Canon George Irwin, rector of Ballymacash and chairman of Lisburn Christian Aid, has visited Zimbabwe and was deeply moved by the vital projects the charity is supporting.
Before boarding the plane, the Lisburn man conceded that he wasn’t without his anxieties.
“This had much to do with a perception of Zimbabwe gleaned from media reports about social and political unrest and disputes,” he said.
When they first arrived at Harare airport, it was deserted and the streets were tense.
However, the team received a warm welcome at Marlborough Methodist Church and from there, they travelled in jeeps 250 miles to Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo where they visited Zimpro (the Zimbabwe Project Trust) and a garden project that left an impact on George:
“Most of the employees were women who had to carry water in buckets on their heads up a steep hill from a local spring. They were trying to grow tomatoes, mangoes and butternut squash which they sold locally.
“Whenever we met the ordinary people it was striking that after we exchanged greetings it was the locals who asked for prayer and in one place they even did a dance for us.
“This was grinding poverty. A lot of the children had no shoes, they lived in mud huts but despite their deprivation, they are very friendly people.
“As we left, the chair of Zimpro described the work of Christian Aid as an expression of love.”
The Busy Girls’ Dressmakers project, set up by four young mothers, left the team further emotionally drained: “There were a lot of tears because of the sheer poverty. It was very harrowing, yet there was a great sense of hope because they were doing such a good job,” George said.
Their hope was restored when they visited Mantunka School, where young people, described by the local chief as ‘drop-outs’ strived to overcome their difficulties in a rough concrete building.
“There were 14 children and their teacher Robson was doing very well. They could all read and write. This gave us hope.
“The resources that were given to people like Robson were being used to the maximum.
“He was changing the lives of these children and I know I could stand up in front of any congregation and say look at what your money is doing,” George said.
George met 10 women who had established a savings co-operative. After nine months of pooling their resources, they were able to buy goats and are hoping to establish a fish market to raise funds to help orphans. Christian Aid money was used to help train the ladies in book keeping.
Each evening, the group gathered for a time of reflection. “This time would be quite emotional as people described their feelings during the day, but always there was a sense of hope that the aid Christian Aid was putting in was a catalyst,” George said.
During their trip, they visited some 17 Christian Aid supported projects.:
“It certainly has been a life-changing experience,” he said. “I am now much more thoughtful about spending on luxuries and I have gained a deeper understanding of the need to exercise a sense of responsibility with regards the purchase and use of food.
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