Zimbabwe – December 21 2022 A lot has changed in the lives of two sisters Every day, Precious* expectantly stared outside the window of her new home waiting for her father to come and get her. Life had suddenly changed for the three-year-old and she could not understand why. Precious and her elder sister Talent*, 8, had joined an SOS family in Bulawayo, south-west Zimbabwe for better care. They were found alone in their home in Ngozi Mine - one of the largest slums on the outskirts of Bulawayo. Next to the slum is a huge city dumpsite where plumes of smoke from burning waste pollute the atmosphere. The sisters lost their mother in 2014 when Precious was two years old, leaving their father to care for them. When he went out to work menial jobs, the two girls stayed alone in the family’s one-roomed shack made of corroded zinc sheets and plastic papers. Talent, seven at the time, watched her baby sister while her peers went to school. The children barely had enough to eat. Although their father tried to keep the family together, he had a run in with the law, which sent him to prison. His incarceration completely left Precious and Talent without parental care; and without a known relative to take them in, alternative care was the best option for them. “l saw children in need of care, and I was happy to receive them,” says SOS Children’s Villages mother Sipiwe. “They looked vulnerable and I knew I had what it takes to nurture them as a mother. They did not look healthy as evidenced by their thin body frames. These children had not eaten a decent meal for a long time,” she says. It was difficult at first for the girls to live without their father and that is why Precious kept looking through the window. Of the two sisters, the separation distressed her the most. During her first few months at the village, Precious refused to play with other children except her biological sister. She would follow her everywhere she went. She was afraid of the new faces. Sipiwe says assuring Precious constantly that her father would come to visit them one day, combined with play therapy calmed her, and she started to adjust to the new environment. ‘It was so heartbreaking to hear the background of these little girls,” says Sipiwe. “The experiences children go through motivate us to do all in our power to provide a loving home for them. When l look back at the time when Precious and her sister Talent joined my SOS family, I see a big change. Indeed, the family environment has an impact in the way children develop.” Precious is now nine years old her sister is 14. SOS Children’s Villages mother Sipiwe shudders at the thought of Precious and Talent living without adult supervision. “They were likely exposed to abuse especially sexual abuse because their situation made them easy pickings for pedophiles. Worse still, they were exposed to kidnapping; in Zimbabwe there are incidences where young children have been stolen and killed for rituals,” says a concerned Sipiwe. Good home The SOS Children’s Villages family is a stable home for the girls and new bonds with their SOS Children’s Villages siblings and mother have taken hold. Precious is in grade four and Talent in grade six. “My sister and I are very close. We play hide and seek, netball, cops and robbers and local games. I always have time for her,” says Talent of her sister Precious. Precious and Talent’s father gained freedom in 2016, after one year behind bars; he has permission from the department of social welfare to visit his two daughters. “The father visits regularly and is very close to his children,” says Sipiwe. “He is happy to see them looking so healthy. On many occasions, he wonders what could have happened to his daughters without the help of SOS Children’s Villages,” she says. The girls’ father has trouble providing for himself and so it is not good for the children to stay with him just yet. They will reunite as a family when he is able to provide a good home for them. In the meantime, Precious and Talent will see their dad whenever he visits, and their relationship continues to blossom. Precious is in grade four; she has become one of the best swimmers in her school and her agility amazes everyone. “I enjoy swimming although we have not gone for competition yet,” she says. “Kirsty Coventry (former Zimbabwean Olympic swimmer and world record holder) was a great swimmer and I want to be like her.” Precious also want to be a dentist. Talent is in grade six and she wants to be a pilot. “I see planes fly past in the sky and nothing holds them back. Nothing will hold me back anymore,” she says. The sixth grader is happy that her new home is working well for them. “We were not going to school in our old home. We were always hungry and in old dirty clothes. I now have a good warm place to call home and a caring mother. I go to a good school and love going there. I feel alive because I have friends at the village and school whom l share my life and play with; l did not have friends before since I was alone with my young sister Precious. Nowadays I have time to play, and I like to see my sister happy.” *Names changed to protect the privacy of the children. *Text by Anne Kahura. Photo by Precious Makena.