Impressions fom Old Mutare, Zimbabwe

This is my first entry from Old Mutare,

(This post is from Mutare, Zimbabwe where the General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church is meeting. With representatives from Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, this is the first meeting of the Commission (board of directors) outside the United States. The Commission supervises United Methodist Communications, the communications agency responsible for communications services for the global church.)

Old Mutare, Zimbabwe–As the little girl with deep brown eyes mimics the words of a visitor she immediately captures our hearts. Her innocent gregariousness draws us like a magnet. Knowing she’s in this home for children because she has lost her parents and her extended family cannot care for her makes her trusting exuberance all the more touching. Other children, some older, are equally magnetic. Polite, shy and, therefore, more quietly affecting, they extend their hands with bowed heads, and greet us with a barely audible “Welcome.”

The first day of our visit to Old Mutare, Zimbabwe started on the campus of Africa University and included a visit to the nearby Old Mutare Mission, an historic United Methodist complex that includes a hospital, home for orphaned children and residential school for children and youth. It was moving to visit cottages in which 10 children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS reside with women who are employed as “house mothers.”

The small, three-bedroom cottages are spare but clean, well-kept and adequate. An assortment of beds for infants and older children line the walls with little room for anything else. But it feels like home and that’s how it should feel, according to Andra Stephens, information officer for the university.

The furniture is well-worn but comfortable. A collection of well-used childrens’ books sit on the bookshelf in the living room and childrens’ drawings hang from the walls.

I notice only two infant beds have bed nets and ask the mother why other beds don’t have them. She explains they simply don’t have enough nets for all the children. Even here, where information about malaria is well-known and people are treated at the hospital for it, limited resources make this simple preventive tool unapproachable. After having discussed the suffering and death caused by malaria, it was a painful reminder that even in the best of circumstances–and this is surely one–lack of resources makes for difficult choices. Providing food, clothing, shelter, school supplies and adult supervision takes money, money that does not go far enough and, therefore, leaves out the purchase of bed nets. Across Africa, hard choices like this are made daily.

A member of our Commission commented that compared to other places this is “an oasis.” And still, it’s an oasis without one of the most basic tools that can prevent the death of a child, a simple, insecticide treated bed net.

Hearing this, the Commission members pledged personal funds to purchase nets for each bed in the hospital, children’s home and a local ministry for the deaf in a congregation in nearby Mutare.

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