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It was a year ago this month that my husband and I read WORLD's article on the economic situation in Zimbabwe. The article mentioned Paula Leen and her work there in Marange, Zimbabwe. We were inspired to contact Paula, and after several months of preparation, savings, finding someone to watch over our business and home, we traveled with our daughter and new son-in-law to Murwira Children's Home.
We stayed two months.
During that time, we installed a small solar electric system to provide lights to the orphanage, installed a solar well pump to bring water to the kitchen and bathrooms, repaired vehicles, and worked on various other building and improvement projects.
We were taken, at times, to the limits of our endurance. There was, and still is, so much work to do. While the children and workers at the orphanage are well fed and as happy as can be expected, the poverty, illness, death, and starvation in the surrounding community is, to say the least, overwhelming.
Leen's work ("How far can Zim dollars go?" Nov. 15, 2008) involves so much more than running an orphanage. Her feeding programs and outreach to the sick and elderly constitute a large part of her work, which she continues at an unabated pace, in spite of her age (we celebrated her 75th birthday while we were there).
The continued and pervasive government corruption and the welfare mentality of many of the people in Africa are only exacerbated by the methods the Western world has employed to "help" African countries. While many expressed gratitude, there is also a deep-seated resentment among some for white people who come to help. Something has to change.
In the meantime, people continue to suffer greatly. While the economic situation in the cities of Zimbabwe has improved due to the infusion of foreign currency, we continue to hear about drought-the wells at the orphanage have dried up-sickness, death, and starvation in the rural regions.
Donations from America have dropped by 60 percent because of our economic situation, and so Leen is having a difficult time meeting the needs of the orphanage and paying its workers. Hers is now one of the only feeding programs operating in the Marange area; Catholic Relief Services and others have apparently pulled out.
Leen has received food shipments from Feed My Starving Children and, with the help of volunteers, distributes that to hundreds of children in the community. Some families walk 15 or 20 miles to receive food and clothing because there is nothing else available, no water for their gardens, and their fathers are out of work.
Leen herself realizes that the current system is not sustainable. She has instituted training programs for the workers and the children at the orphanage, teaching them marketable skills like sewing, baking, carpentry, and sustainable agriculture, hoping that at some point, the children and others will not have to rely on donations to live.
As active as Leen remains, though, her age and health are becoming a problem. She needs to slow down, and eventually (sooner rather than later), retire. The children's home is in desperate need of volunteers, and ultimately, a couple or a family is needed to take over management of the whole operation.
I wanted to let WORLD know that an article in the magazine inspired us to reach out, to stretch ourselves, to make connections with another culture, to form sweet friendships with some amazing and resourceful people in Zimbabwe. We came to love the little children at the orphanage, and many in the surrounding community as well, and we hate to think of the suffering they still are enduring. We pray for them continually and hope that others will also reach out to help, and will keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and in your
-Diana Hamberger is a high school teacher living in Pearce, Ariz.