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Lisa Chiriseri, Uplifting Zimbabwe Through Education

Lisa Chiriseri`s education fund, Fund-A-Child’s-Education-Zimbabwe supports over 360 beneficiaries today. Her social enterprise Women in Energy Group has seen over 6000 Zimbabwean households transitioned from using firewood to using products of cleaner, safer, sustainable alternatives in the last six months. Her Pan-African initiative African Women Association and Awards continues to lead in rebranding the image of African women and drawing attention to the accurate reflection of the establishment of the African continent. Each project incorporates strategic private local partnerships and massive youth volunteerism as she firmly believes in local philanthropy.

Not only is she educated with an Honors Degree in International Business and runs private business interests in education, television and media production. Lisa is part of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship – YALI. Placed amongst the Top Ten African Youth in Philanthropy: African-Grantmakers-Network, 2015. She is a UN Global Youth Ambassador for Education both for last year and this year and lastly, she was listed in Zimbabwe’s Top 40 under 30 Emerging Leaders in 2015.

Her powerful opening statement, “It’s said many a time, education is the most powerful tool with which to change the world, and I would add – shape and control the future. Zimbabwe will have no future if we allow an entire generation to grow up illiterate, impoverished and bitter. I don’t entirely believe in waiting on international aid. I believe we have the capacity as Africans to self-solve many of the ills that plague us. A major one being access to education. I had to do something and so I started Fund A Child’s Education.”

I then asked Lisa to share something amazing and that she’s never shared with any other media, “I am a little overcomer; a cumulative of hundreds of internal battles fought and won secretly to my surprise and I’m sure the surprise of many others.”

She paused as though to reflect thoughtfully before continuing with, “I often have moments where I stand beside myself, studying myself and wondering how and when I'd become who people now say I am.”

Adding, “My God is so faithful, it is in such moments that I realize I am everything God intended me to be and this metamorphosis happens with or without my realization, effort or permission as long as I walk with Him.”

I admire that Lisa is someone who stands with firm conviction, and prays hard for what she wants to manifest in her life. One of the reasons I wanted to have the honor of interviewing someone as amazing as her.

I proceeded to ask her what the coolest thing about FACEZ is, and she said, “The coolest thing might be that it’s run by a truly committed, compassionate and considerate team of young people whose first and only priority is the children.”

Adding, “When I watch my team at work it sometimes reminds me of the times as a child when I would watch my parents pretending like everything was ok when it wasn’t. I would see them secretly stretch themselves to the limit and sacrifice everything to make sure my life stayed sane and made sure us kids all had what we needed when we needed it.”

Ending off with, “The FACEZ team is like such parents, giving and going far beyond what they should, and what they earn or can afford to make sure our kids have stability and an education for a brighter future.”

FACEZ and how Lisa started it is a very emotional story, there was no other choice but for me to sit back and allow her to narrate the long version, “FACEZ was started when I had reached rock bottom emotionally. At 23 I had watched three of my brothers and sisters pass away in my hands, and in my care; die off the streets from HIV and Aids-related sickness. I had also conducted four funerals of the same and had said goodbye to much more than that as AIDS took them. Till today it cuts deep. I felt helpless as I ran around pleading with the various inoperable social service systems in our country that couldn’t do a thing to assist.”

She paused as though to reflect solemnly, and then continued saying, “Spending my own, my parents, my friends and anybody’s money I could get my hands on to buy their medication or pay for their treatments. The fear I saw in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, a fear that resonated with my own as life slipped out of their bodies day after day. And the dejection and deep pain I heard in words they never said to me about their families that had sworn never to see or talk to them again. Families that never showed up even when I called to inform them of the direness of the situation. Many of them died alone, or with just me and their other friends living off the street. Their bodies collected by the city council and their funeral funded and organized by a few friends from my church and me. The families never came. Even in death, these young people remained destitute.”

The narration goes on, “After losing my dear friend mai two, a mother of twins who was my age, on the streets since she was eleven, I imploded. I fell apart emotionally as the weight of the reality of the limitations of my organization's efforts crashed down on me. Kids my age were dying on the streets every day; they were being raped, infected, impregnated, starved, abused and then disowned - left for other organizations like mine to feebly try and help or to otherwise just die. Some of the young people successfully reconciled with families; a few were successfully rehabilitated into their communities, very few managed to re-integrate alone into society and run their lives and only two from my group of 80 stand today as university graduates who we helped study off the streets. The rest stayed on in the makeshift abusive family units created there, bringing more children into the world to suffer the same fate – a life with HIV and deprived living conditions that lead to sickness and eventually death. All this because someone somewhere could not afford to educate this child, or was not willing to. Someone somewhere decided this kid deserved to beg on the streets for money instead of learning for a future that would eventually sustain the whole family.”

With a slight interjection, before finishing off with, “That was the point at which I started FACEZ. Realizing that no matter how hard I tried with the Soup Kitchen rehab – I would be in some cases, most cases - I would be too late. I learned the bitter lesson that prevention was indeed better than cure and through FACEZ I would be able to keep many children in school and just as many children as possible off the streets and away from the experiences that shook me to my core. That conviction is still the personal secret driving force behind FACEZ today.”

Lisa is okay with FACEZ not being put on the map in other African countries as she believes FACEZ is for Zimbabwe and its children for generations to come. She says that each country should have a Fund – A – Child’s Education that educates its less privileged children from the pockets of responsible citizens who are not waiting on aid or government to solve every single social problem. Each country should have this support protecting their children from the ills of a deprived life and protecting their countries from a future one day filled with uneducated, embittered, sick and dejected grownups who were once children deprived of an education.

Concluding our conversation were these strong words from Lisa, “My footsteps are not for everybody, and the sooner people understand this, the sooner we become progressive societies. Everyone has a purpose and that purpose at its core, should be centered around improving the lives of other people. I advise people to align with that core purpose. Give your time and skill a steady commitment, and yes – your money towards a cause that is effectively helping the underprivileged. Don’t all flood to the commonly known established organizations. Take time to go deep and find the obscure, over-crowded under-funded community initiatives housing 27 dumped children in a three-roomed house with no electricity, or teaching 200 children daily in the heart of a run-down farm in a rural area where the children are seated on rocks under the trees and walking for miles without shoes. Find those that nobody knows about or supports and form a network of friends with whom you can commit to supporting and building and improving that existing charity step by step, month by month, year after year. Make a real difference. We don’t all need to start charities, we all need to support charities. Use what God has given you and what you have worked hard for to better the lives of others through the existing charities that you know are doing a good job. I know many such cases and will always refer those that ask me to such charities. We can never have enough help, we may also never be able to give enough help, so never stop giving!”

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