Team Leader: Sandy McDonald, Registered Nurse

Team Type: Plastic Surgery – Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Campaign Summary: The team triaged 400-500 patients (mostly children) and operated on around 60 of them.

Friends of Sandy McDonald — Portland, Oregon
Operation of Hope — Lake Forest, California

Team Members:
Sandy McDonald, Registered Nurse
Ten other medical personnel associated with Operation of Hope

By: Sandy McDonald, Registered Nurse

I have been invited to be a member of a medical team sponsored by Operation of Hope. For convenience, I will be using Capitol City Medical Teams as my 501(c)(3) non-profit sponsor.

I depart from Portland, Oregon October 6, 2010. The first leg of my journey takes me to New York. My friends Philip and Periuza Wegner will meet me and send me onto Johannesburg, South Africa – a 15+ hour flight. UGH! Compression hose here I come. I have a short layover, then a final flight to Harare, Zimbabwe.

Once in Harare, we will be setting up at Harare Central, a large government hospital. We hope to complete 70 cleft lip and palate surgeries over a 2-week span. Children will travel from all over Zimbabwe to have these surgeries performed for free by our American medical team. Apparently there are no plastic surgeons trained to perform these surgeries in Zimbabwe.

My last week in Zimbabwe will be spent 60 miles away in Makumbi, a Jesuit run orphanage and school. I get to do my favorite thing – hug babies and children! My travels home bound take me to Ethiopia, Amsterdam, and then finally back in the Pacific Northwest.

Background on the Makumbi Mission Children’s Home
Makumbi Mission Children’s Home cares for 110 children, aged from newborn up until their 18th birthday. The children are brought up in eight ‘family’ homes, part of a larger complex which also contains a church, primary school, secondary school, nursery and clinic. The Mission was established by the Jesuits and is located about 60 miles northeast of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

All of the children come from tragic backgrounds where most have undergone abuse, starvation and rejection and sometimes it can take a great deal of time, patience and love before the children are able to overcome the torment of the lives they lived before finding the haven of the Makumbi Mission. Often, the children have been deserted and left to die and it is only those fortunate enough to be found that find their way to Makumbi Mission.

The full name of the home is “Makumbi Upfumihwenyika Children’s Home”. Upfumihwenyika means “Wealth of the Country” since this is what the children are.

The central idea of the Upfumihwenyika is to create a loving and caring family atmosphere where the children can spend their formative years learning all of the values that family life imparts, as well as the skills necessary for surviving when they leave the home. Once the children enter the home, they are allocated to one of the eight ‘families’, each housed in a separate home.

Each house has between 11 and 12 children and acts as a family unit with a “mother” at its head and the chores of the house split between all of the “brothers and sisters”. The older children clean, cook and help their mother with the smaller children and the younger ones tend the livestock and the chicken and rabbit-rearing projects. Aside from providing valuable meat and eggs for the home, these ventures also teach the children valuable skills related to creating an income for themselves and becoming as self-sufficient as possible.

The Mission emphasizes the importance of bringing these young children up in an environment that is in touch with their heritage. Everything from the layout of the site to the importance of respecting the traditional Shona marriage customs (when the time comes after the children leave Upfumihwenyika) is applied with all of the different aspects of traditional African family life in mind.

The children from surrounding villages are able to attend the Mission school, benefiting from the high-quality teaching and broadening the education of the orphans living there. Roughly 50% of the children are below school age, 30% at primary level, and 20% at secondary level. Each child is given the opportunity to pursue their talent as far as is possible and many children have taken their O Levels as well as attending dress-making and domestic science courses. All of this helps the children to find their feet in the world.

As we regularly hear in news reports, Zimbabwe is a country in crisis. As well as the headline-grabbing health issues of HIV and cholera, the country suffers constant water and electricity cuts, uncontrollable inflation, lawlessness and terribly limited employment opportunities. All of these factors contribute to an exponential growth in the number of orphaned children and put added strain on the scarce resources.

Friday, October 22

This baby has only been here for 2 months. He came with an infection on the skin of his chest. When clothing is hung out to dry, larva embed in the fabric, then burrow under the skin. So laundry here gets ironed to kill the larva.

Saturday, October 23
Saturday at Makumbi Mission. A quieter day at the mission. Thomas, a young man from Germany, is also staying at the Makumbi Mission. This is his second trip to Zimbabwe. He just completed his student teaching in Germany and hopes to stay for at least one year, if not forever. He volunteered to accompany me on a walk out to one of the villages outside the mission. We had no real plan. We just went in a direction. As it was we arrived at the Makumbi Hospital. We were not allowed to tour because the Matron (head nurse) was not there. But we had a nice visit with the two sisters (nurses).

