chido ended up spending a lot of time at the clinic.
One day she came to my office and asked to sing a song. I was busy with lots of work, and parts of me wanted to tell Chido that I didn't have time for that during office hours, but somehow it felt important to listen to her. Her song was long, with several verses, and tears were rolling down her cheeks as she sang it.
“Amai wangu vakaenda kunababa vavo.”
It was about a mother that had abandoned her child for another man.
“Chido, did you write that yourself?” I asked as she had finished. She nodded. I was both impressed and moved at the same time. I decided to take her to one of the counsellors. “She says her mother is using many harsh words against her.”
After probing a bit we found out that Chido thought her mother didn’t want her to go to school, as she herself hadn’t finished more than fifth grade.
The counsellors scolded her for saying something as disrespectful about her mother, and asked her to bring the mother to the clinic. After that we had several sessions both with the mother and Chido. It was obvious that the mother was under pressure, feeling stressed and guilty about keeping Chido at home.
However, she had been ill, she had not been able to go the rural area for work, she had lost Chido's birth certificate and without that Chido could not be allowed at a governmental school but had to go to one of the unofficial and more expensive private schools. We tried to support her to retrieve Chido's birth certificate, but for that she needed an ID and had to collect it in the rural area.
It was around that time that I met Tatenda.
It’s funny how easy it is to get in touch with people. You just need to meet their eyes and nod, and in the next moment you are talking, sharing your life history. It was like that with Tatenda. We were sitting next to each other on the airplane from Kenya to Zimbabwe and talked nonstop during the entire flight.
I took an instant liking to Tatenda. She was tall and upright, around fifty, working as a nurse in the UK, developing care of drug addicts in the prisons. Imagine! A tough woman, no nonsense, but with a warm heart.
“I grew up with eight siblings. We were poor, but I did well in school and received a scholarship. These days the government can’t afford that, but I’d like to find one or two kids in Zimbabwe to support, just to give them a chance like that.”
I told her about Chido, how talented and clever she is, and about her current situation. I could see that Tatenda was moved.
“Where is this child?” she asked.
“In Epworth. If Chido's mother is willing, I can introduce you to her.”
Said and done, a few weeks later Chido and her mother were introduced to Tatenda, who agreed to support them both in getting the birth certificate and the school fees.
"I want her to go to a good school, an official school."
Chido was as happy as a bird and honestly, so was I. I would not have liked to leave Zimbabwe without having Chido’s future secured.
And that’s why Chido was crying when she heard that I was leaving. The past year has been difficult for her, and in all of this, she had felt that I had been there for her, that I had cared.
Now, as I am leaving, she will be on her own again. I really hope she’ll be doing fine, but with the help of Tatenda and the staff at the clinic I’m sure she will.