Photo: kids in Zimbabwe along for the ride to fill water containers

I’m currently en route from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to Colorado, wrestling with the joys and tragedies I witnessed of a courageous people under the siege of a bankrupt economy.
Why are kids orphaned in Zimbabwe? What are their lives like?
Travel along vicariously with me. Consider the stories of these families I met this week through the organization I work with, Hope’s Promise (adoption and orphan care) of Colorado. (Note: To protect the kids’ privacy, I’ve changed all their names.)

John and Eli

John used to be the boy who never smiled. At age three, his parents died. His maternal granddad took him in; until grandpa, too, died. John’s maternal grandma (“Gogo”) then claimed the boy. They developed a close relationship, but Gogo ekes out subsistence as a squatter on farmland owned by a church. As Zimbabwe’s economy spiraled downward, social services bankrupted. The family no longer receives government assistance with school fees.
Last year, Hope’s Promise Zimbabwe stepped in to assist with fees. But, still, John never smiled. His baby teeth failed to fall out when his permanent teeth grew in. For his grandma, who struggles heroically to feed the children in her care, an $80 dentist bill to remove extra teeth remained far out of reach. And so John, embarrassed, sealed his lips tightly shut.
When HP Zimbabwe’s Country Coordinator, Lydia, visited the US in October last year and shared John’s photo and explanation for his grim expression, five people immediately volunteered funds.
Last week we visited John, age 13, at the boarding school where he began studying four weeks ago. Now that he receives three meals a day as well as an education, neighbors on the farm call him the “luckiest boy.” He’s still shy, but he allowed us to admire his single set of pearly whites. Lydia said she’s never seen him so happy. Finally, the healing brought about through his grandmother’s love Is visible to the rest of the world through a beautiful smile.
But there’s still a little boy who isn’t smiling. John’s five year old cousin lives on the farm with Gogo. School started in January, but fees are nowhere to be found. Eli lingers in the shadows of his home while other kids study and play at school.

Paul and Lorie

A long and full life, with its joys and many sorrows, etches the woman’s face. But in her later years, she begins again, living the life of a much younger mother as she wrangles her second set of young charges through each day.
When Paul’s father passed away, the boy’s mother felt her only option was to immigrate illegally to South Africa to look for work. But, as for so many who assume nothing could be worse than Zimbabwe’s 95% unemployment rate, she still struggles to earn income. And now she’s stuck, unable to return home without official documents. Paul joined the ranks of “immigration orphans,” like so many other children in Zimbabwe.
Paul’s grandma, “Gogo” adores her grandchildren. Her biggest prayer request is for them to follow Jesus all their lives. But living as a farm squatter, she struggles to provide basic sustenance. School fees hang far out of reach, and the bankrupted government can’t help.
Last year, Hope’s Promise stepped into the gap. Paul now attends first grade, but his five year old cousin, Lorie (name changed), remains behind with Gogo. When the three Hope’s Promise kids met our team under a tree, Gogo brought Lorie along, asking for assistance.

Sarah and Chad

We sit under a tree with three generations of a Zimbabwean family, but one generation is missing.
“She’s my hero,” the young man says with obvious emotion, indicating a woman next to him whose face is etched with years of joy and sorrow. He explains. His siblings and their spouses passed away one-by-one. “Gogo” welcomed her grandchildren, even as she cares for her own mother with no steady source of income, living as a squatter on a church farm.
Gogo’s 9 year-old granddaughter, Sarah, inherited her parents’ chronic health challenges, the illness that decimated the “missing generation.” Even as Gogo struggles to provide subsistence for her family, Sarah needs monthly medication accompanied by strong nutrition. When social services ran out of money to assist the family, Sarah stopped going to school.
Hope’s Promise intervened last year, and this lively, bright-eyed girl once again studies and plays in second grade. But each morning, as she shoulders her school bag and winds away down a trail through the grass, her cousin, five year-old Chad, stays behind. As Zimbabwe’s economy continues to decline, paying school fees becomes increasingly impossible for Gogo.
With knowledge comes responsibility. Now that I know what is happening in Zimbabwe, I can’t unsee what I saw. I’ll continue processing my experiences in the days and months ahead. If you want to join us in changing the world for an orphan, one child at a time, please visit

6 thoughts on “Orphans in Zimbabwe

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