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Hands of Hope
BY NATE LEON · SOFTWARE ENGINEER · UNITED STATES
I joined Cisco as a software engineer in 2009 working on an eMail server project, then working on Messenger—the backend server for the Jabber client. I am passionate about technology so was excited to recently join the Webex Teams project.
I am married to a wonderful woman, and we just celebrated our 30th anniversary at the end of July. We have two young-adult children. We have always had a soft spot for working with children, especially the helpless and sometimes forgotten such as orphans. Moreover, as part of our faith, we believe that those who have been blessed with so much, have the privilege and responsibility to give back to those who are less fortunate.
Zimbabwe has the world's highest number of orphans per capita, primarily because of the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic according to UNICEF. In fact, a 2009 National AIDS Council report noted that Zimbabwe has more than 1.3 million children orphaned by AIDS and 50,000 households headed by children below the age of 18 whose parents died from the disease. More recent estimates put the number around 1.5 million orphans.
Created in 2001 in the Bay Area of California, Hands of Hope Africa has partnered with local organizations in the Harare area of Zimbabwe to care for orphans and at-risk children. Being thousands of miles away, they can only do so much, so they intentionally sought out partnerships with local churches in Zimbabwe to empower and collaborate with them to care for these children. They currently support 18 homes (including food, education, clothing, medical attention, and counseling) and feed around 2,000 kids each day through their various programs. Their camp facility, Habitation of Hope, run programs throughout the year, and this is where we participated in the program.
This year, my wife, daughter, and I joined a team from our local church in Cupertino, CA to spend just over two weeks running a program there for orphans and other kids who have come out of abusive situations. This was my third consecutive year, my wife has been four times, and our kids have each been able to join us once on separate occasions. We had about 50 campers during each of the two weeks. We kept them busy from dawn 'til dark with songs, stories, games, crafts, team-building games, more crafts, free time (i.e. yet more games), puppet shows, more songs, and usually one more story before bedtime.
My wife has organized and lead the morning and afternoon craft time for the past four years during our visits, which have been a big hit with the children. She has volunteered for many years at our local church for their summer program, so she was well qualified. In contrast, I was asked to organize the daily puppet shows, which I had never done before. Hooray for YouTube! I arranged the scripts based on the weekly theme/stories, selected the puppets, acquired costumes, organized the team, had a "stage" constructed, and acted/directed the shows during the camps. We were told the puppets were a huge hit with the kids. Some of the gags in the puppet shows became a running joke during the week-long camps. (ask me about "Takasimba!")
Most importantly, we made sure to let the kids know that they are loved and that somebody cares about them.
I am deeply grateful that Cisco values giving back to our communities to make the world a better place in whatever way we can. This has been a life-changing experience for us, and I hope that we have helped to improve life for each of these kids at least in some small way. Garikai (the local camp director) commented to me, "your team left big footprints."
Aive madziva ave mazambuko- Shona proverb
Roughly translates: Those which were once rivers, have now become bridges
Meaning: Things have improved
Connect everything. Innovate everywhere. Benefit everyone.