Visit report: Spring in Zimbabwe

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Thursday 28th

I arrived in Harare in the dark to be met  by Edwin (Tariro’s administrator) and drove through the largely dark Harare (most streetlights have given up) to Borrowdale where I found Glynis and Rob along with Ben Bradshaw waiting for me with a couple of ice cold Castle beers. That’s when I really felt I had arrived!

Next morning I said mass informally with Ben, Glynis and her brother for her mother who had been buried the day before. Then Ben and I with Edwin set off for Penhalonga. We got there as night was falling and were welcomed in and fed by the Sisters.

Sunday 31st

Our departure for Tongogara was delayed as Sr Stella Mary had had a stroke in the night and Mother Betty wanted to take her to hospital. This we did and then drove the long road down the Eastern side of the country to Tongogara refugee camp. It was the first time Ben had seen the church for which he raised so much money.

There were over 60 people in church, many of them young. That in itself is good as their previous church could barely take 20! This one functions as a social centre for Anglicans as well and the congregation seems to be growing. Liturgically it is a nightmare as very few adults understand English or Shona and I know nothing of Swahili or KiRwandan. But the young people do know the Zimbabwe languages so we can make some impact on them.

Every time I go to Tongogara I am struck by the depressing situation of refugees. They are traumatised by their past, stuck in the present unable to move on. They do not trust anyone and they are very difficult to work with. It is tempting to give up on them, but slowly we see improvements being made; slowly people are coming together as a congregation. It seems we can make a difference.

After a rather good lunch eaten in the sacristy (while the young people ate theirs in church!), we drove up to Chipinge a town rather beautifully placed in hilly country on the edge of the Chimanimani  mountain range. The town, like all small Zimbabwean towns is badly run down, dirty and overcrowded. Here we met our little group of Tariro kids – Munyaradzi, Brenda, Rejoice, Shepherd and a new one, Liberty. All seem to be doing well. Liberty is a skinny little chap with wonderful sparkling eyes. Both his parents have died and he is cared for by a grandmother.

We spent Monday in Chipinge – Ben visited the ‘high density’ area of Gaza; I stayed quietly in the vicarage till the kids came in the afternoon.

Tuesday 2nd

We were back on the road north quite early as we had business to do in Mutare. Much of this concerned the children’s home at St Augustine’s. It has been badly run for years and not properly maintained. It is now becoming a scandal so we have decided Tariro will step in. An inspection showed that most of the toilets and plumbing has collapsed. Our first job will be to renovate that. Then comes roof repair, ceilings and glazing to make it a more cheerful home for the children.St Augustine's (18)

On Wednesday most of our St Augustine’s Tariro children came to see us. Sadly it is becoming clear that most of them will not do great things in school. We have to find other ways forward for them once they have a basic level of education.

On Thursday we drove to Macheke and spent the night with the Benedictine brothers at Monte Casino Mission. That was a welcome oasis of prayer and silence to catch up on much neglected prayers.

Friday 5th

We arrived back in Harare in time to get Ben Bradshaw back to Rob and Glynis’ where were to meet Ben Freeth. Ben and his Father and Mother in law were chased off a farm and very badly beaten up in the process. His Father in law died as a result. Ben is a passionate Christian of a rather evangelical kind and now devotes himself to trying to get justice in the courts. He has had some successes and even if they don’t bring immediate returns (Mugabe ignores the courts) they establish principles of justice which are essential to the future when we begin to put Zimbabwe together again.

Sunday 7th

A lovely day for me! I went early in the morning to All Saints Chitungwiza to say mass and preach for Fr Justin Matyatya. We had about 300 in church and it was a splendid service. Then I had the rest of the day to myself – by Jenny’s swimming pool as she was out.

