A Surprise Twin Birth, heartbreak and a vision. One Mom shares how she had a dream and brought it into reality and educates and inspires pre-schoolers in Zimbabwe.
By Rhoda Chiyabi
In 1987 I was blessed with the birth of undiagnosed twin girls in “Hwangi Colliery Hospital ” in rural Zimbabwe.
Everybody in the hospital panicked when they heard that I had given birth to twins, especially the matron and the gynaecologist who was looking after me all through my pregnancy. I remember the matron asking me what shall we do? I replied – “I am going to look after my children!” – I think their biggest worry was that I was going to sue them, especially as I was myself a nurse at that hospital, but they would not have been concerned had they known the joy I felt at that moment, and thinking back through my pregnancy I realised that I’d had the instinct to buy or knit two of everything, although nothing in blue or pink!
Every mother knows a lot of worry when things are not going well in the house especially food, clothing and school fees for other children. I was working with a woman who never approved of anything I did even when I was not working in her department. I had to find someone who was reliable to look after the girls whilst I went back to work which I had to do to pay the bills and feed my children – no social security safety net in Zimbabwe!
At that time I was also married to someone who only knew how to put himself first, which, as is so often the case, I only learnt later as we settled together. Ironically the day I delivered the girls he had gone to visit another town and I later discovered that he had a girlfriend there!
So as I looked at my lovely girls all that came to my mind was – how am I going to look after them and their older brothers especially when maternity leave is over?
I was constantly harassed at work, but the country at that time was one where the prevailing view was “the boss is always right” and women were second-class citizens. It got to the point that I had to resign to find some peace because there was never day I could go home and say “I had a good day at work”.
The idea of start a pre-school had been with me for years, but I’d never been in a position to actually do anything about the idea; now I had the time, and I would soon need somewhere for my own two girls, so I started my own preschool in my own house. The word went around and in no time we had ten children, and by the next month forty! “Popeye Pre-School” was born!
But serving a community of jealous people can be a problem especially if they don’t have vision, and it wasn’t long before petty officials told me to stop operating from my house – I was not given any notice period, just told to stop with immediate effect. So I had no choice but to close the school, and I bundled all my chairs and tables together in the garden, covered them with a plastic sheet protection from the rain and sun. The staff were owed money and the parents demanded their fees back, but somehow we managed to get through this time.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are there, but you are not there? Each time looking at time at bundle of tables and chairs I used to think positive, saying to myself “one day it will come to pass again”.
Then one Saturday morning in the supermarket I met one of the ladies I had known from my nursing days. She told me her husband had an empty house we could use, gated with running water, three bedrooms and a kitchen with electricity and a toilet and a bathroom. I jumped with joy!
When I finalised everything with that gentleman I re-launched Popeye with my three friends and in no time we had forty children attending again! .
Over time I was able to use the small profits from the school to buy a plot of land and build our own premises, but then my husband who had earlier deserted me and his children reappeared trying to get his hands on the building and the business, but luckily everything was in my maiden name, so even in Zimbabwe that was a fight he couldn’t win.
Now almost thirty years on Popeye is still going strong, with 71 children. We have a borehole which pumps water to the whole village and a generator which was donated by a well wisher. Popeye employs five teachers, a caretaker, a cook, groundsman and a part time driver.
My own twins are grown up to ladies and my sons are married and I am a grandma to one lovely grandson. Many of the children from the early days of Popeye are parents themselves, but I’m blessed that they still recognise my voice after all these years
My lasting joy is to see my Popeye children thriving in a safe and stimulating environment, all learning English from an early age, which itself is a huge life advantage in Africa, and the knowledge that, God willing, Popeye will be there for generations to come – this is a legacy for my children and grandchildren, and all the children of Hwange.
This short article gives a tiny glimpse into the extraordinary, and inspiring, life & struggles of Rhoda Chiyabi. The whole story is told in her book “Through Pain to Popeye” due to be published in November, and available then through Amazon
Note from Jane: Popeye Pre School has continued to flourish over the years through the hard work of Rhoda and her dedicated but small group of teachers. However when I discovered that Rhoda, suffering from her own health issues, was trying to keep the school going from the UK, buying materials and funding shortfalls in salaries out of her disability pension, I felt I had to step in and help her amazing cause.
Through fundraising we have managed to raise funds for, and install, an electrical generator to power the school and surrounding village, a borehole to provide clean water for the school and village, as well as desks, chairs, stationery etc. Of course, there is so much more that needs to be done. Our dream is to have enough funds in the bank account to secure salaries for the next year, and food for the children, and our ultimate aim is to provide a school minibus, in order to enable kids in more rural areas to be able to attend the school too. At the moment, many have to walk miles to school, or simply miss out.
If you would like to contribute towards the Popeye School funds, please use the link below. If you would like to organise a fundraising event, please let us know. All donations will be used specifically for improving the start in life for these children, and we will happily share all details of how any contributions are used, or if you would like to specify their use, we will respect your wishes.