In 2012, Tasmanian couple Grant and Anthea Maynard, with their three young daughters in tow, spent 10 months as UnitingWorld volunteers at the Matthew Rusike Children’s Home located in one of the poorest suburbs in Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
Here they share their experiences.
Zimbabweans can sing. Really sing!
A small group of Zimbabweans in a simple tin church can transport you to heaven. Imagine our three (very white) daughters being swept up in the wonder of African praise.
While living in Zimbabwe in 2012 as volunteers with UnitingWorld, our children were frequently privileged to join with local Christians as they sang with heart and with joy.
But, it wasn’t all bliss. As honoured guests we often had to sit at the front of the church facing the congregation. Having the best seat in the house might be great for the first two hours but at some point (around the third sermon) it becomes difficult to look enthused – especially when the proceedings are conducted in a yet to be mastered language.
This bittersweet contrast – heavenly singing and eternal services – characterised our girls’ experience of Zimbabwe. They loved our life in Harare for the adventure, the richness, diversity, wonderful characters and amazing creatures.
Simultaneously, they struggled with the day-to-day problems (gathering water, scarce electricity, little privacy), confronting poverty and the difficult lives of their friends.
Our home was within the relatively safe walls of the Matthew Rusike Children’s Home (MRCH) in the notorious suburb of Epworth, Harare.
Epworth is a suburb of renown due to its poverty, lack of services, overcrowding and, curiously, its famous balancing rocks. We loved the people we lived with in Epworth but there was no escaping the fact that their opportunities were limited by the few dollars they earned each day.
Inside MRCH, our children loved to play and help care for the 80 children living there.
Here was another sharp contrast for our girls. Their adventures with the local children commonly grew out of mundane tasks or, less commonly, exotic surprises.
Games could be made out of fetching water; balls were made from discarded plastic; songs could be learned while washing clothes.
At times excitement came from more unusual sources. Chameleons drew gasps of delight and squeals of fear; goats occasionally had to be chased from our precious gardens (and once one exploded!…the goat not the garden) and early rains triggered an explosion of insect numbers, so for days a happy throng of children would gambol around in the evening trying to catch the most delicious critters.
Some of the friendships and experiences gathered at MRCH will stay with our daughters and shape their lives.
The housemothers at MRCH have made one of the most enduring impressions on our girls.
They couldn’t help but be inspired by these saintly women who work tirelessly and faithfully to ensure the children in their care have all they need.
The mamas would welcome any new baby or child into their home and care for them with patience and warmth.
One evening we all sat on the floor to watch a tiny newborn being tenderly bathed by the strong, huge, gentle hands of Mai Tunha.
Only days before this loving bath, the baby had been abandoned at birth in a pit latrine.
The arrival of a child at MRCH always evoked a mixture of emotions but the mamas only displayed one response – love.
Departures from MRCH were often more difficult to bear than arrivals. We felt only a touch of the gut-wrenching trauma that was experienced by housemothers when a child unexpectedly died or was moved on by social services.
Living and working within a compound can be intense. The novelty of our ‘different-ness’ never seemed to wane. We had numerous sets of eyes watching our every move, every meal, every interaction, every chore and every piece of rubbish we placed in our bin. At times our girls found the attention suffocating.
But we weren’t always cooped up. We also explored the ancient Great Zimbabwe ruins, visited far-flung farms and spotted zebra on plains.
Once, in a remote and drought-stricken area, our girls visited a vibrant Methodist church that cared for more than 40 orphans.
The church members might justifiably have kept a close eye on their meager food stocks. Instead, that little church sent us back to MRCH with sacks of maize, bags of groundnuts and cowpeas to give to the orphans in Harare.
It is this sort of heroic generosity, of muscular faith and pragmatic love that I pray sticks with Abigail, Clare and Bridie. It is these Kingdom contrasts that continue to challenge us, and I hope will inspire our girls.