The Cambrian College Student Life Centre hosted a Night in Africa on April 6, an evening held in support of (Zawadi la Tumaini) ZLT Hope Homes and the 27 Kenyan children under its care.
ZLT was founded in 2013 by Jacqueline Villeneuve, a 17-year-old high school student at the time, with the goal of providing education, diet, love and the support of family to orphaned and abandoned children in Kenya. Since that time, ZLT has become a multi-faceted organization, providing a home to orphaned children from the slums of Nairobi, mentorship opportunities to youth and single-parent households, and assistance to those affected by childhood sexual abuse.
The charity’s annual Night in Africa Gala helps cover the costs of this expansion, supplying 50-75 per cent of ZLT’s approximately $100,000 yearly operating budget.
“Our budget, as we get to know our children’s needs more over the years as they open up to us, requires additional assistance; especially in the medical and psycho-social sectors of our organization,” said Villeneuve.
“We’ve done three emergency surgeries for our kids over the past two years alone … one child has had open heart surgery … one child has profound deafness, other kids have very intensive counselling needs.”
“They’re still kids, its not our place to share the full, intimate details of what they’ve went through, but they have been through a lot and that requires long-term care and support,” said Villeneuve.
While Villeneuve says she is on constant video calls with the children under the care of ZLT, also living between Kenya and Canada for extended periods of time, she considers her team “on the ground” the children’s true support system.
“They’re amazing mothers and have really brought the love and support to our kids, helping them heal from their trauma,” said Villeneuve.
“Foster care does not exist (in Kenya), so the dynamic is very different in assisting orphaned children,” said Villeneuve.
The activist, now 23, says her team goes through strict profiling to ensure they are assisting children with the highest needs.
While ZLT does favour family preservation whenever possible, reconnecting family members and assisting them in becoming financially stable, Villeneuve said the majority of cases require a more permanent presence in a child’s life.
“For the majority of the kids in our family who have been there since Day One, we are there long-term home and our community here (in Sudbury) has really adapted that mindset, that they are part of our family at ZLT,” said Villeneuve.
This past January, the first group of children welcomed into the care of ZLT graduated from high school and began their post-secondary education; a milestone for the young charity.
“We support them in the same role that a parent would,” said Villeneuve, which means care and financial assistance up to and beyond post-secondary education.
Villeneuve said one of the things she looks forward to most in attending the annual Night in Africa Gala is being able to share the progress of ZLT, as well as the children within its family, but hers is not the only voice that speaks for these children.
“Kylie got into it a year before I did,” said Megan Moore, just one among the large volunteer base that travels to Kenya every year, to assist ZLT in their support of the Nairobi community. “Her stories were amazing and I wanted to do it so much, that when she said she was going back, I didn’t give her the option to take me or not, I was just going.”
This is not the first time Kylie Keyes had volunteered oversees, but when she first volunteered for ZLT three years ago, she knew something was different.
“It just felt like such a good fit,” said Keyes. “I fell in love with the home, the values and the kids, I knew I would be a life-long supporter.”
Last time Moore and Keyes visited Kenya they assisted in the ZLT children’s home as well as the community vision clinic, where they provided eye exams and distributed more than 700 pairs of donated glasses.
“They don’t have anything even half way close to what our health care system is,” said Moore.
Both graduates of Laurentian University’s nursing program, Moore said “even just being able to do the basic things, is a huge deal.”
“It’s a great cause and the more support that Sudbury and the rest of Canada can give them, the better, they appreciate every little thing so much.”