Local Family Aims to Make a Difference in Zimbabwe

18-year old Lia Way has enjoyed the perspective she has gained since becoming a part of Eden Children’s Village in Zimbabwe. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

 

How far would you go to help those most in need? For the Way family of St. Stephen, their quest to make a profound difference in the lives of others has inextricably connected them with Doma, Zimbabwe – and in particular, a very special place called Eden Children’s Village.

Located about three hours away from the capital along roads that become increasingly difficult to traverse, Eden Children’s Village is a remote sanctuary in the rugged bushlands of Northern Zimbabwe. It encompasses a residential orphanage (providing dedicated shelter for 137 orphans), a community school, an herbal clinic and a 750-acre, self-sustaining farm. Since 2012, Jeff and Carole Way have been traveling to Eden Children’s Village to assist in its operations and its expansion. To continue to do so under a long-term business Visa, the family is aiming to start their own company focused around the village – a qualification for which it has met nearly all the requirements.

Eden Children’s Village: Good deeds are not without challenge

Of the approximately 16 million people living in Zimbabwe, 1.2 million are orphans, a condition created in part due to HIV and AIDS but also resulting from compounding poverty and a lack of access to basic medical resources. In such conditions, the needs of the orphans often go overlooked – particularly when society does not inherently embrace them.

“The word for orphan also means ‘rubbish’,” Jeff Way said, describing the attitude towards orphans in the local culture. “That’s what these kids grow up with, being considered garbage.”

Countering that approach, Eden Children’s Village was founded in 1999 by Kevin and Susan Fry to create a place where orphans would not only have a place to live and receive regular meals, they would also be educated and taught hands-on skills.

For the Way family, the orphanage was exactly what they were looking for. Jeff Way, a carpenter by trade living in St. Stephen with his wife Carole and two daughters, Lia and Naomi, had long had a feeling that he and his family would be traveling overseas to help improve the lives of those in need. He graduated with a degree from St. Stephen University, a path that gradually led he and Carole to taking a trip to Eden Children’s Village six years ago.

As soon as Carole and Jeff arrived at the village, they knew they would be returning. “Once we were there, we knew we were going to come back there. It was a perfect fit for our family,” Carole said. Since then, they have been back multiple times, bringing their daughters with them.

At the village, Jeff has been employing his skills as a carpenter to work with the orphanage’s construction team. They have created new facilities from shipping containers and built new housing areas using available materials. Carole, a nurse, learned traditional medicines in the herbal clinic and quickly began assisting children and adults alike with their maladies. She is now a registered midwife and has since helped to deliver eleven babies. Together, the family helps with the daily farm and schooling operations wherever they can.

The orphans at Eden Children’s project aren’t simply fed and sheltered. Each is provided with a rigorous education following a Christian homeschool curriculum, and Jeff and his team work with the young boys to teach them the construction trade. “We’ve been to other orphanages and seen the kids that come out. They don’t have a job. They don’t have hands-on skills,” Jeff said, adding that Zimbabwe has an approximately 90 percent unemployment rate right now. “Our kids will need to be entrepreneurs. They’ll need skills.”

Unlike the missionaries of yesteryear, the Ways are not aiming to actively impose a Western lifestyle or mindset on the orphans and villagers of Doma. “It wouldn’t work if we were to go there and build a house like we would here. We wouldn’t have the materials. We have to adapt to their way,” Carole said. Jeff agreed, adding, “What tends to happen is that we as Westerners tend to go to other countries and bring our Western solutions with us. It just doesn’t work. The best thing is to ask them, ‘What do you need? How do you do this?’”

Working in the remote conditions of Zimbabwe – often without power – can necessitate a very focused mindset, but every now and then Jeff gets a profound reminder of why they chose their path. “I get very busy and task-oriented, and sometimes I forget that I’m building a house to house kids that don’t have families. They’ve been abandoned. They’ve been dropped in an outhouse. They’ve been stuffed down an anthill. They’re the offspring of prostitutes, or whatever. I have to keep coming back to that. That’s why we’re there.”

What’s needed

To be able to qualify for a long-term business investor Visa, which will enable them to return to Eden Children’s Village and to employ a construction team, the Ways must demonstrate to Zimbabwe that they have assets of at least $100,000. Since returning to St. Stephen last year, the family has been able to raise a significant number of donations in the form of goods, including a tractor donated by Planting Hope International and a used Toyota. Altogether, the family estimates that they have met about 80 or 85 percent of their goal.

The biggest needs for the orphanage and the business’s goals include solar power equipment, generators, hand tools, and home and office furnishings. Any power equipment will need to be compatible with Zimbabwe’s power system.  The Ways, working with local churches including the Common Ground Church of God, will have a large shipping container to house the donations set up in the old arena parking lot in St. Stephen. If you have goods you would like to donate, contact the Ways at contact@zimbabways.org or call Pastor Johnny Chambers at 952-9318. Tax-deductible cash donations can be made online at zimbabways.org or through www.cgcog.me.

 

“For me, this is a no-brainer,” Pastor Chambers said. “When you sit down and do the research on big organizations, it’s literally pennies that make it to the boots on the ground. When you can get behind people that you know personally, and you know that 100 percent is going to boots on the ground and not some CEO taking $350,000 payment of a year for his services of ‘volunteering’, for me it’s an obvious choice.”