Zimbabwe fair inspires with motto: 'Be fit, create art and help others'

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High School student Shruti Juneja, a Zimbabwe Run and Fair volunteer, promotes the event with a puppet act at the Los Altos main library last week.

The 17th annual Run for Zimbabwe Orphans and Fair is scheduled Sunday at St. Joseph School, 1120 Miramonte Ave., Mountain View.

The event, featuring 13 races and an African arts and crafts fair, is slated to kick off at noon. Races will begin at 1 p.m., including a 220-yard dash for preschoolers, a half-mile run for kindergartners and mile-long runs for participants from first grade to adult.

The Chinyakare dance and drumming ensemble and the band Sadza, presenting traditional Zimbabwe music, are set to perform. Other highlights will include a children’s art contest, games, African animal mascots and a sadza (cornmeal) buffet.

Los Altos resident Ellen Clark is the force behind the fair, which benefits the Makumbi Children’s Home in Zimbabwe. Clark launched the fair in 2000, inspired by her son Will’s 1997 visit to the Makumbi orphanage in Zimbabwe when he served in the Peace Corps.

Family affair

Although Clark takes the lead role, the entire Clark family is involved. Will, daughter Teresa and husband Bill serve on the board of directors of the Sustainable Living Foundation, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2003 to support the Zimbabwe event and a garden project benefiting people in need in Paraguay. So far, the Zimbabwe event has raised $387,000 for the orphanage and its 100 children. Organizers raised $33,000 last year.

Each year’s Zimbabwe event addresses a specific need. Proceeds from this year’s fair will fund repairs to the old and failing plumbing system at the orphanage.

“Makumbi orphans face serious health challenges due to outdated plumbing, with little or no water for drinking, cooking or bathing,” Clark said. “The plumbing hasn’t been updated since the orphanage was built in 1936 – the whole system is a wreck.”

Clark said the system runs on electric pumps, but electricity is out so much of the time, they have to go without water.

“I’m concerned about cholera outbreaks,” she said. “People don’t have the correct sanitation – it’s a real issue throughout the country.”

The Wakerly Family Foundation of Mountain View provides additional funding, underwriting event expenses such as purchase of trophies and arranging for portable bathrooms and insurance so that 100 percent of the proceeds support the orphanage.

Orphans aren’t the only ones benefiting. Clark employs numerous volunteers from local high schools to organize and run the fair.

“They have all these games, things that relate to Zimbabwe,” she said. “This event is as much for the kids right here in the U.S. – it’s important to feel a part of philanthropy.”

Clark, who taught physical education for 15 years at St. Joseph School before retiring, remains motivated to continue producing the annual event.

“It’s been a real adventure for us, but one that’s really satisfying,” she said. “We’re helping the orphanage survive – it’s one thing to build an orphanage, it’s another to keep it going.”

Clark continues to draw inspiration from the event’s motto: “Be fit, create art and help others.”

“That’s what keeps us going,” she said. “When people create art, they use a part of their brains that keeps them learning and excited about learning.”

Although Zimbabwe is filled with human suffering, Clark shines a light on the country’s vibrant culture.

“It’s not all about death, dying and AIDS,” she said. “We’re bringing the joy of Africa.”

Admission to the fair is free. Races cost $5, but fees are waived for those who otherwise could not afford to participate.

To volunteer and for more information, visit

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