Cary News: Opinion

Faith Filter: Helping orphans survive, then thrive

Katrina Morrocco spends time with Mellissa, an 8-year-old participant of the ZOE project, in 2015. The program gives children training and materials to grow their own food or funding to start another income-generating project. Morrocco plans to return to Africa in 2017 to see Mellissa graduate from the program.
Katrina Morrocco spends time with Mellissa, an 8-year-old participant of the ZOE project, in 2015. The program gives children training and materials to grow their own food or funding to start another income-generating project. Morrocco plans to return to Africa in 2017 to see Mellissa graduate from the program. Courtesy of Helen Papageorgiou

Baboons, crocodiles, hyenas and robbers keep 8-year-old Mellissa awake at night. These are not Mellissa’s nightmares. These are her realities. Mellissa is the primary caregiver for her family of five and lives in a rural area near Zimbabwe, Africa.

It’s been about a year since Cary resident Katrina Morrocco was part of a church mission trip to Zimbabwe when she met Mellissa.

At the time, Mellissa was living with her 10-year-old sister in a goat house that didn’t have a roof or a door, the floor was dirt, and the walls were made of clay, rocks and broken bricks. The goats were long gone. No one is sure if they were stolen or sold as a way to provide for the family.

“They couldn’t have blankets or anything of value, because without a door to lock, robbers would steal from them,” said Morrocco, who was on her second ZOE mission trip with First United Methodist Church of Cary in 2015.

Mellissa struggles to take care of the family. Her parents and sister have physical and mental limitations and aren’t able to work or help with basic needs of food. Her brother is just starting to toddle.

Due to local custom, the rest of the family sleeps in a separate structure that has a straw roof, but the structure is crumbling.

“My husband, Joe, was so taken aback by the sights of the area that he couldn’t even look into the structure to see where the girls slept,” Katrina Morrocco said.

Mellissa was filled with hope when she became a part of ZOE (formerly known as the Zimbawbe Orphans Endeavor), that gives children training and materials to grow their own food or funding to start another income-generating project.

ZOE is a three-year effort that includes teaching Mellissa and other participants about healthy lifestyles, clean drinking water and how to use the mosquito nets that are provided to protect them against disease.

“Orphans and vulnerable children accepted into this program work so hard to improve their lives,” said Helen Papageorgiou, lead organizer for First United Methodist Church’s ZOE effort.

When Mellissa graduates from ZOE’s program, she will be able to care for her family by having a secure, dependable source of food. Even more important, safe housing was made available.

While Katrina and Joe Morrocco were in Zimbabwe, they were a part of the team that included local boys who built the family a new home.

“We dug the foundation using pick axes,” said Katrina Morrocco. “It was hard, hard work, but such a blessing to see the home being built.”

A stark contrast

The harsh realities of Mellissa’s life are in stark contrast to the lives of children in Cary. It’s understandable that Katrina would take the time to help Mellissa enjoy the simple pleasure of laughing when bubbles are blown.

It’s also understandable why Katrina and her husband would take First United Methodist Church’s Income Generating Project Challenge to quadruple a $150 grant to provide more funding for children like Mellissa.

“At first, I just wanted to write a check, but then realized by doing a project, we could feel more of what it’s like for Mellissa to be a part of ZOE,” said Katrina, who is selling raffle tickets to paint a custom oil painting of a pet on an 18”-by-24” canvas. Katrina Morrocco has raised $800 so far and has a goal of $1,000.

Joe Morrocco is offering a bicycle cleaning service that gives a complete bike cleaning of the frame, cassette, chain ring, rear and front derailleurs and chain. The Morroccos’ garage has turned into a bike shop and so far, Joe has raised $500 for ZOE.

The biblical model of ZOE is appealing.

“The mission truly reaches out to ‘the least of these’ as we are asked to do,” said Katrina Morrocco, who plans to return to Zimbabwe in 2017 when Mellissa will graduate from the program.

“The children’s spirit, hope and determination to achieve self-sufficiency and a better future is contagious, inspiring me to want to do more,” said Papageorgiou, who has been involved with the effort for more than six years.

This fundraising phase of the ZOE project ends Oct. 30. The church hopes to generate enough funds to support an entire working group of 25 orphan-led families, which is about 75 to 100 people for three years.

“It’s amazing to see how this project transforms the hearts of people here while helping children in Africa move from barely surviving to thriving,” Katrina Morrocco said.

Learn more

▪ First United Methodist Church of Cary has 50 income-generating projects that benefit the ZOE effort. Donations can be made by check payable to FUMCC with “ZOE” in the memo field, and mailed to 117 S. Academy St., Cary, NC 27511.

▪ Zoe Mission Friday Fun Night is planned for Sept. 30 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets for the dinner and bazaar, that includes burgers, baked goods, silent auction items and games for the children, are available by contacting Nancy Merrick at nmerrick1@nc.rr.com or 919-467-6778.

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