The Houtberg Childcare Centre in Zimbabwe is one of Global Care’s longest running projects and has been giving needy children a new start in life for the past 20 years. The Centre’s founders, DON and LORRAINE ODENDAAL, start the story…
“My husband Don was the third generation of his family on Houtberg Farm in Chipinge, southeastern Zimbabwe,” explains Lorraine. “My family all lived in the Chipinge District, and after Don and I married my mother came to live on our farm too.”
“My mother was very tender-hearted towards needy people. She believed God had told her to start an orphanage for some of the children who were orphans because of the Aids pandemic.
“The children were living in really bad conditions in very poor areas, especially in the aftermath of the civil war. Her goal was to give them a proper home; food, clothing and a good education to prepare them for a much better future.”
Inspired by her mother, Lorraine started battling through the barriers of bureaucracy, red tape and local hostility. “Many local people were very suspicious of us,” she admits. “They could not understand how white farmers would want to care for black children and we had no local support at all.”
Thankfully, Don and Lorraine gained the support of local pastors, willing to help identify the children most in need of a safe haven. Building work finally got underway – “all by faith and with very little money” – and was almost complete when one of the local pastors told the Odendaals about a visitor from the UK – Global Care founder, Ron Newby.
Lorraine says: “God’s timing is always perfect! We had the home but no children yet and no money to support any orphans. Ron Newby’s visit was a vision coming true.
“Ron and Global Care had started a famine relief programme, and the pastor wanted to show him our work. I took Ron to visit schools which were sending teachers home as so many children were too hungry to walk to school.
“Ron asked us to feed all the children in the schools, not only the ones not too embarrassed to admit they were hungry. We decided to feed the children three times a week.
“This enabled more children to come back to school and ensured jobs for the teachers, who started contributing cooking oil and tomatoes to give more flavour to the protein-filled beans! Amazingly our food quota stretched so that we were able to feed all the children in three schools, five days a week! We saw God multiply the food many times and many, many lives were saved.”
Ron’s visit was also instrumental in finally bringing children into the home. Lorraine recalls: “I will never forget the reaction of our very first little girl. We gave her new clothes, including shoes. She ran around dancing and laughing as she was so happy. Then we showed her the blankets and told her to choose some for her bed. She was absolutely ecstatic – she had never slept on a bed before!”
The Houtberg Childcare Centre finally opened its doors in January 1998 in a secure compound on the Odendaal’s farm, after years of planning, setbacks and dogged persistence. As well as shelter for some of the neediest children in the district, it also provided them with schooling and the chance to learn agricultural skills they would need to become independent in the future.
“It may have taken a few years to develop, but it worked very well right from the beginning,” says Lorraine. “We never gave up on the fact that my Mom believed she had heard from God, and trusted God every step of the way.”
There were to be many occasions ahead when trusting God was hard. Political challenges in Zimbabwe made life more and more difficult, and sadly, in 2001, Don and Lorraine were forced to leave their home, and the country they loved, after the bulk of their farmland was “resettled” by the government.
Lorraine explains: “Farming became very difficult; our crops were continually being stolen and foot and mouth boundaries destroyed, causing a quick spread of the disease. Added to this, we were receiving continual death threats. Eventually we realised it was time to go. Our income was almost totally depleted, our safety was in jeopardy and some of our black friends were having a tough time because of associating with us.”
The Odendaals spent their final months in Zimbabwe handing over their work, and the running of the Houtberg Childcare Centre, to Pastor Mishack and his wife, Lydia.
“It was a very sad day for us when we left all that we had ever known,” admits Lorraine. “But we had worked with Pastor Mishack for many years and we knew he and Lydia would take good care of everything.”
The Odendaals moved to the USA to stay with their son and eventually settled in Missouri. The farm and Childcare Centre were now in the hands of a local pastor, but sadly, the difficulties were not at an end.
Political corruption and economic instability combined to make life extremely challenging, and one of the lowest moments of some very dark years came in October 2008, when Mishack and family were thrown out of the farmhouse by associates of the governing party, even though they had clear ownership documentation. The new owners looted the property and took the best fields, leaving the Childcare Centre only the older, poorly-yielding fields on which to grow crops. Crucially, all electricity and water supplies were cut off. The children were forced to drink river water, cleaned with a diluted bleach solution in the hope of avoiding cholera.
Sending financial aid was complex – the Zimbabwean currency had devalued to the point of being meaningless. A 300 trillion dollar note bought just two loaves of bread and a couple of newspapers. Hospitals shut for lack of medicines and schools shut because even the teachers couldn’t buy bread. Pastor Mishack made monthly trips to Mozambique to collect funds and buy goods to keep everyone fed.
At this time he wrote: “We were crying when we were kicked out from the house we were given by the Odendaals. Our property was stolen and broken. The children went four days with no food, only tears, no happiness, only sadness. We had to take out our maize and beans when they were still green and we were given 24 hours only to take all our things. We failed. Lots of things were taken and broken. But we have peace through your prayers. We thank God for your prayers and giving. When we are down you lifted us up day and night.”
Despite everything, Global Care stuck with the children, trying to keep the centre going until the political climate stabilised.
That day eventually came, and it was with great delight that John White, Global Care’s CEO, made his first visit in the summer of 2013. His visit had to be registered with the police, and he was banned from meeting indoors with more than four people at a time, but for the first time in years it was safe enough to make the journey.
Plans were soon underway to improve living conditions, to re-connect electricity and water supplies, and to make the unproductive land fertile. Staff were wary of doing too much at once, however, in fear of the land being stolen again if improvements were made too rapidly.
Gradually, over the last five years, thanks to Global Care’s support, and our partners’ tenacity, a new borehole opened, providing clean water, the electricity supply was reconnected, livestock purchased, and, most recently, a major irrigation project has improved the productivity of the land, thanks to a significant grant from the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission.
Today the Houtberg Childcare Centre is home to around 20 children who live as a family and are able to look forward to a much brighter future, in a country where poverty and unemployment are endemic and up to three quarters of the population live below the poverty line. They have a good supply of home-grown food, and enough surplus to sell commercially, helping to make the Centre more self-sufficient.
Lorraine says: “We regularly thank God for the divine meeting with Ron Newby so many years ago which made it all possible. Without Global Care’s faithfulness and commitment we would most probably have had to close the home and turn away needy children. We would like to express our sincerest gratitude to Global Care, and all who have so faithfully supported us throughout the years, in spite of the many challenges. Without you, the children would not have the lives they do. Thank you for giving them a new lease of life!”
Her words are echoed by the staff at the centre. Looking back on the bleak years and the challenges, last year they wrote to us, saying: “We cannot express our gratitude in words. The work is wonderful. The children’s home is now a place of admiration to our community. This has been achieved through your love and care.”
What a contrast to the years of struggle! We thank God for enabling us to continue, and for the generosity of every donor who over the years has enabled this project not just to survive, but to flourish. Thank you.