Starving Children Miss Christmas Rush

Peace Arch News – Jan 15, 2008

Chung Chow photo

Moved by compassion, Sue Janetti helps starving orphans who have lost their parents due to the AIDS epidemic in their former hometown in Zimbabwe. But words can not begin to describe the desperation the Crescent Beach artist is feeling now.
Resourceful children on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, made hundreds of hand-made wire geckos and ornaments, counting on Janetti to sell them before Christmas so they could have enough money to buy food. Only one problem: The shipment came too late for the festive season. So Janetti is pleading for the public to come to the rescue, as the children are utterly dependent on the profits of these ornaments to buy food.

She is asking people to donate $10 for each gecko, star or angel they receive – which will be enough money to feed a child for two to three months. Imagine having nothing to eat but rotting cabbage. That’s the plight of thousands of innocent children, and they are thankful for the putrid food because it’s still better than an empty plate. Janetti’s heart breaks for the children in her former hometown. She said the country of Zimbabwe, where she and husband Frank once helped run a family-owned printing business, has sunk into a place of indescribable agony – where one loaf of bread costs more than a month’s salary.

President Robert Mugabe’s oppressive and corrupt regime drove this nation, once known as “the bread-basket of Africa,” into a nation dependent on food aid, Janetti said.

The AIDS epidemic is rampant and millions are starving.

“There’s no medicine to treat AIDS,” Janetti said, with sadness in her voice. “Thousands of moms and dads with AIDS are dying every day leaving children behind without parents.” She recalled one horrific day in Harare – one among many – when men on bulldozers simply pushed bodies into pits for burial.

In this place of deep despair, Janetti’s heart was moved to find innocent children buoyed by courage and a hope for a better tomorrow. She was “astonished” these emaciated children with distended stomachs and thin limbs were so happy with so little as she visited the AIDS orphanage in Harare.

“They were happy to just have a bowl of cornmeal a day to eat.”

She watched pensively as the children kicked around a hand-made football – a newspaper bound with tape – playing with the lopsided football as cheerily as if it were made of the most expensive leather.

Her heart was especially touched when she spent time talking with the children and gave them T-shirts and lollipops.

“They all came to me and said ‘thank you mummy.’ They were so happy.”

Janetti can’t get them out of her mind.

Today, it is her deepest passion for her and her husband to help the youngsters overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

“It’s humbling to help these children who live in a have-not world when we live in a world of such luxury,” she said.

A talented and versatile artist, Janetti donates all of the profits from the sales of her paintings to help the children, as well as selling stationary and organizing other fundraising events.

In this capacity she has quietly raised thousands of dollars in aid for the children.

How did the idea of the street children sending hand-crafted ornaments to B.C. for donations come about?

One day, her brother, Richard, noticed all these children making beautiful and original hand-made wire geckos on the streets of Harare, Janetti said.

When he came to visit Janetti, he gave them out as gifts and told her about the street kids.

She asked him to send 100 geckos last May, and people started to donate $10 apiece. When all the geckos were gone, she sent $1,500 to Pastor Nico Ferrira of the Church of the Nazarene in Zimbabwe who is overseeing Project Gecko.

“The money we send is providing the children with food to eat and a career,” Janetti explained.

She ordered more ornaments excited about the prospect of feeding more street kids. The shipment was supposed to arrive three months before Christmas.

Instead, they arrived three days before Christmas, leaving Janetti with a serious dilemma.

“My worry is that, if there are no donations, there’ll be no food for the children and they’ll die.”

She said nobody else in the country is supporting them.

“We’re one of the tiny little lifelines helping keep the children alive.”

Today, Janetti is asking the public to donate $10 each for the 600 hand-crafted ornaments – including geckos, bells, angels, stars – she has in stock.

“This is an opportunity for people to make a difference in someone’s life – an opportunity for generosity.”

Janetti sits on the advisory board of Child Care World Wide, Surrey, which helps children across the world.

To contact her on Project Gecko, please e-mail her at zimbabwegecko@gmail.com

The ornaments and geckos are also available for donation at Tiggy Winkles Art Studio in Crescent Beach.

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