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'BRIDGING the GAP' COMMUNITY PROJECTS - Volunteer Programme

November 6, 2009

HIV AIDS 
AIDS is ravishing the rural communities of Zimbabwe, leaving huge numbers of orphans in its wake. The pandemic is spiralling out of control and children are being orphaned daily. The people of the south-west are particularly vulnerable because of a combination of adverse environmental, economic and political factors. Poverty is rampant and the difficulty of feeding orphans, let alone clothing them and trying to find school fees is becoming desperate for most families. Malnutrition, neglect and abuse have become the order of the day for these vulnerable communities.

THE VISION 
'To become neighbours is to Bridge the Gap between people. As long as there is distance between us, we cannot look into one another's eyes. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our Brothers and Sisters'. Henri Nouwen

‘Morning Star’ ranch is a 3 000 acre wilderness located in the eastern Matobo Hills, 25 miles south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city. The Hills are the biggest outcrop of exposed granite in the world - 1200 square miles of pristine grandeur, recently proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The ranch is a 'green island', surrounded by an environmentally degraded communal area which is populated by subsistence farming families of the Matabele tribe.

The broad aim of the 'Bridging the Gap' vision, which arises out of a Christian Community Development approach pioneered in the USA, is to 'empower people as community developers in order to meet their needs'.

Biblically, assistance for poor communities maintain that helping the poor should create empowerment, not dependency. Three principles of welfare arise out of Deuteronomy 24 and Leviticus 19:

• opportunities must be provided for poor people's needs to be met
• people with needs must be willing to work to ensure their needs are met
• the dignity of the poor must be affirmed through their work 

Charitable giving often leaves the poor dependent on the giver and stripped of their God-given dignity. The excerpt from the following poem provides the key guidelines for the 'Bridging the Gap' Community Development Projects:

 

'Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders
When their task is done
The people will remark
'We have done it ourselves.'


STRATEGY 
To develop a holistic management strategy which will reconcile conservation priorities with the needs of the local community. The broad goals of the strategy are twofold, namely to:
ensure the conservation and rehabilitation of the natural resources on ‘Morning Star ’ranch and 
enhance the quality of life of the local communities surrounding the ranch.

The specific objectives are to:


1. ensure that the utilisation of natural resources of the ranch by the local communities is sustainable,


2. determine how the ranch might help meet the basic needs of the local communities,
identify the unique environmental characteristics of the ranch in order that it may be utilised as a resource hub which will enhance the quality of life of the local communities

PROPOSAL 
The rural community in the Matobo Hills of south-western Zimbabwe is one of the most impoverished, traumatised and neglected in the country. Most of the people living in the area surrounding ‘Morning Star’ ranch have exhausted all their options and resources. Caught in a ‘poverty trap’, they are unable to cope with the quickly deteriorating situation and are in desperate need of assistance. AIDS is decimating the community, leaving more orphans for already over-burdened families to look after. It is proposed that ‘Morning Star’ ranch be developed as a resource hub which will act as a catalyst to meet the vision, strategies and objectives mentioned above. 

A number of interventions are proposed, in order to alleviate the problems and to enable the people to establish an economic foundation which will, in the long term, restore their dignity through empowerment and ensure their own sustainable living. 

In consultation with the local people and their leaders, the following needs have been targeted:

Food, Health, Education, Water, Sanitation and Care for the most Vulnerable 

1. FOOD 
A combination of poor farming techniques, erratic weather conditions and insufficient funds is causing decreasing crop yields, soil erosion, overgrazing and increased water run-off. Bearing in mind that most people in the rural areas are living directly and indirectly from the land itself, it is obvious that much emphasis needs to be placed upon agriculture as the mainstay of the family’s economic resource base. If we train people to produce profitably and sustainably from the land, we will go a long way towards reducing poverty and hunger. It is proposed to target two facets initially, with others to follow later:

Conservation Agriculture or 'Farming God's Way' 
This method of zero-till was first implemented in the ‘Great Dust Bowl’ of Texas in the 1930’s. It has only been introduced to Africa in the last 20 years and, where it has been implemented, has been a great success as it does not require sophisticated equipment or management, requires less labour/energy and is far less expensive than conventional tilling or ploughing. This concept has already been introduced, with very successful results, to several hundred families in the area surrounding the ranch, enabling them to greatly increase their maize (the staple food) yields.

