Tafadzwa Muzhandu ’05, Jennifer Kyker ’02, Memory Bandera ’04 Bringing Hope and Help to Zimbabwe’s Orphans


Tafadzwa “Fadzie” Muzhandu ’05 (in green sweater) with Tariro participants

What started as a high-school fascination with traditional African music eventually led Jennifer Kyker ’02 to found an organization that aids Zimbabwean orphans.

Even before coming to MHC, Jennifer learned the Shona language, lived in Zimbabwe, and studied the indigenous mbira, a thumb piano. An MHC senior thesis and subsequent Fulbright project deepened her connection to the country. “Many young women I knew were in situations very different than mine because they had not been able to complete a basic high school education,” Kyker recalls. “Many had to drop out after being orphaned by HIV/AIDS.”

Back in her native Oregon, she started talking to others, including Memory Bandera ’04. Since every student in Zimbabwe must pay to attend classes (and for books, supplies, and school uniforms), and since secondary-school fees are often beyond poor people’s means, Tariro (which means “hope” in Shona), was formed in 2003 to meet this need. Memory now sits on Tariro’s board of directors.

Jennifer is working toward her PhD. in ethnomusicology at the University of Pennsylvania, but remains executive director of Tariro. Last year the group hired its first and only paid staffer: Tafadzwa Muzhandu ’05. Fadzie, as she’s known, implements the day-to-day program practically single-handedly, although she sends e-mail updates to the board every other week.

“The girls are amazing and genuine, despite the difficult conditions they face,” Fadzi says. “The most difficult [part of the job] is trying to make school administrators understand that our students are unique and therefore need special attention. It’s also hard when your budget does not allow you to provide much-needed services, like tutoring and counseling.” She has high praise for Jennifer as “someone who really understands the plight of young women in Zimbabwe. Many organizations are not in touch with the recipients of their assistants, but I get to interact with students and their families.”

Today, the organization funds secondary schooling for some forty girls, thus giving them skills and hope for a brighter future. Five Tariro-sponsored girls have already graduated from high school, and one, Pauline, has gone on to the highly competitive University of Zimbabwe. Jennifer says Pauline wants to intern with Tariro this summer, training herself to work with other young women in need. Though still a young organization, Tariro’s work is beginning to come full circle.

To find out more or join the Tariro mailing list, visit www.tariro.org or e-mail Jennifer at jkyker@sas.upenn.edu.