When Mary first walked into Ithemba the light in her eyes and the joy in her smile set her apart. At five years old she was outgoing, confident and trying to find her way in a brand new community and a brand new country. Her little mind was like a sponge, soaking in new languages, new cultures and customs, new food, and new opportunity.
Mary and her family moved to Jeffrey’s Bay to find refuge and a new life after their previous home of Zimbabwe began to crumble. According to Wikipedia, Zimbabwe’s current economic and food crisis described by some observers as the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since independence, has been attributed in varying degrees to the government’s price controls and land confiscations, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a drought affecting the entire region. Life expectancy at birth for males in Zimbabwe has dramatically declined since 1990 from 60 to 42 years, among the lowest in the world. The amount of time a Zimbabwean citizen is expected to live healthily from birth is 39 years. Concurrently, the infant mortality rate has climbed from 53 to 81 deaths per 1,000 live births in the same period. As of 2009, 1.2 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV.
After taking refuge in South Africa, and settling in Jeffrey’s Bay, Mary’s father immediately enrolled her into our kindergarten program at Ithemba, and we immediately began to see that Mary was a very special child. After being in South Africa for less than a year, Mary spoke her mother tongue, Shone, English, and two South African languages, Xhosa and Afrikaans.
Mary was not only learning new languages, she was acting as a translator for us during our visits to Ithemba. It was very easy to see that Mary had potential to do big things, and be a role model for many girls in the community. We were able to offer her a scholarship to a private school in Jeffrey’s Bay where she has the chance to be challenged, to grow, and to become a leader.
Mary is at the top of her class and she is determined to stay there. Every day after school, she comes to Ithemba for tutoring and extra curricular activities. She is loved by both her biological family and her family at Ithemba. She is getting the best possible education and the best possible resources to succeed because of a HERO. Mary now has the opportunity to grow and dream, to become everything that God created her to be.