Gellie Ruzane is a 62 year old Zimbabwean woman currently residing in the USA. She is a modest woman who has never had the benefit of a privileged life beyond the basics of what one requires to live day by day.
However, many years ago she realised how even her modest life was a dream to many of the children in the rural village she was born in, back in 1947. Gellie is the eldest of six siblings and is herself a mother to seven children. She was born in Chidoma, a village in Gokwe District in her country’s Midlands Province.
She went to school locally at Chidoma Primary School and then went on to Chidoma Secondary School. Her father was a health-inspector and her mother a house-wife making her up-bringing fairly unremarkable compared to her community at the time. Like everyone growing up at the time she had to live within the colonial (and later apartheid) restrictions that everyone else did. The family was neither wealthy nor poor, though they had to do without now and again. As the eldest, she developed a caring attitude to go with the discipline and will to provide which she got from her father and mother respectively.
She went on to marry at the age of 20 and give birth to seven children before going back to work in the mid 80’s in what was then Zimbabwe’s newest luxury hotel, the Harare Sheraton. Working as a Team Leader in the House Keeping department she quickly earned her colleagues respect and was elected Vice-Chairperson of the Worker’s committee representing the needs of the 1,000 staff.
Chidoma still was home to a lot of family though Ms Ruzane’s father was now deceased and her mother was living on a farm near Kwekwe, (thanks to the efforts of all the siblings who had by now grown up and started to achieve individual success). The frequent Chidoma visits started to highlight to Gellie some of the problems that her village faced. She became a member of the Village Development Committee (VIDCO) in an effort to assist in agricultural enterprise initiatives.
However by the early 90’s the gathering storms of the AIDS pandemic and Zimbabwe’s failing economic reforms were bringing up new problems. Zimbabwean society has always been built on large extended families, but AIDS and the economy were resulting in many more orphans who could not be taken in or supported by surviving relatives. After the initial post-independence social and economic success it seemed like things were now going backwards and a new generation would be lost due to a lack of shelter, food and education. A lot of good work was being undertaken by NGO’s in most other deprived areas but not in Chidoma. Gellie knew that someone had to do something for Chidoma and she decided to do it herself despite the huge effort it would require to fill that gap. She bought a two acre piece of land near the Kwekwe-Gokwe road with the aim of building a children’s home to take in local children and offer them education until they reach maturity.
As fate would have it my aunt was involved in a horrific car accident during which she suffered burns and injury to her face. She couldn’t breathe, talk, eat or see very well for months. Understandably the plans for the home went on the back-burner whilst she grappled with the simple task of living another day. She struggled through the next couple of years in what was now a fast (or so we thought then) deteriorating Zimbabwe only to be hit by the death of her middle child who passed away aged 25.
With plenty of people now leaving the country to go wherever a bus or a plane could take them, in 2000 Gellie left for the United Kingdom where I and other family members were living. She had made as full a recovery as was possible and was able to get to work in the UK still with a vision for her children’s home back in Chidoma. She worked simple jobs, like care work and cleaning; first to get her remaining children to the UK then later to start building her vision.
As many immigrants who have tried building a house back home would attest. It doesn’t matter if you’re building one room or a palace, but the costs tend to be astronomical. Mainly due to family tax (the surcharge put on by whichever family member is looking after your project). Without complaining too much most people know that building something costs way more than whatever budget you have and building will be take longer than your average Olympic stadium. That is if it gets built at all. So it was, that on meagre funds and against this background (with the economy now in meltdown) that my aunt set about building a home to house some of the orphans of Chidoma. An ordinary woman doing an extra-ordinary deed.
Gellie moved to America in late 2004 and carried on in the same vein as she had in the UK. Working menial jobs by day and trying to do something great with that money by night. However, fate dealt Gellie another cruel blow when in 2006 her first born child passed away in the UK. At this stage the home was taking shape, but ever the perfectionist she wanted it to be of the standard she was used to in the UK and US before admitting any children to live there. Instead she decided to take up two dozen children whom she would support through school whilst the home was awaiting completion.
My aunt his literally spent a few trillion (albeit Zimbabwe dollars), a few thousand US dollars, pounds, rands and whatever else currency she could get her hands on.
Years of work and patience are finally starting to resemble the vision that she had so many years ago. But just as she has been looking forward to capping everything she has recently lost another child, her youngest son passed away in February 2011.
I am an extremely positive person as most who know me would testify, however I can honestly say that I simply don’t know how one person can never lose sight of a goal, which by all definitions will never benefit them, through the long and arduous life that my Aunt has had. She never had the top class education that some are blessed with, or a high paying job to fuel her dreams. Everyday things like cars and illness have wrecked more havoc on her than one person should normally endure. It’s fair to say that no one wants to bury a child; but it happens. However burying three children that one has raised is more than most can imagine. I am a proud nephew knowing that with all the hardships which she has faced she still recognises that there are others less fortunate than her or the children she has lost.
To this day Gellie Ruzane still does care work in the Philadephia area. She’s fast nearing retirement age but that has only served to make her work harder as time slips by faster. A large portion of her earnings go towards ‘that one last thing’ and towards the upkeep of the children her organisation has enrolled in two different nearby schools.
I hope that there are people out there who want to help her help the children of Chidoma. Please click on the donate button below to help her out or simply get in touch if you want to assist in some other way.