Tuesday 9th

Edwin and I set off about 6.00 am for Gweru – a drive of about 3 hours from Harare. There we met Bishop Ishmael and Stephanie, one of our young people. Stephanie is now a student at Midlands University.  We drove on then to St Francis Nema, in the rural district of Shurugwi. It is hard dry country and the roads are dreadful. But the masasa trees were glorious as they always are at this time of the year, and especially there.Shurugwi (2)

All but one of our children are still in primary school. Most of the girls are doing well academically. The four boys “could do much better” but are typical boys (i.e. like me once) always leaving homework till it doesn’t get done! We’re still learning how to handle this group, supplementing their food and encouraging the Sisters to understand their problems.

Thursday 11th

We drove on to Masvingo, partly to pay our respects to Bishop Godfrey and to meet up with Talent Simango, one of our Penhalonga girls who has just started at Great Zimbabwe University. It was lovely to see her. She has grown so much in happiness and self-confidence since she started there just a few weeks ago. It convinces me it is worth sending these youngsters to university just for the sake of the widening of horizons and the gaining of skills.

On Friday, after mass we off back to Harare. I stopped that night with my cousin who is still farming (albeit on his father’s farm, not his own) in the Beatrice area. Commercial farming is a world of its own and those who are still in it have battled to stay there because they love it so much.
Saturday 13th

The great event today was the Celebration Mass at Tariro Youth Project, the house of about 15 young people whom we support in Harare. Each year when we celebrate this newcomers read out a letter to departed parents, a very moving and healing little ceremony. This time it was Thandeka’s turn to do this; then we burnt the letter in the garden as a symbol of moving on from grief. The young people were in splendid form, looking great, bursting with energy and good health and a lot of laughter. The house also is lovely – and in the five months in it they have kept it looking good, and the garden looking colourful and well cared for. Despite the hardships of life in Zimbabwe these youngsters are doing well. Several are in tertiary education; three have jobs. One who didn’t do well academically has found a great skill in sewing which is bringing her an income. The place really does feel like a family, not an institution. Byron, who has just bought a car, takes the younger kids to school. Those who are earning five the others pocket money; Delight who is good at maths helps others to find their way through this minefield. And they cooked us a superb lunch! Coming to the kitchen afterwards I heard loud and joyful singing: six girls washing up, singing as they worked. It was a lovely ending to it all.

Sunday found Edwin and me along with Sr Plaxedes going to Juru township about 30 miles from Harare. Here the Sisters who work at Shearly Cripps have begun to build a convent, with generous finance from overseas. The first large room is now down and they have begun using it as a mass centre for the small local congregation of Anglicans. About 35 people were there and they sang splendidly. It would not surprise me to see this congregation grow now they have a proper building in which to meet.

Monday to Friday of that was spent in Harare partly seeing friends, getting some holiday and chasing up matters to do with Tariro. On Friday Edwin and I set off, this time with our social worker Trudy for Penhalonga. The focus of this visit was a) to enable Trudy to spend several hours with the Tariro youngsters at Penhalonga and b) for Edwin and me to make up our minds about how much support to give the children’s home there. Trudy is a child counsellor and gets on splendidly with the children. One particularly troubled boy seems to have made a turn around as a result of his talk with her. Others have relaxed and shown amusing sides of their personalities. Below I write a bit about education for these youngsters. Also below I sketch out the reasons why we have decided to take on the children’s home.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of saying mass for the village congregation (the school having had a mass of their own beforehand). I had expected a rather small group to appear but in fact we had well over a hundred of enthusiastic worshippers with a fairly good mix of young, old, male and female. Then after a few more hours of work with our young people we set off to Harare arriving just after nightfall.

The last few days of my stay were spent partly by a pool, partly at a couple of dinner parties, but also we had another visit to my cousin’s farm to see what we can do with the workers in his compound (in return for which we are sure he will help us with some of our projects) and a meeting with Bishop Chad. I left feeling we had done a lot, and there is a great deal more for Edwin and others to do once I can find and send the money.

Nicolas 28.09.14

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