I was hungry… I was thirsty: Food, schools and healthcare in the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe

The crops growing in the Harben Park Plot  were very good to see as we began to think about how the Diocese would survive following the drought and then the flooding, but Central Zimbabwe Diocese had other plans that would also help with providing incomes for people and places in which people could gather and celebrate.

Just a little along the road from Harben Park is the Mother’s Union Centre. We were unable to get to it with the vehicles that we had as the road was not tarmaced and the water had done quite a lot of damage.  But, by returning to the main road, we were able to see the new building and to see someone working in the grounds.  The President of the Mothers’ Union, Bishop Ishmael’s wife, Mrs Elizabeth Mukuwanda, had had the idea of using some of the land to build a conference and reception centre so that people could come together and celebrate important life events such as weddings.  They need to drill a bore hole and secure a water supply and make sure that everything is ready before they can begin to use the centre.

Whilst we were there we were able to see the worker who lives on the site beginning to clear away the weeds as they prepare to lay some of the grounds to grass for a social space and some to crops.  It will be a good income generator for the Diocese and provide a useful space for meetings and celebrations which is much needed and, more than that, it shows the innovative ways in which the Diocese is striving to make the best of the resources it has.

Few people are a better example of how to use scarce resources well than Bishop Ishmael himself.  In the years that we have been visiting Zimbabwe, St Patrick’s Mission, Gambiza has changed enormously and much of that is due to the hard work and determination of Bishop Ishmael and how he encourages others to work to provide better facilities and care for the people in his Diocese and in the area served by St Patrick’s.

There has been a mission station there for many years with a clinic, a school and a convent.  There has not been a doctor at the clinic for some time and it is run very efficiently by a nursing Sister who has been there for a number of years now and has been eagerly awaiting the developments.

I first visited St Patrick’s in July 2011.  I went as part of a Croydon Link Visit which was led at that time by Bishop Christopher as Bishop Nick had just gone to be Bishop of Bradford – it was Bishop Christopher’s first visit too.  At that stage the Diocesan retreat and training centre was newly built and each room was being furnished and looked after by a parish.   This is well used and some of the older rooms in which we had met before have been renovated and made into rooms in which to site and relax and to work.   The dining room was opened by the time we next visited in 2015 and it was good to be able to eat in this bright environment and so much easier for the sisters to cook in the modern kitchen.

The biggest change, however, has been to the hospital.   When we went in 2011 Bishop Ishmael was full of plans for what would happen and we saw the bricks being made for the maternity unit.  They were being paid for by the Mouthers’ Union.

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Then by 2014 some of the hospital wards were partially built

And in 2015 a group from the Croydon area went for the dedication and opening of the hospital

But now so much more is done and the men and boys wards are awaiting some plumbing and for then for the beds and other furniture to arrive from Australia.  So many people, especially the Mothers’ Union and one of our Croydon parishes, have helped to raise money for this project that it is brilliant to see it all beginning to come together.

Here Bishop Ishmael talks to Bishop Christopher about the hospital.  They are standing outside the Men’s wards.

It may seem odd that I am writing about the provision of a hospital when we are primarily thinking about food in this year’s Lent Call, but whilst food is of primary importance for people it is also important to realise that people who live in the villages surrounding St Patrick’s will walk miles and miles each way for the services that can at present be provided at the clinic and they need so much more than the clinic can provide.

Whilst we were there we saw twin boys born that morning whose mother had walked from her village to the clinic about a week before the boys were born to be sure to be somewhere save to give birth.  But twins being born at St Patrick’s is very unusual because if a mother is know to be having twins then she would be sent to hospital in Gweru.   The clinic is not really equipped to deal with any emergency that might arise with the birth of twins.  But, no one had known and thankfully the boys arrived easily and healthily – each weighing around 2.5kg – and they and their mother were doing well.   As well as the nursing staff the boy’s grandmother had come in with her daughter to help her.   Children are a joy and the future of the country, which is why it is so important to provide healthcare but the unexpected birth of twins can cause real hardship as there is often not enough clothing and space.

We saw, too, a mother who had brought her two week old baby back for a check up.  These little bundles of new life need food and clean water but they also need healthcare so that they can grow strong and be part of Zimbabwe’s future.

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That’s why the work that Bishop Ishmael is doing to make sure that places like Harben Park and St Patrick’s are growing and thriving is so important.

St Patrick’s offers children the chance of a good education both at primary and secondary level and the children will leave there to go off to universities in Zimbabwe, South Africa and other parts of the world.  They are also seeking to farm some of the land here, as well as at Harben Park, and to provide healthcare.  For the church in Central Zimbabwe caring for the whole person and making sure that they are fed and have all that is necessary for life is so important.   Their view is a holistic one:  people need to be enabled to grow and thrive and that is why it is so important that we are part of all they do.

So please pray for the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe, for Bishop Ishmael and for Elizabeth and for the priests and people there.  We have so much to learn from their determination and strong vibrant faith.  But as we pray please think of what you can do individually and as a church to raise money and donate to the Bishop’s Lent Call that the very important work there and elsewhere in Zimbabwe can continue to grow and thrive.