For the second year, six parishioners of St. James Methodist church and their church outreach director, the Rev. Jordan Scruggs, made the long journey across the globe to a community that we may only ever glimpse on a page of a college anthropology textbook, or a Nat Geo clip.
In 2003, Pauline Mukozho of Kingston, a parishioner of St. James church, moved here from Zimbabwe where she worked selling produce to restaurants. Though she was not a midwife, nor a nurse — rather, a woman in a community without healthcare — she assisted delivering babies in home births. Today, she works as a home healthcare aide. In 2008 when she joined the St. James Methodist Women’s Group, they were eager to know what they could do to help those in Mukozho’s village, knowing how she was working hard here to send money to her family there. The Matizha village is close to the city of Gutu.
In 2015, parishioners from St. James built an auxiliary housing shelter of four rooms, two with six beds each, a kitchen and a lounge area where pregnant moms expecting to give birth in the only clinic within a 25-mile range can rest and sleep until the moment is upon them. Since the clinic serves 80,000 people, it’s unable to admit an expectant mother until she is in active labor. Most of the pregnant women make the trek by foot — sometimes even giving birth along the way — and are not able to time their arrival to be admitted and deliver right away. They must sleep outside. Moreover, women in this region have historically had to bring along their own food for the trip, delivery, recovery and return trip home with the baby.
The project started out modestly, as many church projects do, with bake sales and yard sales. The volunteers paid for their own tickets; some went on scholarship money that was available. Through fundraising and private donations, St. James soon accumulated enough money to coordinate with Mukozho’s family and contacts to buy sterilizing equipment and beds for the clinic and the waiting shelter, as women were delivering babies on the floor when the clinic’s only delivery bed was in use.
After a second round of fundraising, Scruggs and the St. James gang returned last month to finish what they started, and then some. Scruggs said they were able to infuse money into the local economy by hiring 12 villagers for six days to work on various projects, such as building cabinets so waiting women did not have to leave their items on the floor. They also installed a sidewalk between the waiting shelter and delivery room as well as purchasing a wheelchair, to make the transition less challenging for women in labor. Without the availability of heavy equipment, everything was done by hand, including the very bricks used to lay the sidewalk. Scruggs said they also built a gazebo kitchen, for which the villagers donated handmade bricks as well.
The church members stayed with gracious villagers related to Mukozho, further reducing costs. Since the project came in under budget, they were able to expand beyond the project’s original scope. “People in area are invested in it, and have a feeling of ownership and pride because they made the bricks,” Scruggs said, adding that a government employee with a degree in horticulture suggested a garden “so the women who came wouldn’t have to bring week-old collard greens.” She also suggested digging a fish pond to farm and eat — and possibly sell — to help offset of the costs for nurses and some of the women staying there. Since everything in Zimbabwe must be custom-ordered, the group was unable to stay to see that before that segment of the project completed. As they were leaving, said Scruggs, oxen plowed for the garden and fish pond, as well as a “bore hole” for surplus water for the shelter, as the government water periodically gets shuts off. Mukozho said the project has already begun to have impact, and save maternal and infant lives.
Another element of the visit was health education for girls, said the United Methodist Women district president, Barbara Sanborn of Saugerties, who accompanied the group. She explained that since UMW is currently the largest organized group of women in the world, they have partnered with Days for Girls project. “Girls around the world are not graduating from school because they are missing three days a month for their periods,” said Sanborn. “They are missing 36 days of school; they’re not sitting for tests, not graduating and then having to get married early. Girls who finish school are healthier, families healthier and the communities are economically stronger.” She said girls spend days sitting on ashes or cardboard and are often segregated into menstruation huts.
Thanks to donations from area quilting clubs, Sanborn was able to bring over 40 kits to distribute to young girls. Each kit contains two items sewn from cloth, plus a decorative cloth bag. The rest of the kit has two pairs of panties, a bar of soap, washcloth and two ziplock bags to carry soiled cloths in a private area, especially if there is very little water available.
Some of the teaching involved basics of anatomy, hygiene and biology and how to avoid infection. It also included information on how to prevent being abused and how to identify potential sex trafficking and avoid it.
Sanborn handed them out to 40 girls, and also handed out instructional flip charts to some teachers and nurses so the education could continue in her absence.
Looking ahead, said Scruggs, St. James is interested in supporting Zimbabwe Women in Trade and Development, a women’s organization of 4,500, with a budget less than $15,000. “It is designed for women to share skills, volunteer to help other women trying to do similar products, how to create value-added products.”
One donor, she said, gave enough money for individuals to receive two goats, give away one offspring (to cultivate more goats) and an agreement to learn how to manage a business. “If you learn those skills it opens up another opportunity for another business or learning how to advocate for themselves financially,” said Scruggs. “Our goal is to be in relationships and partnerships, we want it to have long-term efficacy rather than us supporting it … Will this have long term efficacy? Is it sustainable without our engagement? If it is yes, then we do it.”
“The work that St. James is doing in the Matizha Clinic is literally saving lives, every day, and it continues to save lives now that we are home [in Kingston],” said Mukozho. “The contributions of every person involved are so important to the success of the project. We can only do something like this when we work together.”
The next yard sale to benefit the Zimbabwe projects is this weekend at 2143 Sawkill-Ruby Road, from Friday, Sept. 1 through Sunday, Sept. 3, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call St. James Methodist church at (845) 331-3030.