Nancy Clark has an incredible passion for helping people. She is a nurse in Vermont, an Earthwatch volunteer, and a founder of the Zienzele Foundation, an organization that helps orphans and their caregivers achieve self-reliance and a better life in Zimbabwe. Her desire to help others knows no bounds. A remarkable chain of events led her to help thousands of people in Africa.
The Last Spot to Zimbabwe
When Nancy’s daughter Megan was preparing for her archaeological dig with Earthwatch in the Caribbean, she left her Earthwatch Expedition Guide on the kitchen table. Nancy picked up the guide and Maternal Health in Africa (which dealt with the nutrition of women and children in Zimbabwe) immediately piqued her interest.
“I called Earthwatch the next day to see if it was possible for me to join, I knew I needed to go.” There was just one spot left. “It was meant to be. The stars aligned and I knew I had to go to Zimbabwe. So that night I went home and told my family I was going to help women and children in Africa, and that was that.”
That summer, Nancy headed to Zimbabwe to conduct health assessments on children and their mothers. She worked alongside Earthwatch scientist Prisca Nemapare, a nutrition professor at Ohio University, and because of Nancy’s nursing background, she became the lead volunteer to handle the health assessments. “I felt like such a valuable volunteer. Talking to the women about what they were eating, how much water they had, how they grew food, their living conditions. It was just all so inspirational for me.” Nancy came home from her trip, moved by the women she worked with, but also extremely motivated. “I knew I couldn’t just be done. My work there was only just beginning.”
Nancy didn’t wait long once she was back in Vermont to book her next trip. “I got in touch with Earthwatch, and Prisca and the next summer I went back to Zimbabwe, this time as a team leader for five weeks coaching volunteers and helping the same women.” These voyages to and from Zimbabwe lit a fire in Nancy, that there was something greater for her to contribute to the world. In 2000, she organized a group of nurses from Vermont to take that trip with her.
Not Getting Bogged Down By Politics
At that time, the political conditions in Zimbabwe started to deteriorate, and Nancy’s return trip was almost halted due to Earthwatch’s concern with sending volunteers into an unstable region. (Read last week’s Unlocked article, Safety in Science: How We Prep For Volunteers).
“I was still in close communication with Prisca so I decided to go on my own,” and throwing caution to the wind, Nancy returned to Zimbabwe. “That trip was incredibly eye opening for me, because all of the women we had relationships with were now taking care of all these orphaned children. Whether the parents had died of AIDS, or malnutrition, there was literally an orphan epidemic.”
Teach a Woman to Fish, Feed Her For a Lifetime
“I felt like I was in over my head,” Nancy said about the overwhelming reality of the situation. “We have to do something. This is why we are here.” Prisca and Nancy then brainstormed the ways they could help this community, and also how the community could help itself. “You know that saying, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?’, Prisca and I thought of ourselves, we need to teach them sustainable business practices so that no matter if we are here for two weeks, five weeks, five months, they can survive on their own. And that is how we came up with the Zienzele Foundation.” Zienzele means “do it yourself, be self-reliant” and Nancy and Prisca taught these women just that. They even created implementable business plans for the community. “The women realized they knew how to grow vegetables, but didn’t have seeds or fertilizer. They knew how to sew, but didn’t have fabric or sewing machines. They knew how to make traditional Zimbabwean baskets, but didn’t have anyone to sell them to.”
Nancy and Prisca supplied the women with necessary tools, like seeds, fertilizer, sewing machines, thread, and needles, with the plan and hope that they would supply resources only one time, and the women would then sustain their own businesses.
“In 2000, we started with two basket-making groups and are up to 23 now. Prisca and I bring them back to the United States and sell them at craft fairs and on our website. The profits from those baskets alone sent 900 kids to school last year, and have sent over 5,000 children to school in all. We started with four garden projects and are now up to 38! The gardens provide food for the women and then whatever is left over, they sell at local markets. Way back when, we started with one sewing project, and today we have nine. They make clothes for their families, sell clothes to the community, and make all of the school uniforms.”
Today, Nancy returns twice a year to Zimbabwe to hold workshops about HIV/AIDS and nutrition, and the Zienzele Foundation launched a new project that allows U.S. families to partner with families in the community where a child is the main provider.
I asked Nancy if she ever thought she would embark on a completely new journey – another Earthwatch Expedition perhaps? She laughed and said that although if it weren’t for Earthwatch, she never would have met Prisca and this whole journey probably never would have started, “take a look how deep I am in in Zimbabwe. Can you imagine if I took off for Thailand or South America? What would happen then? I don’t even want to think about it!”
While Maternal Health in Africa is no longer an expedition funded by Earthwatch, the organization continues to support many programs in Africa. Earthwatch can’t thank Nancy enough for all the incredible work she’s done worldwide, and for sharing her amazing story with us.