About the Author: Dawn Anderson is the Coordinator of the Ambassador's Special Self-Help Program at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe.September 11, 2001. I was sitting at my desk in Capitol Hill, watching the TV in shock as planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. Then, like others on the Hill that day, I moved quickly out of my office building, got into my car and made my way through the crowded and chaotic streets of Washington, DC to a friend's apartment where many of us gathered to watch and wait. And watch. And wait.
September 11, 2010. I cooked saudza and covo muriwo. I wiped tables. And I fed and cleaned disabled children. I was -- am -- in Harare, Zimbabwe. In remembrance of 9/11, I volunteered my time.
I am the Coordinator for the Ambassador's Special Self-Help Program, a small grants program designed to improve basic economic and social conditions at the grassroots level in local communities and villages. All our program's recipients rest uncomfortably below anyone's definition of the poverty line. An assistant and I have managed the program for just three months, but in that short time I have seen a startling and disturbing amount of need.
When Ambassador Ray decided to create a volunteer program involving Embassy staff, it seemed natural to focus on Self-Help Program awardees. All our grantees have little in the way of material items, but have an abundance of hope, spirit, and the will to move beyond their circumstances. For our 9/11 remembrance service, we selected Tose Respite Care Home, a residence for severely disabled children, mostly orphans or children from marginalized families. We wanted to do more than just give money. We wanted to give our time and talents to Zimbabwean families as a means of remembering all the American families who lost so much on that sunny September day in 2001. We wanted to show that we are people who care about people in need.
On 9/11/2010, approximately 35 diplomats and their families, along with locally-engaged staff, tended the Home's out-of-control garden, assisted in grinding grains, hand-washed residents' clothes, and cooked for, cleaned, and read to the children. We toured the Home's facilities and learned that it is the only home in the country that has the capacity to accept severely physically and mentally disabled children. We saw the love and care that the staff at the Home, many of whom have worked there for most of the nearly 20 years it has been in operation, lavished on their wards.
More than one volunteer approached me to say how good they felt to have spent time helping an organization that helps so many Zimbabwean families in need. And many indicated an interest in participating in one of the nine additional volunteer activities slated through Veterans' Day, November 11.
It was not until later in the evening that I realized I had not replayed in my head what I'd seen on the television screen nine years ago. It was then that I realized that, while I will never forget what happened on 9/11, I had begun to create a new set of images around that day: The smiles on kids' faces. Chats with women who enjoy their work. Me being proud to work for an Ambassador and an organization that cares for the people in the countries we serve.