By Rev. Cosmos Mutowa, NCM Africa
What do drought conditions have to do with the spread of HIV and AIDS? What does the lack of clean drinking water have to do with high rates of childhood illiteracy?
In Monera, Zimbabwe, a rural town in the Mashonaland East province, the connection is clear. That is why the local church and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries are partnering to break the hold that drought and dirty water have had on this community.
Located in the communal area of the province, Monera Church of the Nazarene has become a refuge for those who have experienced perennial drought conditions. The situation reached a critical point in 2003 when these droughts led to famine. The church has been taking a role in the community’s ongoing recovery ever since.
A Promise Kept
“At the height of the famine, I saw livestock being wiped out and rivers drying and crops wilting at knee high,” said Mubaira, Monera’s village head.
In a region that depends on farming and small-scale gardening for its food production and economy, water is the difference between life and death. Severe shortages have also worn down the region’s social fabric. Many men, desperate for a way to provide for their families, have left the province to look for employment elsewhere, leaving their wives behind to find a way to care for their children.
“There were no men in my ward because all had gone, leaving their woman and children to literally die,” Mubaira said.
Without farming as a way to meet their families’ needs, many women gave into the pressure of prostitution and child labor as survival techniques to ensure that their families could eat. At the same time, men traveled home from larger cities in Zimbabwe and South Africa where they may have contracted HIV. These trends accelerated the spread of HIV and AIDS, from men infecting women, who in turn spread the disease to others in the community. This pandemic left Monera with many children orphaned and living with grandparents or relatives, or worse, with no adults to care for them.
In Monera, people must walk long distances to haul water for drinking and daily use from silted rivers and shallow, open wells that harbor an invisible threat: waterborne diseases. Often, children must leave school behind to take care of younger brothers and sisters while their mothers spend hours traveling to retrieve water that is not even safe to drink.
As droughts have devastated the land’s ability to produce crops, Mashonaland East has depended on food relief to feed its people. Beginning in 2003, NCM partnered with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank so the local church could provide cornmeal and peas to 800 of their community’s most vulnerable families.
“I will never forget the visit from the Church of the Nazarene when they came to tell me that they had organized food relief to benefit this ward,” Mubaira said. “The church did not do like many other organizations who promised and never came back to fulfill their promise. The church followed up their promise by bringing food for eight months, and many lives were saved. And our school was opened as children in the ward could now afford to learn.”
Source of Life
The church’s engagement in the community continued and then deepened in 2006, as the congregation started caring for children whose parents had died. The church provided meals for these vulnerable children through another partnership with Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The program continues today through the support of NCM and other donors.
Last year, the church moved one step further in helping the community develop infrastructure for a sustainable future and to address the problems of food and water shortages, low school attendance, and the spread of HIV. With the support of NCM in Africa, the church began to lay the groundwork for a community well. Meanwhile, an adult Sunday School class at Westside Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A., under the leadership of Tom Drake, worked to raise money for it.
With the combined resources raised by the local church, NCM in Africa, and Westside Church of the Nazarene, the Monera congregation was able to drill a hand-pump well in one of Mashonaland East’s most water-poor areas. The clean water it now provides is a source of life to the surrounding villages, including the children who come to the locally supported child development center and feeding program.
The local church and surrounding communities also use the water to grow vegetables to eat and to sell as a way to provide for their families. The church also provides a nearby clinic with access to free clean water.
Jesus’ Words Come Alive
A simple well, established through the love and support of the local church, continues to bring new life to the Monera community. Lack of water no longer binds women to prostitution or children to illiteracy. Since people have a means to grow and sell food, fewer men leave the community, and fewer women participate in prostitution. They now spend their time working in their small gardens, and HIV rates have slowed. The community school also has higher student attendance as fewer children have to watch their siblings and are less likely to stay home due to waterborne illnesses.
The Church of the Nazarene in Monera has demonstrated the power of God’s love to transform a community when people respond to God’s call to love their neighbors. Rev. Bernard Mukome, pastor of Monera Church of the Nazarene, said he has witnessed this life-giving transformation in his community.
“There is hope in the faces of the villagers who now can access water for consumption and for small gardens,” Mukome said. “The words of Jesus have come alive when he said, ‘I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink’.”