The Zienzele Foundation began as the result of a chance meeting in Africa of two committed women — Prisca Nemapare and Nancy Clark.
When Prisca was a professor of nutrition at Ohio University, she led an Earthwatch research project on the nutritional status of women and children in her native Zimbabwe. The project began in 1984 and continued through the 1990s. In 1998 and 1999, Nancy Clark, a nurse from rural Vermont, was a volunteers with the project. In 2000, Earthwatch discontinued its support due to the dangerous political situation in Zimbabwe. Undaunted, Prisca andNancy returned and set a new course.
At the request of the rural women they had worked with previously, their focus shifted to the emerging crisis of caring for children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Children were left in the care of widowed mothers or grandmothers who were unable financially or emotionally to care for them. When Prisca and Nancy were asked, ”What can you give us?” their answer was, “We don’t have anything to give you, but let’s think about what you can do for yourselves.” Thus began the Zienzele Foundation. It assists children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and their caregivers to generate income for support, to achieve self-reliance, and to gain education to prepare the children for a better life.
This creative enterprise occurred because both women were trained and prepared to seize the moment and move forward.
Prisca grew up in rural Zimbabwe, living with her grandmother. She was a hard-working, determined student, and eventually she won scholarships to continue her education in the U.S. After eleven years Prisca received her PhD in nutrition. Shortly thereafter she became a professor of nutrition at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Nancy Clark grew up in Vermont, graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in nursing. Even in nursing school she gravitated to community health and activitism. Her entire career has focused on the health and well being of women and children through her work in pediatrics in NYC, and then in home care, first in Connecticut and then Vermont, developing programs to meet the needs of young families. It has been a natural transition to this same type of work in rural Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, the Zienzele Foundation has a network of volunteers who provide oversight and carry out the work when Nancy and Prisca are absent. Each of the 23 Zienzele school districts has a Zienzele Representative who has been chosen by the caregivers in their village. There are also three Zienzele Coordinators who oversee several districts each. This model has created a high level of accountability and a quick response to situations as they arise.
Zienzele has active Boards of Directors both in Zimbabwe and in the US. The foundation is registered as a charitable organization in Zimbabwe and qualifies as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the US. Funding comes from private donations from many friends across the US and abroad. Great support systems are in place in Athens, Ohio, and Kyoto, Japan. Another important source of funding for school fees is the sale of beautiful baskets, hand-made by Zimbabwean caregivers.Go to www.zienzele.org for more information.