Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” However, the circumstances of the world’s children bring to the forefront a harsh reality. UNICEF estimates that there are 356 million children enduring conditions of extreme poverty globally. With 356 million children surviving on less than $1.90 daily, children go without access to education, proper health care, housing, sanitation and nutritious meals. These circumstances are often worse for orphans who have no familial support. Regions with a high number of orphans, such as Afghanistan, commonly report rampant wars, natural disasters and epidemics. Without the care of an adult and a way to secure their basic needs, many of these children face exploitation, often becoming victims of trafficking and forced labor. Zoe Empowers is an organization that assists orphans and vulnerable children by providing resources and skills training for these children to become self-sufficient and escape the stronghold of poverty.
About Zoe Empowers
In 2004, Zoe Empowers first began as a “relief mission” in Africa working to help orphans during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe. In fact, the organization’s origins stand as the initial inspiration for its name — Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor. As time went by, the organization chose to adopt the Greek meaning of the word “zoe” — life. This definition is meaningful because of the organization’s mission to empower vulnerable children in “eight areas of life.” The organization’s overall goal is to create a world where orphans and vulnerable children are able to become self-sufficient, productive members of society, able to use their own skills and knowledge to escape the grips of poverty.
- Food Stability. To create sustainable solutions to hunger, Zoe Empowers gives the children a modest grant and training to start “a husbandry and farming project” in the first year of the program. In the second year, these animals and crops serve as funding to buy more land to expand on these income-generating agricultural projects. In the final year, the program reaches the ultimate impact: The children now have access to two or three healthy meals a day and share this food “with other vulnerable children in the community.”
- Stable Shelter. Within the first year of the program, children with the most urgent housing needs receive financing “through housing grants.” In the second year, “individual and group savings account funds” go toward the reparation or rebuilding of the “homes of deceased parents.” In the last year, the children can purchase land and build their own houses with the extra income from their businesses.
- Hygiene and Health. In the first year, staff provided training on personal hygiene and children with severe health issues received emergency medical assistance. In the second year, children gain access to “national health insurance.” Alternatively, Zoe Empowers helps children to finance “medical savings accounts.” In the last year, children earn enough from their business ventures to provide for themselves in terms of food, clothing, “access to health care” and other necessities.
- Establishing Education. In terms of learning, in the first year, Zoe Empowers provides children with financial assistance to enroll in school. In the second year, “individual and household businesses” finance the costs of school. During the last year, students can also fund the education of their “younger siblings” and plan for their own tertiary education.
- Sustainable Income. In order to generate income, in the first year, the children receive training on economic concepts and how to establish a business with small grants. In the second year, the children receive business loans, which are “paid back to the group bank account” while businesses grow. During the last year, these children lead their families, running several businesses and employing siblings and community members.
- Human Rights. In the first year, the organization contacts local officials to conduct training on child rights and build relationships with children so that they are more comfortable reporting abuse. During the second year, as business owners, the children are able to secure a higher social status. Therefore, the community welcomes their voices and opinions. In the last year, with a human rights background, children now know how to enforce their rights in the case of violations.
- Community Connections. All three years of this aspect of the program revolve around establishing a sense of belonging in the community as children serve as leaders and entrepreneurs in society.
Impact in Numbers
So far, Zoe Empowers works in seven countries: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Rwanda, Liberia, Tanzania and India. Across these countries, the organization has provided assistance to 124,071 vulnerable children since 2007. In a 2020 survey, SAS collected data from 495 graduates of Zoe Empowers empowerment groups in Rwanda and Kenya. Among other results, SAS reports that 100% of graduates own successful, income-generating businesses, 96% can afford the costs of three daily meals and 91% of graduates can fund the cost of their education.
Zoe Empowers hopes to expand further into other regions. With its sustainable model, poverty can reduce as children receive the resources, training and support to become self-sufficient.
– Shikha Surupa