VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
WENDY Musonda has a thriving career as a banker. Looking at her, no one would guess that she grew up in an orphanage.
Today Wendy is married and has a daughter. She is a cashier in one of the commercial banks, lives in a low-density residential area and one would not be wrong to classify her among the middle class in Zambia.
Having lost both parents in 1994, she was left in the care of her grandmother.
“When my grandmother could not manage to take care of me and my other siblings, I was taken to Kabwata Orphanage in 1997. I was among the first children at the centre,” says Wendy.
Wendy was staying in Mufulira on the Copperbelt, when her grandmother heard about the opening of an orphanage in Lusaka founded by Angela Miyanda, the wife of the Vice-President at that time. That’s how the old woman took the girl to Kabwata Orphanage and she was warmly received.
Initially, it was difficult for Wendy to adjust to the environment, but she later became fond of the place owing to the love and care by the aunties at the centre.
“My strongest foundation is the fear of God inculcated in me during my stay at the orphanage, it has helped me withstand any challenge I may face in life,” she says with a smile.
During her stay at the orphanage, Wendy attended Mumuni Primary School, St. Mary’s and Libala secondary schools and Lusaka Trades Training Institute where she studied secretarial.
“I had good times at the centre especially when visitors [would] come and showed us love and care, it was really amazing. I have learnt to accept people the way they are and just to be the best in what I do,” she says.
Wendy is one of the 563 children that have passed through Kabwata Orphanage Centre in its 20 years of existence. The orphanage was born out of Mrs Miyanda’s compassion for children who were left behind by parents who died of AIDS and related illnesses.
Zambia’s first HIV/AIDS case was reported in 1984. By the early 1990s it was estimated that as many as one in five adults had been infected with HIV, compelling the World Health Organisation (WHO) to call for the establishment of a National AIDS Advisory Council.
Today, it is estimated that 1.2 million people are living with HIV in Zambia, and of these, about 100, 000 are children.
Kabwata Orphanage was opened in 1997 when HIV and AIDS was at its peak.
The director, Mrs Miyanda, explains that during the early years of the AIDS pandemic, many children were orphaned by the disease.
It was at that time that she decided to create a shelter for such children. At the time, her husband Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda was the Vice-President of Zambia.
The early days of the orphanage were not rosy, but with determination and passion for the underprivileged, Mrs Miyanda and team have passed the test of time.
“From 1997 to date, a total of 563 have gone through our orphanage as residents or permanent while others on transit,” Mrs Miyanda says.
She said the centre had also accommodated refugee children affected by the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Other children include those born in prisons and those whose mothers are serving long-term jail sentences.
The centre also receives children from the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare, Department of Immigration, International Office for Migration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Missing and abandoned children are also catered for at the centre.
To date, children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, however, make up the largest number of those that have gone through Kabwata Orphanage.
“In the 20 years of the orphanage’s existence, we have lost 13 children mostly due to HIV and AIDS. The oldest was 11 years old,” Mrs Miyanda said.
According to Mrs Miyanda, one of the biggest challenges for the centre is receiving children without any form of identification regarding their name or family.
“Imagine, a child is brought without any form of identification and there is no one to give you information concerning this child. So we have to give the child a new name and also create a birthday for the child,” she said.
Another challenge Mrs Miyanda still deals with is tracing the children’s relatives and reuniting them with their families.
Most of the children are not accepted back into their families for various reasons, while in other cases, the children fail to bond with their relatives and opt to return to the centre after being weaned.
School fees and food are also among the challenges Kabwata Orphanage is grappling with.
Kabwata Orphanage recently celebrated its 20 years of existence in offering care and support to vulnerable children. Weathering the storm over the years and seeing orphans becoming responsible citizens, is one of the greatest achievements for the founder, Mrs Miyanda.
“The greatest achievement we celebrate are the children who have made it and are able to fend for themselves,” she notes.
Mrs Miyanda and her team at the centre are proud of producing responsible citizens serving the nation in the banking sector, defence and security wings and other organisations.
The children that fail to excel academically are equipped with survival skills such as auto mechanics, agricultural production and tailoring.
Looking back on her 20-year journey, what would put a smile on Mrs Miyanda’s face?
“There are so many joyful moments. There is one where a child who was so sick of malnutrition, that child recovered and was taken into school,” she says.
Mrs Miyanda also recalls a case of a child who was taken to the centre with terrible burns, but was nursed until he got healed. The child, who is now 19 years old, was later enrolled in school and has since been reunited with his father.
Twenty years after its establishment, Kabwata Orphanage is still providing services to the community because it has had good support from a number of its cooperating partners.
“We have had very wonderful support from MultiChoice Zambia who have been with us since 1999 through the company’s first director Peter Farwell,” Mrs Miyanda says.
The children have been watching free DStv since 1999. MultiChoice has also continued to support the orphanage materially through Shoprite vouchers.
And MultiChoice Zambia public relations manager Mwiika Malindima justifies their support to the home, saying Kabwata Orphanage has been supporting the most vulnerable children in society.
Shoprite Zambia has also been a keen supporter of the centre by providing two to three jobs for school-leavers from Kabwata Orphanage.
Woolworth Zambia has in the last six years been recruiting school-leavers from the centre who mostly do product labelling and other simple jobs.
“I have had very wonderful people around, we cannot even claim that we have done it all by ourselves at the centre. It has been a collection of so many people. It is not me and myself but God,” Mrs Miyanda says.