Peters resident finds optimism in visit to Zimbabwe
The types of economic, environmental and health problems that afflict much of Africa apply thoroughly to Zimbabwe.
“It was unbelievable culture shock,” Peters Township resident Tony LaRosa said about his recent visit to the cash-strapped country. “It’s like the Third World of a Third World.”
• In 1965, the white minority declared Rhodesia to be independent from the United Kingdom, leading to guerrilla warfare and eventual independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.
• Zimbabwe was a one-party dictatorship led by Robert Mugabe until Morgan Tsvangirai effectively won the 2008 election and a power-sharing agreement was formed. Mugabe retained the presidency and Tsvangirai became prime minister, an arrangement that has brought some progress to the country.
• The United Nations estimates Zimbabwe’s population at 12.5 million, but that fails to account for the emigration that followed the economic and social meltdown of the country or the extensive scourge of disease. Estimates suggest 25 to 50 percent of the population fled the country in the wake of hyperinflation and mass unemployment.
• The official language of the country is English, with Shona and Ndebele widely spoken. Forty per cent of the population is younger than 15, and life expectancy is 43.3 years. One-fourth of Zimbabwean children are orphaned through disease and malnutrition.
Source: The Nyadire Connection
And Zimbabweans are well aware of the circumstances.
“They know the government is doing a terrible job and taking their money, and inflation is through the roof,” LaRosa observed. “But they have a positive outlook. They don’t think, ‘Oh, we’re in impoverished. We need help.’ It’s, ‘Oh, we’re going through a rough time. Things will get better.’”
The widespread sense of optimism was an eye-opener for the Grove City College freshman, who was part of the contingent on a weeklong trip organized by the Nyadire Connection, based at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park. The nonprofit organization seeks to support and sustain the Nyadire United Methodist Mission in northeastern Zimbabwe.
“We go there and we listen to their needs,” LaRosa explained. “We say, ‘We can help you, but we’re not going to do it for you.’ The people of Nyadire and the people of Zimbabwe want to do it on their own. They’re educated. They’re able.”
His father, Mark, went to Nyadire on the first mission trip in 2006. He made later visits accompanied by his two daughters, and it was Tony’s turn for the latest venture, which also included two Grove City department chairman, Mike Bright and Andrew Markley, as first-timers.
The visitors stayed in the guesthouse at the 4,300-acre mission, with two senior nurses from the mission’s hospital, Savie and Eveline, tending to many of their needs.
“They’re great. They love to joke,” Tony LaRosa said, noting that they also took care of business during his father’s previous trips.
“If you just spend half an hour talking with them about their lives, they respond to that, because to them, that’s us showing that we care,” he explained. “They love to talk, but they also switch to Shona, which is their native language, too often for us to understand. But they catch themselves.”
The 4,300-acre mission, which has grown substantially since the Nyadire Connection’s origins, also features a 1,200-student school system, 3,000-acre farm, teachers’ college and the largest nursing school in Zimbabwe.
At the mission’s Home of Hope Orphanage, LaRosa befriended one of the more than 25 children who live there.
“I bonded really well with this younger girl, whom I’d throw Frisbee with about every other day while we were there,” he said. “She loved joking around, loved playing pranks. Her name is Tatendi, which means ‘be thankful’ in Shona.”
That theme was reiterated in the church services he attended:
“Be thankful. Just remember that if you trust in the Lord, things will change. Being optimistic changes the quality of life, no matter what the circumstances.”
For an overall theme to his Zimbabwe experience, LaRosa paraphrased an applicable quote:
“Missionaries are selfish, because they know that they’ll always receive more from the people than they’ll ever give the people.”
For more information about the Nyadire Connection, visit www.nyadire.org.