Food Gardens 
This is a simple system to produce vegetables and fruit, using deep trench gardens integrated with small livestock such as chickens, rabbits and goats, all in a small space of land (1 000 square metres or less per family, depending upon availability of land.) The methods for growing vegetables, teaches people to grow food for their families and the community, quickly, easily, in a small space and with very little water. Started by Christian missionaries, it has been successful in enabling subsistence farmers not only to produce enough food for their immediate families, but also to market their produce and gain an income.

It is proposed to develop a pilot scheme on ‘Morning Star’ ranch to enable viability studies to be made, recording full production figures, running costs and income generation. This will serve as a positive guide to the cost of materials etc, and to establish the unit to its full development. People will be trained how to grow food and manage small livestock on a sustainable basis. It is envisaged that this pilot scheme will not only provide food for widows, orphans and the most vulnerable families around ‘Morning Star’, but act as a model for the community.

2. HEALTH 
It is proposed to supplement the local clinics with drugs and provide voluntary health assistance with doctors and other health personnel from overseas. These volunteers will live on ‘Morning Star’ ranch (see – Volunteer Programme). 

3. EDUCATION 
Short-term volunteers from a private school in Bulawayo have been supporting the local schools by sourcing extra educational materials (text books and exercise books, writing equipment, white boards, computers, sports equipment etc). In addition, the volunteers have assisted with repairing damaged equipment, buildings etc. (see – Volunteer Programme)

4. SANITATION 
Many households do not have bathroom or toilet facilities, and water-borne diseases are common, particularly amongst infants. It is proposed to assist communities by teaching them to build their own simple Blair toilets and provide clean water through the sinking of wells etc. Training in basic hygiene will also be carried out by volunteer health personnel.

5. CARE for the most VULNERABLE 
It is proposed to support the most vulnerable in several ways:
provide emergency food aid, health care, schooling, counselling, etc in the short to medium term (an orphan-feeding project has already been started by an Atlanta {USA} church);
provide agricultural training and physical assistance (and a model irrigated garden for families supporting orphans)
provide support for families caring for orphans and those with members who are HIV-Positive (a sewing/craft club is already active)

RESOURCE HUB 
As mentioned above, 'Morning Star' ranch is being utilised as a resource hub in order to co-ordinate the 'Bridging the Gap' Community Projects. At present it is being used as a:
• base for the Farming God's Way project (seed and fertiliser storage and distribution)
• training centre for Christian youth leaders
• outdoor adventure camp for local schools and overseas youth groups
• administration centre to co-ordinate fund-raising activities
• storage base for the orphan feeding programme
• storage base for distribution of educational material for 6 local primary and 2 high schools 
• meeting place for women's sewing/craft group

VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME 
In his recently published book, ‘Sub-Merge’, Christian author John B Hayes maintains that, ‘Although two-thirds of the world’s human beings live in poverty or hover close to it, only a small fraction of Christian workers actually go to live and work among them. Piercing statistics together, only about 6 per cent of mission workers actually minister as poor to the poor, and that figure may be generous. We have a math problem. Either God is not calling many to do this, or we are not hearing Him. If the 'Good News' were a marketable product like Coca-Cola or Pepsi, a 6 per cent reach to two-thirds of the world would mean that someone in marketing would be fired. Not so in Christendom.’ (page 18). 

There appears to be an increasing interest amongst people in the so-called 1st World countries, to spend some time working amongst the poor. The desire to help others is a natural God-created need in our lives. The opportunities to do this in wealthy societies is more often than not, manifested in vicarious giving which does not usually bring much satisfaction to the giver. People living in wealthy communities, seem to have a need to reach out to poor and disadvantaged communities in a more personal way. The Volunteer Programme has been created to meet this need. 

VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME (Bridging the Gap) 
One of the key elements of the 'Morning Star' Volunteer Programme is the desire to see groups of people from more economically developed countries, giving a period of time to living on the ranch and serving the surrounding community in a variety of ways. It is proposed to utilise the camp as a base where volunteers will be accommodated and from where they will move into the local communities on a daily basis. 

Volunteers will become involved in whichever aspects of the programme (outlined above) they feel called to. They will participate in ‘doing things with' the community rather than ‘doing things for’ them. ‘Doing 'with’ develops a mindset, the object of which is to help the receiver become independent of the giver in the long term (‘teaching them to fish instead of giving them fish’). 

