Friends of Zambian Orphans (FOZO) is a kids helping kids, non-profit organization that derived from one Shelton High graduate’s experience in Zambia. The staff have worked closely with students and educators in Zambia to enhance the quality of two of their schools.
The initiative was co-founded by Ginger Clarke, a retired kindergarten teacher at Chase Collegiate school, and her son, Dr. Kevin Clarke, in 2003. Kevin is a graduate of Shelton High.
When he was a student at UConn Medical School, Kevin was also volunteering at Kondwa Centre for Orphans in Lusaka, Zambia.
According to Mrs. Clarke, before she took her first trip to Africa, Kevin emailed her explaining the lack of school supplies students were forced to work with.
“The children had no school supplies, so they wrote and drew in the dirt with their fingers,” said Mrs. Clarke.
The students at Chase Collegiate School helped collect school supplies to take to the children at Kondwa Centre while on her trip. Chase Collegiate School is a co-ed day school for students in pre-K through 12th grade located in Waterbury.
“When I handed each a goodie bag that my students at Chase and I put together, not one opened them until they were encouraged to do so,” said Mrs. Clarke. “No one had ever given them a present before so they did not even know what to do with them.”
Mrs. Clarke explained that FOZO began as an idea and couldn’t have grown as much as it has without the help of UConn Law School, which provided the legal work to start the non-profit and SCORE, a group of retired businessmen in Shelton who helped in the process of writing a business plan.
FOZO offers assistance to children at the Kondwa Centre for Orphans, an early childhood center and PaKachele School, a primary school. These children are particularly vulnerable to the epidemic of poverty and disease that plagues the region, including HIV-AIDS and lack of prenatal care, according to Mrs. Clarke.
The first project the FOZO team took on was the bathroom situation. There were none when Mrs. Clarke first arrived.
Along with building bathrooms, the organization simultaneously funded and helped build a water containment system which provided clean drinking water.
Additional projects funded by FOZO include equipping a library, establishing vegetable gardens and orchards, building an irrigation system, creating a chicken raising project and creating a life skills program in carpentry for at risk students. Through these projects, the organization has helped over 1,500 orphans, according to Mrs. Clarke.
She explained that before beginning a project or development for the two schools, FOZO’s Board of Directors and Kondwa Centre’s Board do needs assessments.
“It is very important to listen to their needs and respect their culture,” said Mrs. Clarke “Computers are not at the top of the list when they don’t have food. Food comes first.”
Mrs. Clarke said that although it is a cliche, she is a believer of the statement, “One person can make a difference,” and the entire experience has been life-changing for her.
“On the plane coming home, my thoughts were on how was I going to help them. The seed of beginning a non-profit, although I had no idea how, was born.”
She added that her experience with kids in Zambia has had an impact on her students at Chase as well.
“They could not believe that there were kids that only had soy porridge for breakfast every day, never pancakes or their choice of cereal,” said Mrs. Clarke. “ The [sympathy] they had for those less fortunate was very genuine.“
Students at Chase recently participated in their 12th annual bake sale, which raised $500 for FOZO. Since the organization came to life 12 years ago, a total of nearly $49,000 has been raised and put toward developmental projects at the schools.
For more information on Chase College or FOZO, visit http://www.chasecollegiate.org/searchresults.cfm?keywords=zambia.