Interestingly one of the sisters wanted to come to rich America. This she imagined would allow her to have a house, a car, and education for her children. She was surprised to hear that many people in USA with lots of stuff are not happy. She works full time and makes $150 a month. The cost of goods in Zimbabwe is not much different than in the states. This gives a new definition to working poor. Physicians make a similar salary, only they have more opportunity to work multiple jobs to support their families. They pay back their educational costs through service at government hospitals like Harare Central.

We continued on down to the main road for a bit, then took a right on a path heading to the mountain. There had been a recent fire so the scramble up the granite rock was blackened. Thomas and I looked like coal miners! But the vista was worth the charcoal experience. We watched a family of baboons scamper across the field we had just crossed. We had an aerial view of the straw roofed shacks in the village.

We found a less steep descent, since we scramble up on all fours. As we reached the base of the rock, we passed two dwellings. The three kids and four dogs greeted us warmly. We decided to inquire about the best path to the mission. I noticed the name carved into the door. Thomas then realized this was the home of a man who works at the mission, whom he had visited earlier.

On the way up the mountain Thomas had told me the story of a man and his family. The man’s sister’s husband died of HIV. She and her children were desperate to survive. She turned to prostitution and alcohol. Life was still difficult financially. He built a second house next to his and moved his sister to Makumbi village. She had contracted HIV either from her husband or from prostitution. She unfortunately continued this lifestyle, frequently bringing a man home in front of the kids. She also was prone to beating the children.

One day after witnessing this, he beat her. She reported him and he got in trouble with the law. There were people able to stand up for him. The chance that these children will become prematurely sexually active, drink and turn to violence and perpetuate this destructive circle is very high. Yet these same children showed compassion and concern as we took the wrong path from their house. They ran after us and led us to the road. Life in rural Zimbabwe mostly leads to a dead end, but the human spirit is a powerful thing maybe these kind kids will get a break. Let’s hope!

Sunday, October 24
Last evening I was treated to a fierce thunder and lightning storm. The dry earth of Africa tried to soak up the water but most pooled on top. It has been since April when the last rains fell, so everyone was joyful. The rains are about 2 weeks late this year.

The children began to rehearse for mass at 5:30 AM. Since I was going with Fr. Mueller to the out station villages, I was not planning on attending but I can’t resist the African voices. I grabbed my camera and again recorded the singing. I can’t describe the experience of African singing and I’m sure my recordings won’t do justice.

Sunday we had eggs for breakfast and brown bread, a treat. Fr. Mueller was saying a second mass after breakfast so we waited for him to finish before leaving for Mshabora. The truck was filled with 14 people in its bed. They took pity on the old person and I got to ride in the cab. The church we were going to was about 40 kilometers away. We passed many out stations on the way. (Out stations are the decentralized parts of the mission parish.)

We arrived to the singing having already begun. Before getting inside we had to shake hands with about 50 people. Again the singing was amazing. It is hard to determine exactly when the services starts and ends, because the singing and witness talks just keep going. Three hours later we stepped out of the church, to another round of handshakes.

There was another level of poverty here and many more elderly people. Today an elderly woman gave the witness talk about her deceased husband. Despite the language barrier I could feel the emotion of the talk. After she sat down, she continued to wipe her face of tears.

As we returned to the truck there was a new batch of passengers. Steffi and I were asked to walk so the family could direct Fr. Steffi to the gravesite for a blessing. Some young people escorted us through the fields, a shortcut if you will. When we arrived, they were singing and pouring water over the cement graves. At the completion of the blessing, we crossed the field to the home. Fr, Steffi and I were escorted inside to places of honor. We were served food and drink. We were given mounds of rice, a small chicken wing, some sauce over the rice, and a watered down orange drink. I felt so honored to participate in such an intimate family event especially being white and not speaking Shona.

Fr. Mueller shared in Shona what I had been doing the previous 2 weeks in Harare. One of the family members has a daughter with an unrepaired cleft lip. So I promised to alert the family through Fr. Mueller of the dates when Operation of Hope returns in August. So my coming was a gift to me and a gift to this family.

Monday, October 25

The 8th graders and 12th graders are writing their national exams this week and next which determines future course work in high school and entrance into a university. The Makumbi Mission has taken a quiet and serious turn. At 6:00 AM you will find students lined up in front of the Grotto in prayer. I again spent my morning with the preschoolers. The teacher is amazing. There were 43 kids today. We sent one back to the home because of suspected measles. That will make the next weeks here interesting.

In the afternoon a groundskeeper was so happy to find me. On my first day at Makumbi I had asked if there were local people making baskets and carvings. He brought a women from a not so close village. I have two beautiful baskets, she asked $3.00 for each. I had to run back to my room to get cash so I folded up $10 and placed it in her hand.