In addition, the volunteer programme is intended to be a ‘double-edged sword’, in that the giver often becomes the receiver. It is envisaged that volunteers will develop a greater sensitivity to the poor of the world, and will return to their home countries with a keener sense of their own destiny, which will hopefully positively impact their 1st World culture and communities. This gives substance to 'Bridging the Gap' between poor and wealthy societies.

Projects which are already operating in the community are:

Education: 
Painting and repairs to school buildings and furniture. Supplying sports equipment, text books, exercise books and many other stationery requirements. Assistance in and out of the classrooms (reading to pupils, coaching sport, teaching music, drama etc) will begin in January 2010.

Orphan Care: 
A feeding scheme that supplies a meal, 3 times a week to over 300 orphans, has been established. These children are also regularly given 2nd hand clothes from various donors. It is unfortunate, however, that the homes that care for these orphans are not also regularly given assistance. We are working towards a project where we will be able to do this, initially just by visiting homes and attempting to address some of their most important needs.

Women’s Sewing/Craft Groups:
At present there are two sewing groups operating. They receive a little sponsorship from outside donors and are working towards independence. One of these groups consists of woman (many widows) who are HIV positive. As a consequence of being on ARV's, a balanced diet is essential, but most cannot afford this. They are being taught to produce handcrafts which are marketed and sold in order to produce an income.

Farming God's Way: 
Training and implementation in this method of farming has been ongoing for the last 4 years. Unfortunately the most vulnerable families (the sick and elderly, who are often supporting orphans) are not able to cope with simple chores. Volunteers will be of great assistance with farming activities and helping orphans with homework etc.

Food for the Vulnerable: 
Approximately 30 families, identified as being particularly vulnerable, are being assisted with monthly food packages. These families/ couples may be grandparents looking after orphaned or deserted grandchildren, widows who are too old, ill or weak to cope with simple chores, parents (one or both have AIDS) who have young children they cannot feed properly. Each case is examined on merit and visited regularly.

'Morning Star' Ranch: 
Maintenance and conservation is ongoing. Upgrading the camp facilities, constructing dams, developing a model irrigation project etc are planned for the coming season. Rescued horses are being rehabilitated at both venues. A pony club for the one of the local school was started in 2009.

What can Volunteers do if they come to us? 

Within the Community:
• Assistance in schools as English Second Language, sports, computer, music, drama teachers etc as well as assisting the class teachers with lessons (you don't need to be a trained teacher)
• Maintenance of school buildings, furniture, sports facilities and teachers' homes
• Running motivational and educational workshops for teachers
• Clinic and Health Education
• Dealing with medical/dental cases (doctors/dentists/nurses etc and drugs are desperately needed)
• Home visitors and helpers
• Farm help in rural homes 
• Widows/Orphan home visitations/counselling
• Food/clothes deliveries and visitations to the most vulnerable
• Adult skills training

On 'Morning Star':
• Assist with rehabilitated horses 
• Assist with a children’s pony club. 
• Assist in daily projects (building; developing camp facilities; clearing of invasive plants; road construction; dam building; food gardens; development of irrigation scheme for the community; livestock management etc)
• Assist with Outdoor Adventure camps for schools and youth groups
• Assist within Sewing Group

What facilities can Volunteers expect at 'Morning Star' Camp?
• Dormitory accommodation (two rooms for up to 16 people in each) 
• Two separate chalets for married couples. 
• Showers with hot water, hand basins and flush toilets. 
• All buildings have thatch roofs. 
• Bed linen, blankets, pillows and towels are provided
• Solar power for lights and low voltage electric appliances (sorry, no hairdryers!). 
• Three wholesome meals are provided each day. Cooking is done on solar ovens and a wood stove (gas stove occasionally). 
• Gas fridge/freezer for perishables. 
• Cell phone link (internet connection from January 2010).
• Bicycle transport on and around the ranch. 
• Truck transport to Bulawayo for shopping etc once per week
• Transport for medical emergencies etc

RECREATION: 
• Board games, DVD player(when batteries are fully charged), darts, natural rock swimming pool, rockclimbing, rapelling, canoeing, fishing, hiking trails, camping, bird-watching and horse trails (for experienced riders only) 
• Small DVD and book library (bring your favourites and leave them here when you go home!!)

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED AND NEED MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT US ON EMAIL AT: matobo40@hotmail.com or matobo4-@afriglobalmail.com

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