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Filling a Void
Chinese moms lend a hand to Zimbabwean kids in need
By Ge Lijun | ChinAfrica VOL. 8 February 2016

Love in Africa members with children and staff of a home in Zimbabwe

Fourteen-year-old Lizzy Ngarawa, the resident of a children's home in Zimbabwe, couldn't believe her luck when she was given a VIP ticket to attend a show by the celebrated Liaoning Ballet of China in Harare, the capital city. It was a dream come true for the parentless young dance fan who had been on the verge of blindness just months before. But then fate, in the form of a charity organization, stepped in to change her life.

Ngarawa lives in the Hurungwe Children's Home in Karoi, a small city 210 km from Harare. In 2014, she contracted a serious eye disease but the home did not have the funds needed for her treatment. Ngarawa was in danger of losing her sight. The home subsequently sought help from Love in Africa, a newly-founded charity run by Chinese mothers living in Zimbabwe.

In February 2015, Love in Africa arranged for Ngarawa to be admitted to a public hospital in Harare, and later, to a private hospital. After several operations she gradually recovered her sight. Love in Africa also obtained special eye medication for Ngarawa from China as it was not available in Harare.

"The mothers [of the charity] and Ngarawa are just like real mothers and daughter. Each time she goes to hospital, several mothers accompany her voluntarily," Peng Yan, founder of Love in Africa, told ChinAfrica .

Love in Africa

Peng went to Zimbabwe in 1997. She lives in Harare with her husband, who runs a business. The couple's two children are studying in the United States.

For a long time, Peng lived in a closed circle, focusing solely on her family life. She had little connection with the outside world until 2009, when she visited a local orphanage by chance. What she saw there deeply impressed her.

"The kids there were so innocent and sincere, their smiles were more natural and brighter than [many] people's in normal circumstances," she said. "They reminded me of my own children, who were not with me."

After that visit, she started making donations to local orphanages, often taking her Chinese friends to meet the children. "I thought I needed to do something for them," she said.

She discovered that most orphanages in Zimbabwe were in dire straits, having taken in more children than they could accommodate. She rallied other Chinese in Zimbabwe to help out with donations and this eventually led to the formation of Love in Africa in April 2014. Today, the group has more than 50 members, the majority of whom are mothers.

On Christmas Day in 2014, they visited the Hurungwe Children's Home and found the children were not going to school for lack of funds. "We were very sad and decided to raise money for their schooling," Peng said. "All of us feel education is the most important [thing] for children."

But it was not easy to raise school fees for more than 50 children. The mothers could collect money for just the first semester. So to sustain the initiative, a charity sale was held at the Chinese New Year gala in 2015. This time the money raised was enough to pay the children's school fees for one year.

"The donation drive encouraged us as so many people showed their support for our work. It also encouraged us to work harder in the future," said Peng. Since then they have been able to fund the school fees regularly and visit the children every semester. Zimbabwe schools have three semesters in a year. Every time they visit the home, they also donate school materials. Today, they have a good rapport with the children and staff at the home.

Each visit is greeted with dance performances by the children to show their appreciation. "The head of the children's home was moved to tears several times while talking about our help. I think they like their Chinese friends very much," Peng said. She often receives letters of thanks from orphanages she has helped around the country.

One letter reads, "We are so grateful to you all for the love and support you give to our children and the help and donations that enable us to keep the home going... We have a long road ahead of us to attain the standard we would like but with the help and generosity of people like you we hope to achieve miracles!"

Prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Zimbabwe last year, the Zimbabwean daily The Herald published an article by Xi in November where he mentioned Love in Africa. "I know there is a Chinese mothers' group in Zimbabwe called Love in Africa," Xi said in his article. "Over the years, they have brought care and warmth to local orphans. Such concrete actions are manifestations of China-Zimbabwe friendship of the current generation and sow the seeds of friendship for future generations."

New lease of life

In December 2015, Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan visited the Grace Mugabe Children's Home in Harare, founded by her Zimbabwean counterpart Grace Mugabe in 2013 to care for orphans and abandoned children. Peng had previously sent teaching facilities and educational and sport materials to the home. During her visit she said it was the collective responsibility of society to provide orphans, the most vulnerable and at-risk community, with a happy life and good education, like that enjoyed by other children. She hoped the children in the home would be able to grow up in a comfortable, safe and warm environment.

"An increasing number of Chinese living in Africa are taking an active part in charitable activities, resulting in the image of Chinese improving among local people," Gao Taiping, Deputy Director of Zimbabwe Chinese Business Association, told ChinAfrica.

Gao said Chinese across Africa should help local societies through charitable activities to illustrate the sound Chinese tradition and virtue of being "ready to help."

"Our goal is not to make people remember us. We hope to change [parentless children's] fates through our efforts so that they can have a better future. When they grow up, they can help others," said Peng Yan.

According to UNICEF, about 50 million children have been left orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa due to poverty, diseases and wars. They have drawn extensive attention from the global community due to their predicament.

"We should do more in the future," Peng said. "I hope more Chinese in Zimbabwe can join us to help the children out of difficulties and give them a bright future."

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