Jeffery a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin at Madison brought me down to the women’s cooperative to meet Paula. WOW! The women have literally built a training center just for women to learn skills from carpentry, peanut butter, microfinance, organizing, basic business management, and batik. They had impressive flow charts on the wall regarding projects. One project is combatting gender violence. As the women earn their own income, they begin to even the playing field and become less dependent on men and others. They have also included men in the trainings to decrease the risk of violence – all on $20,000 a year.

Today I finally was able to connect with the director of L’Arche. After three failed email attempts, I was able to reach Alice by phone. Three is the magic number because it also took 3 calls.

L’Arche has just completed the assessment and application process. Tinotenda (Tino for short) is scheduled to move to an L’Arche home on November 10. The spirit works in mysterious ways. I will leave some money to assist L’Arche in caring for Tino. I invite anyone who would also like to donate to contact me. I am overjoyed at this development. I simultaneously fell in love and was heartbroken with Tino at Harare Central Children’s Hospital where he has lived since he was abandoned at age 3 months. Most of the time he was in his crib in a room by himself. The sisters (nurses) were too busy to attend to Tino.

Visiting Tino became a daily activity while I was Harare Central. Each day we expanded our world together. Eventually getting outside on two occasions. I was determined to hug him every day, but deep down my goal was to get him out of the hospital. I headed to Makumbi Mission with the goal of exploring the possibility of Tino coming here. But it became clear as I explored this option with Fr. Mueller that the Makumbi Mission was not the best solution. Fr. Mueller asked if I knew of L’Arche. And yes I have been involved with L’Arche in Portland. The small world took hold. Another volunteer has been involved with L’Arche had the phone number for Alice the director. Isaac the Jesuit scholastic’s father is involved with L’Arche here in Zimbabwe. Long story short, the wheels had already begun to turn. I will leave Zimbabwe with a lighter heart.

Tuesday, October 26

This was my last full day at Makumbi Mission. While I knew from Jane and Philip that I wanted to come to Makumbi, I did not anticipate how powerful an experience it would be. I can draw comparisons to both St. Mary’s Alaska where I was as a JVC in the mid-70’s and my trips to Peru, but there has been something totally African and unique to my experience here in rural Africa. I can feel it but I am not sure I can yet put words to it. I can safely say Africa has drawn me in. I hope and anticipate this won’t be my last trip to Africa. There are many doors along the way on our journey of life. I am happy I opened this door and came to Zimbabwe. Certainly there are many things one can say about life in Zimbabwe: failed state, beauty, wild animals, oppression, poverty, dictator, sun. But I will remember the spirit and voices of the people joyfully singing. And the desperate embraces of the orphaned children.

I will forever remember Tinotenda.

Thursday, October 28

I began my goodbyes to Thomas and Steffi, my friends from Germany. I then attended a religion class for form 3A4, which translates into a junior in high school. Isaac Fernandez, a Jesuit scholastic, led a discussion about after life both in Catholic tradition and the ATR (African traditional religion).

Sr. Dominica & Fr. Mark Hacket arrived just before teatime at the Makumbi Mission. They both were worked at the Makumbi Mission for many years and are good friends of Jane and Philip. We tour around the mission and they shared stories of the past.

We ventured over to preschool for a final mobbing and singing of “We are the Children”. We need food. We need clothing. We need shelter. We need education. We need exercise. But most of all we need love.

We shared lunch with the Jesuits and the departed for Harare. Fr. Mark proceeded to provide a tour that I guarantee no tourist gets. We headed to the most opulent neighborhood where those who are insiders to the ruling party live. These dwellings make Pittock Mansion look small. We then went through a rich but less opulent area. We turned up by the racehorse track. A shanty village had reappeared after only months ago been mowed down by the government in the middle of the night. To bring stark contrast in directly across the road there was a home under construction which was 3 levels high, brick and stone in the design of the Great Zimbabwe. Mark was not done yet though. We headed to Imbare, the slum area of Harare. At some time in the past, 10-15 story high dormitories were built intending to house only one person, but families the size of 10 were now occupying the space. It was a gruesome sight with raw sewage flowing in the street.

But the saving grace was ending at Harare Central and getting to see Tinotenda one more time before leaving Zimbabwe. I happily found him standing in the hall holding on to a chair. I was greeted with a big smile and hug. I doubt he recognized me, but this is his response to getting attention. It was again difficult to peel Tino off, but knowing that soon he will have a new home in L’Arche made it much easier to leave. Sr. Dominica has now been enlisted into my check-in on Tino army.

Thursday before leaving for the airport we made a trip to L’Arche Zimbabwe. They have just completed a second home. We got a tour and met some of the core members. The director, Alice, knows Dominica and will expedite Tino’s move. It did help that she knows there is money coming once he is moved in. I’m sure it will be a significant adjustment, leaving the only place he has known since he was 3 months old. I am confident that in an L’Arche community Tino will grow and reach his potential and the community will be enriched by his spirit, smile and hugs.

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