Zimbabwe 2019: They asked only one thing of us – to love… Missionary Experience with the Oblates in Zimbabwe 2019
My name is Sorcha Dempsey-Roberts. I am 19 years old and live on Anglesey in North Wales. I was fortunate enough to get a place on this year’s missionary experience trip to Zimbabwe 2019. The excitement of finding out that I had been successful in gaining a place on the trip was quickly replaced with nerves and questions. What if I couldn’t bring anything to the experience? What if the young women and children at the centre didn’t want us there? And the biggest question of all for me personally, what if we did more harm than good by going out there? These questions circled around and around in the months leading up to the trip and only intensified as the day to fly out to Zimbabwe got nearer.
“These children gave us much more than we could have hoped to give them. We showed them that they were loved unconditionally… In return, they taught us so much more. About humanity, faith, kindness, community and family.”
Sandra Jones Centre
All questions and nerves I had were promptly left at the gates of the Sandra Jones Centre as children ran towards us excitedly asking only one thing of us – to love. The incredible staff at the Sandra Jones Centre were welcoming and assuring and helped put all nerves at ease almost instantly.
The incredible children and young people wanted us to play, to listen, to love and to respect. Bonds were built quickly as we learned their favourite games, got stuck in in the classrooms doing art, music, sport and maths.
In addition to a school for the younger children at the Sandra Jones Centre, there is also a vocational programme for the older girls teaching invaluable skills in agriculture and business. In addition to rearing chickens, there are 4 poly-tunnels growing a range of vegetables on the centre grounds. Incredible young women, some of whom have been through unspeakable hardship, work incredibly hard throughout the year in maintaining these tunnels. They grow a range of veg including cucumbers, pepper, chillies and more. We spent time working in the poly-tunnels, but despite trying our best, our work was not a patch on what these young women could do, which was a very quick icebreaker and brought a lot of laughter to our time gardening. Despite this, the time working with the girls in the gardens has provided some of my fondest, most valuable and meaningful memories from this experience. It was a way to break-down the barriers between us was crucial in the relationships that developed throughout the month spent at the centre.
Faith underpins our work
Underpinning our work at the Sandra Jones Centre was our faith as a group. Each morning we would meet for morning prayer and reflection and this was vital in the success of both our teamwork and in our day to day actions. Whether we were reflecting on an event or moment that we had found particularly difficult or challenging emotionally, focusing on a successful interaction or bond, or discussing the difficulties of being so far away from family and friends at home, it was important to take time to reflect on these things and ensure that we were processing everything and taking the time we needed. Some days could be extremely emotionally challenging. Hearing first-hand what some of these young people have been through was incredibly hard-hitting. However, building relationships where an individual felt comfortable and trusting enough to share this with you was a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Throughout all of this, it was so comforting to know that there was a team of people with you to support you, and getting together to reflect and pray was a vital part of the success of the mission.
Days went on and our relationships with these incredible young people were getting stronger and stronger. Some of us would take it in turns to stay at the centre overnight to read to the younger children before bed, listen to the older girls’ choir rehearsals and to spend more time getting to know these young women. I will treasure the time spent on these evenings for the rest of my life. As barriers were broken down it became more and more apparent these girls were like any other girls. They loved to chat, to play card games, to sing and dance and laugh as they tried to teach us some of their favourite songs and dances.
As our 4 weeks at the centre came to an end, the realisation that we would be saying our goodbyes soon became a looming worry for the whole group. After a month of building relationships and breaking down barriers, it was time to leave the centre. This was, and I believe will always be, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I know that the rest of the team would agree. These children and young people gave us much more than we could have hoped to give them. We showed them that they were loved unconditionally, they were dignified and wonderful human beings and that they were worthy. In return, they taught us so much more. About humanity, faith, kindness, community and family.
After leaving the Sandra Jones Centre we headed to St Luke’s Mission and Hospital outside of Bulawayo. This was an incredibly hard-hitting experience as we saw a very different side of healthcare to the one we have here in the UK. It was eye-opening to see these incredible nurses, doctors and hospital staff working in some of the harshest conditions without once complaining. Patients would walk for miles to get to the hospital and the staff were working tirelessly to ensure everyone was seen to. Something that hit me the most was the women’s ward. Women had walked incredible distances to arrive at the hospital sometimes months before their due-date in the hope that there would be bed available to them when the day came. Despite this, the women were living and cooking together and again, it really showed how much value there is in community.
After leaving the hospital, we drove out into the bush to visit sites of both existing boreholes, and sites for future boreholes. This was extremely valuable and educational as we got to see the effect that these boreholes were having out in these incredibly rural communities. Families would again walk for miles for access to this life-saving water that would not be there if not for the work carried out by WEFA (Waster and Education for Africa). Driving further into the bush to see the sites for future boreholes was exciting as we could see what a positive effect this could have on a community.
This experience is a difficult one to put into words. The people you meet, relationships you build and the team you work with really add up to make the five weeks unforgettable and invaluably meaningful. I cannot thank the other volunteers, the staff at the Sandra Jones Centre and St Luke’s, or the Oblates enough for this missionary experience and I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to seize it. You won’t regret it.
Info on taking part in Missionary Experience in Zimbabwe 2020 –
If you are interested in taking a few weeks out next summer to volunteer in with the Oblates in Zimbabwe, please get in contact with us and we will be in touch about the application process. Application is open to anyone aged 18 or over and volunteers travel from both the UK and Ireland.
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