Making a Difference in Murwira
In the ocean of desperation that is Zimbabwe today, a tall, soft-spoken, white-haired pillar of strength is fighting against alarming odds to keep the people she loves alive.
Paula Leen’s love affair with the people of Zimbabwe began in 1981 when she left her family, friends, and comfortable home in Oregon (USA) to work as an administrative assistant missionary in Harare. As she stepped off the plane that day, she had no way of knowing that she was embarking on an adventure that would change the whole course of her life.
When her six-year mission term ended, Paula stayed.
In 1996, Paula began turning her dream of an orphanage for rural Zimbabwean children into reality. In an area where one in five children are orphans and 100 babies become HIV positive every day, she set about developing land for the orphanage: planting fruit trees, digging wells, clearing 20 acres of field, getting the official paperwork and appropriate inspections…
After years of exhausting, difficult work, the Murwira Adventist Children’s Home opened its doors and welcomed its first children in 2003. Situated in a picturesque, rural setting surrounded by green kopjes (rocky hills) and huge indigenous trees, the Children’s Home grounds include fields of maize, sorghum and millet, crops of chick peas and peanuts, and orchards of pawpaws, bananas, guavas and oranges.
In addition to the obvious function of providing a home to orphans, Paula and the staff of the Children’s Home do health work in the community. Workers visit every home in the area and fill out forms so the people’s needs can be assessed and so assistance can be provided where necessary. Others provide daily assistance in the home for any elderly, sick, or disabled people with no relatives or anyone else willing or able to care for them, and several workers are paid to operate the outreach programs that feed 2,000+ destitute people each month (more and more people are flocking in daily).
Over 8,000 Zimbabwean people die of AIDS every month, and other diseases, such as cerebral malaria, are rampant. Because of the critical need for health care, employees of the Children’s Home also provide ambulance service including, but not limited to, many (sometimes 10-12) emergency trips to Mutare each week (160 km roundtrip). Regularly scheduled trips on Monday and Wednesday typically transport HIV positive patients for assessment, treatment, and follow-up.
Recently, Paula traveled to the US to try to raise funds so her people won’t starve. For most North Americans, it’s hard to imagine what the current situation in Zimbabwe is like. Referring to the frustration of shopping, Paula says, “They mark up prices twice a day, and always the price goes up higher than the exchange rate so you pay more and more and more. If I get some Zim dollars on a Monday and go back to the orphanage, when I come back to buy things Friday, the prices have quadrupled. A pint of milk is four day’s work, a bar of soap one week’s work, a loaf of bread two week’s work, and a bag of mealy meal is two month’s work. It’s almost impossible to state the cost of a meal right now because this week alone (November 11, 2008) the exchange rate has gone from 180,000 to 350,000 and prices within stores are changed a minimum of two times per day.”
In one area of the country, starving people have been reduced to eating their dogs and cow dung, just to stay alive.
Most of the lunches and suppers Paula serves consist of sadza (a very thick cornmeal mush), potatoes or rice, and a protein dish called “relish”, which is made of beans, soya chunks, or whatever else is available. “Food is extremely scarce and we really need basics like mealie meal, flour, oil, beans, soy chunks, dried milk, formula, and soap.” She tries to provide the children with some sort of fruit each day, although lately that has been very difficult. “Right now the hunger is so bad that the workers are stealing the food that we’re growing. They steal it at night, and we know it’s the workers because the dogs aren’t barking. I can’t really blame them too much, but I tell them, ‘look, if you need some food, just ask - I won’t say no.’”
The people in the Muwira area know very well that Paula is the reason so many are still alive. Won’t you go call 1.888.274.2372 to donate or visit [ADRA's] online gift catalogue to help Paula provide food for the people she loves? Please add your voice to her cry, “I can’t say no and watch a child die.”
Yet Another Jay and Deb Production.