This June, as a LIFT to LIFE ambassador for Solera, I had the opportunity to return to my native Zimbabwe to complete the second portion of my LIFT to LIFE mission. Together with my family and a group of local volunteers, we assisted in the distribution of more than $1 million in donated medical supplies, food and clothing to help thousands fight for their second chance. The first portion of my mission involved raising awareness and collecting donations to support my partner organization, EYES4ZIMBABWE. From helping pack shipping containers to promoting on social media to launching a vacation day donation drive, my mission inspired an outpouring of support from my Solera teammates from the beginning. I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you that have supported my mission and afforded me the opportunity to witness the miracle of providing a second chance to those in need. May you and your families be blessed as you celebrate the freedoms and blessings we enjoy every day.
My Zimbabwe Journal:
We arrived into Harare and were taken first to see the containers that had now arrived into Zimbabwe. We began unpacking and sorting goods that could be distributed during the week to the medical clinics, schools, and orphanages that have been waiting for their arrival since they were shipped in October 2014.
We had the opportunity to visit Lewisam Elementary school where I, my brother and sister had attended as children. I met the administration, teachers, students, and staff. One staff member who was sweeping the classroom floor told me that he had been employed there when I was a student, 35 years ago. It was unbelievable that I was able to share this experience with my brother, my sister, and our spouses and children. They were able to see the classrooms where we were taught, the desks we used, and all the school facilities. Trophies, plaques, pictures, teacher aids, were all still in the places that they were all those many years ago. It was as if time just stood still.
Because budgets for purchases are not available, then everything just continues to get used. Floor tiles, wall paint, desks, chairs, chalkboards were all still, there but curtains, window shades, and things that had deteriorated beyond use are just simply no longer there.
I made a commitment to the administration that I would find means to help them refurbish their classrooms and upgrade their computer lab. The EYES4ZIMBABWE team told me that my intentions were noble and alerted me that this particular school was doing much better than most. These kids would have the most opportunities to receive the best education even in the circumstances that I witnessed. I couldn’t comprehend what they were telling me and all I could see was how much we could do to make a positive difference for those children.
Hopley Farm School
We travelled to Hopley Farm just a short drive out of Harare. During the land redistribution period, people who were displaced were told they could come here. Today there are more than 1500 children living here that are in need of an education. EYES4ZIMBABWE has assisted these people to establish a school and provide them with tools to help them educate their children. After this day, I understood why the children at Lewisam were so fortunate. We worked the entire day at the school and even had to go back and reload the trucks again because we ran out of supplies with many children standing in line. For many children here, the one cup of porridge EYES4ZIMBABWE provides each day is their only meal of the day.
We travelled during the early morning 4 hours outside of Harare to the Morgenster Eye Clinic. On the road, we came across many that were blind due to cataracts. We were able to help them find their way to our eye clinic where they could be given the gift of sight. We were able to assist the volunteer Doctors and Nurses that day with nearly 50 patient surgeries.
A Second Chance at Sight
We returned to the Morgenster eye clinic where we helped as the patches were removed and people were able to see again or in other cases be able to see for the very first time. Our emotions were at the surface as we looked at their expressions and saw their reactions to the gift of sight. We saw people carrying their walking sticks as they left the facility and talked to many that had travelled great distances to get to the clinic and were excited to be going home able to see.
Newborns and a new Hope
We visited a hospital where we were able provide 24 women who had just delivered babies with the sanitation kits and newborn baby supplies. Outside the clinic we distributed food, clothes, sanitation and newborn kits to many women that were just waiting to be admitted when they were in labor. These women had travelled far to come to be near the clinic in the hopes of being able to receive these supplies that we were able to deliver on this day. We left our remaining supplies with the clinic and I asked them how long they would last. They told me they do the best that they can but assured me that having an inventory of supplies is not just feasible. The demand is just much greater than the available supplies at any given time. We drove through the night and continued to deliver goods and services along the way to rural medical clinics and places where people had gathered. Our sanitation kits are so needed as most clinics did not have running water or power.
We distributed reading glasses, books, clothes, and soccer balls everywhere we went. One scout master was so thankful for our generosity and explained to us that the 50 boys of his troop would forever be changed because of what he had done for them. Another lady expressed her sincere thanks for the reading glasses that would allow her to read again. Everywhere we went people were happy and happier because we came.
The Needs are Great
Night came and we were 13 hours away from Harare. We had planned on driving home through the night but we had not been to 2 hospitals and an orphanage that desperately needed the supplies that we had on our trucks. We managed to forge ahead and by midnight we made it to the hospital. We found a young child that had been burned but because they did not have the necessary supplies they were forced to bandage the burns untreated. Our nurses had to peel away the bandages and skin to prevent infection and treat the area properly with the medical supplies that we delivered. By 2am we arrived at the last hospital where 10 mothers had just given birth. 42 additional expectant mothers came from the night air to get food, sanitation and newborn kits. I couldn’t believe that they came at that time of night in that circumstance just to get what we had provided. I was told, they didn’t come because we were there. They were there and they were in need, and if we didn’t come, then no one was coming and they would have to make do with nothing. That was hard to understand until the following morning.
The Real Meaning of Giving
After driving through the night and the day delivering and helping until we had no more to give, then we learned the real meaning of giving. We had witnessed that everywhere we went, we gave of everything we had prepared to give, but for the last 5 hours of driving, we saw how to give with our hearts. We emptied our wallets to buy anything that could be purchased, we gave our food, and our water, our blankets, our sleeping bags, and some even gave the clothes from their backs
We were able to set up a dental clinic for many that lived in an area referred to as Borrowdale squatter’s camp inside Harare. This was a tough day as we not only needed to provide dental, but had to also provide all the services we possibly could. We ended up providing dental, medical, newborn, educational, sanitation, food, and clothing to the many hundreds who waited patiently even into the cold winter night, many with no shoes or blankets.
Returning Home, Transformed
We woke after just 3 hours of sleep, loaded up and left for the airport. We may have left Zimbabwe and returned home but we took with us the memories of those we lifted and those who lifted our lives forever. Our family will always be grateful for everything that we experienced and will strive to not take for granted running water, warm showers, electricity, and the many freedoms we enjoy each and every day.
We will never forget the beauty of the land and the people who call it home
Thank you, Eyes4Zimbabwe for allowing us to help in a small way do what you do each and every day.