CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The economic, political and social decline in Zimbabwe has taken a disastrous toll on the country's food supply and medical institutions, including four hospitals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ). To help sustain the services of the hospitals, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is providing $600,000 to the ELCZ. The ELCA is allocating another $330,000 for the purchase of 90 metric tons of seed and fertilizer to help secure food production.
"Just 10 years ago Zimbabwe was in a completely different place. The country was known as the breadbasket of southern Africa," said the Rev. Benyam A. Kassahun, program director for Southern Africa, ELCA Global Mission. "Everything is now destroyed," he said, due to political fallout, land confiscation and mismanagement.
In October Kassahun traveled to Zimbabwe. He described the situation there as "a human disaster." Among those who suffer most are "children, especially those under five, and pregnant women, who do not know if they will be able to give birth just because they are hungry," he said.
Kassahun's trip included visits to the ELCZ hospitals -- Manama, Masase, Mnene and Musome. The hospitals can no longer attract and retain qualified medical staff, afford to purchase food and pharmaceuticals to feed and treat patients, and provide ambulatory services. Funds sent by the ELCA to the ELCZ will be used to restore medical services at the hospitals, such as the purchase and storage of drugs, medical supplies and nutritious food; improve shelter conditions for pregnant women; secure telephone and fax machine capabilities; and provide transportation for patients needing specialized care at other medical facilities.
"Nurses at the hospitals are collapsing because they are also hungry," and "doctors are dismissing patients because there is no food to feed them," said Kassahun.
"I've never seen this kind of disaster and death," said Kassahun. "Churches are also in crisis, and pastors are having difficulty surviving. They are also tired of burying the dead and consoling the living. One bishop looked at me and said, 'My monthly salary does not buy two liters of cooking oil.'"
Between 80 and 85 percent of Zimbabweans are unemployed, said Kassahun. "A lot of men have left the country to look for jobs in neighboring countries. In a matter of one month, from June to July, the inflation rate jumped from 11.2 million percent to 231 million percent. That means the local money is worthless," he said.
"It's hard to understand the inflation rate figure," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission. "To help make sense of that, consider the salary of a pastor which is 300,000 Zimbabwean dollars per month. That salary only buys one loaf of bread. But, even if you have money, there is no food to buy," he said.
In addition to the $600,000 the ELCA is providing to stabilize and restore the services of the four ELCZ medical institutions, Malpica-Padilla said another critical part of the ELCA's response in Zimbabwe is to purchase food, seeds and fertilizer for distribution to about 15,000 families in an effort to provide "food for today and seed for tomorrow." He said the planting season is now. "If seeds are not planted within the next four to five weeks, it will be too late. The plan is for the seed and fertilizer to be purchased now through local partners in South Africa and transported by truck into Zimbabwe."
"Our hope is that these efforts will leverage the support of the United Nations World Food Programme to assist in providing food for the entire community. This effort is a collaborative one led by the Lutheran World Federation's regional expression in southern Africa," said Malpica-Padilla. He added that all funds from the ELCA will be "carefully transferred and will not be wired in one lump sum." Funds allocated by ELCA Global Mission came from the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.
"God is calling us to share, to walk with the hungry and, to the best of our knowledge, speak on behalf of the voiceless. Zimbabwe is only one corner of the world, yet the kind of disaster happening there is happening all over the world," said Kassahun. "We are called to share from what we have, share from what is at our table. That is what the gospel is to me, what I have come to realize. To feed the hungry is where I find hope and where God wants us all to be."