My wife and I have recently returned from a three week visit to our daughter Jayne, Jonathan and family in Zimbabwe, our first visit in five years and we found much has changed.
Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), is a country of contrasts. Much to our surprise when compared with five years ago when there was very little in the shops and inflation was rampant, shopping malls in Harare are flourishing. Supermarkets are overflowing with goods and there are a great variety of specialist shops and pleasant cafes as well as evidence of more development from new shopping parades to new housing in pleasant suburbs where ranch style bungalows stand in one acre plots. The economy clearly appeared on the upgrade with the American dollar now the official currency and investment increasing. People were out in the pleasant winter sunshine shopping or enjoying sitting with friends over a coffee.
But the other side of Zimbabwe was also all too evident. Car parks were characterised by poor Zimbabweans trying to get a living by hawking newspapers and basic goods such as mops, kitchen ware items whilst at most road junctions were others sat on the roadside by a small pile of vegetables, or firewood or again newspaper selling. Many were simply sitting in groups idling the day away as in reality Zimbabwe has 85% unemployment. Away from the prosperous shopping centres and pleasant suburbs are the much wider spreads of poor housing and further out still the high density townships lacking in basic amenities such as good sanitation and clean water and families existing in one or two rooms.
On the first Saturday we were there we went with Jayne our daughter, Jonathan who is a doctor and a team from Avondale church on the monthly visit out to Mabvuku high density township about six miles out of Harare to meet forty three of the poorest families. The group from Avondale (now barred like other groups from their churches, but worshipping regularly in school chapels or halls), have over the last twenty years run a programme to aid the poorest families, supported from the UK by other church groups including St. Vigors.
When we arrived we were greeted by smiling faces from about eighty youngsters and thirty adults, mainly grannies looking after the children because parents had died from Aids or ill health. For instance Grandmother Sadik has eight orphaned children living in two rooms and Grandmother Valley all of whose own seven children had died, looks after ten grandchildren.
The families were gathered at the local school where the team have been given two rooms for the morning along with Gibson who lives in Mabvuku and takes care of any problems the families have between visits. After impromptu worship and songs families sat round a team member to whom they had been allocated to chat over family news and needs. These not only focussed on basic food needs but family problems over school fees , health or other matters, not always anxieties but good news too. For instance after eighteen months battling with authorities Venetia who leads the team had finally got a birth certificate for an orphaned child of 10 ; without it the children cannot attend school. Whilst this went on in the school room the month’s supply of food was laid out for each family – a bag of maize meal, protein soya mince, dried fish and beans, cooking oil, together with two bars of soap and a packet of candles; the food bill each month is £600 for the Mabvuku families as prices in Zimbabwe are higher than in the UK. Donated clothes and shoes are also given out as needed.
Jonathan and another doctor held a clinic in the same school room as otherwise the families would have no access to a clinic. If a hospital visit is needed the team arrange for this and meet the cost, for instance an elderly man had successfully had treatment for prostrate cancer and a granny a hip operation.
Each month Meredith in the team sends out monthly news of each family to the three churches in the U.K and other individuals giving prayer and tangible support for the Mabvuku families. This monthly newsletter is regularly displayed at the back of St Vigors church and gives a much fuller picture possible in this article.