Tiwe Richards

Kindergarten Principal Bulawayo SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe

The power of empowerment

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The story begins with the writer asking you to imagine an established and functioning facility which is thrown into desperation as all of a sudden the political and economic situation of the country takes a nose dive.

Inflation rose to unprecedented levels. The money lost its value before it left one’s hand. If one dares put it into the bank, by the time you get it back it would have lost its value and the purchase power next to nothing. A number of hours were spent trying to source basic commodities to be used in the facility. The idea being, spend the money on whatever, as quickly as possible. The situation worsened to a point that while I was concerned about the children in the facility and their needs, I could not help being concerned about the welfare of the co-workers too and my own family. We had the children to focus on, but we also had our own personal challenges to think about.

The education regulation in the state requires that children be given a nutritious mid-morning meal and to get the basics, I tried to use the many networks that I had established over the years to source some of the commodities. With even this, it was difficult to remain relevant and offer what was expected of us.
Basic foodstuff and other commodities were available in the country illegally and a majority of people in the community were using foreign currency to make these purchases. I had no access to the foreign currency. If I had made the effort to access the foreign currency, I would have put myself and the organisation at risk politically.

One day in the morning
standing by a window looking outside, I came to the conscious realisation that children were arriving from their different homes driven by their parents. I asked myself: “What else can I do?” “Aha,” I said. “The parents have the money. I need to find a way to the money.” I then selected a number of parents who I was familiar with and those I had used informally in the past for any fundraising activities. I told them about the challenge I was facing which was to provide adequately for their children. They were surprised as I had not talked about my challenges before. They helped me organise a meeting to meet all the parents.

The meeting
The parents came in large numbers for the meeting and I stated my challenge of being unable to source basic commodities that are required by their children while they spent four to eight hours with me and I sat down. A lot of debate took place and it was going nowhere. One parent stood up to ask that no minutes be taken. They asked me what I wanted and I was in no position to give them an answer. They made a correct assumption of what I wanted and went on to make concrete decisions on how much each parent was to pay termly. They arranged the transport and the person to go to the neighbouring country to make the necessary purchases. That evening saw the birth of a powerful Parents Teachers Association which has supported the facility so much over the years.

I have never looked back and the story demonstrates the “Power of Empowerment”. If we as an organisation recognize that there are so many resources in the community, we will achieve beyond our imagination.

Tiwe Richards

is Kindergarten Principal in Bulawayo at SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe.

My professional life began as I joined SOS in 1994, working as an educator at the SOS Kindergarten Waterfalls. In 1995 when the construction of the SOS Kindergarten in Bulawayo was completed, I moved over there to become the principal. It was all exciting and challenging moments for me. Right from the beginning, it was all networking, ranging from registering the kindergarten with the authorities over recruiting of new staff members to physical development of the environment like  planting the lawn, designing the playground, setting up the group rooms etc. What a joy doing all that!!

From my family background, I am the first child in a family of seven children. In my work, I have, over the years, enjoyed tremendous support from kindergarten parents and the Bulawayo community particularly during the economic downturn. And this reflects back to me, the values I received from my own dear parents and family – values like resilience, determination, appreciation, contentedness and gratitude. These in turn, I am quite sure, my own three children also embraced as much as they also now exemplify to their own children.
Giving back to society forms a big part of my life. I devote much of my time and resource to the welfare of the community I live in. I enjoy every engagement in the Young Women’s Christian Association where issues of women and girls are discussed and empowerment programmes put in place.

It is often approximate to leisure, spending time with my mother who is elderly now. I love walking as a way of keeping fit particularly if I have company. Reading takes me to different places and I touch base with different people of the world. I enjoy reading biographies.

I love sewing; it is relaxing for me and also quite satisfying as I look at what I have produced.