A simple message on a promotional T-shirt used to show support for early childhood education made me notice the lady clothed in it. The T-shirt espoused the virtues of “catching” children in their youth and inculcating priceless lessons at a tender age. “Catch them young”, it read.
Hooked on the message, I unconsciously read it out aloud, drawing her attention in the process. Inadvertently, we settled down for a chat. That is how I met Carol Dorothy Makisi, Kariba’s own Mother Theresa; four years ago.
Today, “Auntie Carol”, as she is affectionately know by the Kariba community which is appreciative of her philanthropic work, has transformed herself from merely being an exuberant educator to being a mother to a group of some of Kariba’s vulnerable children.
Her Hilltop Pre-School institution has been transformed into Kariba Children’s Home and Learning Centre, dropping the profit motive in her original business model.
With no community centre of its own to serve the ever-increasing population of Kariba and her rural hinterlands, Kariba has proved to be such a limited place in services available to disadvantaged members of its community.
It then falls to people like Auntie Carol who have had to exhaust their savings pursuing their dreams of making a difference in their societies.
Single-handedly, she took in nine vulnerable children and gave them a new start under her wings.
Due to constraints in capacity, she has had to reduce this number to seven. Auntie Carol has spared these children the horrors that come with a barren street life.
A trained educator, Auntie Carol (45), with the assistance of some selfless volunteers, has set up a basic school for the children. As with most such cash-strapped projects, she has been unable to meet her objectives due to a plethora of problems.
The premises she uses are rented and even though the rentals are fair, she sometimes falls behind, inviting eviction notices and legal suits. Food, clothing, utility bills and other running costs have weighed her down. Playground equipment is inadequate and very basic. Assistance is desperately needed.
At her age and a teaching career in South Africa beckoning, she could have abandoned the children and followed the well-beaten track to an easy livelihood. After all, they are not her biological children. Not so for Auntie Carol, who has had to forego worldly pleasures to pursue her Mother Theresa-inspired dreams.
She says: “I read a lot about Mother Theresa and she is my inspiration. Each time the thought of quitting tempts me, I think of Mother Theresa and her colossal spirit wins me over.”
Asked if she would prefer a place of her own, her answer was a quick and short, “That is my wish”.
Apparently, despite several supporting letters from the Department of Social Welfare attesting to her suitability for land allocation and the urgent need for it, the Municipality of Kariba has not been able to assist in this regard.
They would do well to review their position as the need for the services being offered by Auntie Carol is growing and only insensitive and defeatist city authorities would ignore this yawning gap.
Helping hands have come in the form of church groupings such as the Christian Community Church of Kariba (which Auntie Carol goes to), philanthropists like the Fisher family, Dave McMaster, Sue van Niekerk, Moses Banda, Gerald van Rensburg and Nesbert Mapfumo, whose businesses and families have, time and again, assisted with clothing, food and the like. More is, however, needed and will be greatly appreciated.
In her free time Auntie Carol goes to church (naturally!) and takes the children for walks and tours around Kariba (sponsored by benefactors).
A keen omnivorous reader, Auntie Carol is also in the process of setting up a library for the children. With money to buy new books being tight, any used books will be welcome.
Some of the children receiving lessons at Auntie Carol’ Learning Centre do not live under her roof. Their families have failed, for various reasons, to send them to fee-paying schools.
Auntie Carol says: “Poverty is the main cause of the misery these children go through. How can I turn them away? It would kill me to turn then away. How can I live with the burden of knowing I have failed to make a difference where I could?”
Indeed, how are we living with the knowledge that we can make our societies accommodative and yet, cold-hearted, we spread suffering among the vulnerable?
Living far away from the major cities and receiving no publicity, Auntie Carol silently serves the underprivileged in the hope that one day these children will be able to stand on their own and become responsible and productive members of their communities, wherever they eventually choose to live.
Catch them young, Auntie Carol!