Good Neighbors Keri Kidd Cannon & Pam Kidd: Building Community in Africa

"The people we've gotten to know in Zimbabwe are just happy to be alive, and that's refreshing."

Seven-year-old Shorai and her newborn sister, Arlene, were found living on the streets in a rural area of Zimbabwe. "Their mother had died, and their father had abandoned them. The 7-year-old was responsible for the newborn," says Pam Kidd.

Hearing about the girls, Kidd and her daughter, Keri Kidd Cannon, both with Fridrich & Clark Realty in Nashville, Tenn., sprang to action, moving the children to Village Hope, a rural Zimbabwe farm and orphanage they founded in 2005. "It was touch-and-go keeping the baby alive, but now she’s healthy," says Cannon. "Shorai is going to school for the first time and is thriving."

So it goes for Kidd and Cannon, who learned of conditions in Zimbabwe in 1999 when then-journalist Kidd traveled there on assignment. The mother-daughter team has been offering real care and comfort there ever since. They spend at least two weeks every year, bringing along a group of volunteers each time. Village Hope—staffed by a local man, Paddington, and his wife Alice—cares for 20 children. Kidd and Cannon also run Home of Hope, in the capital city of Harare, to provide food, clothing, school fees, and medical care to homeless children.

In 2007, Kidd and Cannon were finalists for REALTOR® Magazine’s Good Neighbor Award because of their work with Village Hope. Since then, they’ve greatly expanded their efforts, adding programs to support the families of rural villages in Zimbabwe as well as those in Harare. Zimbabwe, a country ravaged in the last decade by hyperinflation, joblessness, and drought, was once one of southern Africa’s largest food producers. The country has seen a sharp decline in life expectancy since 1990, from 60 to 44. It’s among the lowest in the world.

For Kidd and Cannon, making a difference happens one Zimbabwean—and one contribution—at a time. "[We hear about] needs, we miraculously receive donations, and we help meet those needs," Kidd says.

One ongoing need is food. At a school near Village Hope, the orphans were among the only children who brought lunch. "Many children walked eight miles to school and didn’t eat all day. Children frequently dropped out." Cannon sought and found a solution—a nutritious milkshake-like drink. "Enrollment at the school almost doubled after we started this program," says Kidd. The drink is now handed out daily to almost 1,000 children.

A Farm for the Community

But the community needed help, too. "Starving neighbors stood outside the gate of Village Hope hoping to be fed," says Cannon. So a large donation from a Nashville church was used to fund a community food program. Everyone is welcome to the farm on Saturdays. "Alice and the older children fix vegetables and grains grown on the five-acre farm and feed anywhere from 150 to 400 people," says Cannon.

"They eat, dance, and give thanks," says Kidd. "The meals have brought a sense of community."

Each ministry leads to another, says Cannon. For example, she and Kidd discovered that people in the rural area surrounding Village Hope were getting sick from eating seeds coated in pesticide. The seeds were given to families by the government and meant for planting. But people were starving—so they often ended up grinding the seeds to make food. To prevent people from eating the poison-coated seeds, Kidd and Cannon started Seeds to Sadza in 2008.

Paddington trains villagers on how to plant the government seeds and harvest the crops. Meanwhile, families are given sadza—a cornmeal staple, much like grits—to eat until their seeds grow. "Once they get into a cycle, they’ll be able to grow, harvest, and store their own food," says Kidd, who says hundreds of families will benefit.

With Seeds to Sadza running smoothly, Kidd and Cannon started Pass It On, a program that gives families a goat or a cow.

"When a person in Zimbabwe receives an animal, it changes the history of the family forever," says Kidd. A goat provides milk as well as manure to fertilize the owner’s garden plot. Cows help plow gardens and haul water. "We try to give them a pregnant animal so they can pass the offspring along to other neighbors. Our goal is to give every family within 20 miles an animal," she says.

Much-Needed Dental Care

And now the family’s generosity extends into health care. Cannon’s husband, Ben, a dentist, recently opened a dental clinic in the area.  Many HIV-positive children have teeth that rot but don’t fall out, leaving them open to pain and infection, Cannon says. "He and other volunteer dentists train local health care providers on basic dental hygiene and how to pull teeth."

For both Kidd and Cannon, the giving nature of others is what keeps them motivated. "We recently received $753 from a little girl in the United States," Kidd says. "She sent a note saying she was saving for a horse but felt she should send that money to us. We’re humbled by the goodness of people."

As for the people they serve: "The people we’ve gotten to know in Zimbabwe are just happy to be alive, and that’s refreshing," says Cannon. "You see community love that we don’t always see in the United States. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive. It just matters that you’re together."

Keri Kidd Cannon & Pam Kidd
Village Hope
Fridrich & Clark Realty LLC
Nashville, Tenn.