Los Altos resident Ellen Clark launched the Run for Zimbabwe Orphans and Fair after she traveled with her family to Africa in 1997 to visit her son Will, who was teaching children and teens from the Shona tribe in a remote village.
“We just fell in love with everything,” she said of her first visit to Zimbabwe. “But we saw poverty at a level you could not imagine. This was not a Club Med vacation – this was reality.”
At the time, Africa was in the throes of an AIDS pandemic.
“They were dropping like flies,” Clark said of the afflicted population.
The Clarks returned home determined to help. They asked if there was an orphanage they could work with, but they had specific criteria. They did not want a state-run entity, which would entail dealing with the prevailing national government, and they wanted a reliable facility that had been in operation a long time.
They ultimately found the Makumbi Children’s Home, an orphanage that houses approximately 100 children who are either AIDS orphans or infants abandoned by their overwhelmed families. The orphans attend an adjacent school.
The Clarks founded the Run for Zimbabwe Orphans and Fair in 2000 to raise funds for the facility. This year’s event, the 18th annual, is scheduled noon to 4 p.m. March 26 at St. Joseph School, 1120 Miramonte Ave., Mountain View.
Each year the institution informs Clark of a specific need. Previous funding efforts have included capital improvement projects such as termite eradication, installation of electrical generators and well digging. This year the focus is on basic learning, with funds raised to support tutoring.
“It is one thing to build a school or orphanage – people in philanthropy get excited,” Clark said. “They forget that you have to keep the program going. Keeping something running is not glamorous.”
The motif for this year’s Run for Zimbabwe Orphans is the African fish eagle, the Shona name for which is “hungwe,” which dives into the Zambezi River for food. Clark has put these words in the mascot’s beak: “Give a kid a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The first race will begin at 1 p.m. Cost is $5 per runner. Races include a 220-yard run for preschoolers, a 1/2-mile run for kindergartners and a mile run for youth in grades 1-8.
The event also will include a fair highlighting the music, food, art and culture of Zimbabwe.
For race times, to register and for more information, call 941-9206 or visit zimbabweparaguay.net.