Deacons visit Zimbabwe with Catholic Relief Services
By Mary P. Walker
Zimbabwe is a country that faces many challenges, including high unemployment and AIDS infection rates, political strife and large numbers of orphans and vulnerable children. Yet, Deacon Pat Moran of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station and Deacon Jeff Olsenholler of St. Joseph Parish in Bryan also found joy and hope when they visited in February.
Participating in the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as Global Fellows, they saw firsthand how relief efforts are making a difference in the lives of families and offering the country an opportunity for a brighter future. Global Fellows are priests, deacons and seminarians who gain first-hand knowledge of the work of CRS, and serve as ambassadors, inviting others to support CRS in their goal of ending global poverty.
“CRS both preserves the dignity of the people they are working with and preserves our Catholic values,” Deacon Olsenholler said.
Although CRS distributes considerable aid, it also promotes community grassroots projects and leadership development within countries, giving people the dignity of helping themselves and the experience of collaborating and working together toward common goals.
The Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) especially impressed the deacons. Because loans for small businesses are hard to come by, CRS field agents organize and train groups of 25 to 40 people to save and pool their money. The groups use this money to make small loans to members. As interest is paid, the members make money, and small-scale entrepreneurs and businesses are empowered to grow.
Because the entire SILC group benefits from success, the members hold each other accountable, and help each other along the way.
“The groups want to improve their own lives by hard work and drawing together in Christian community,” Deacon Moran said. He reported that one woman, Mrs. Majony, lived in dire circumstances, but her dream was to own a bakery. After receiving a loan to buy chickens, she sold eggs and used the profits to make home improvements. She now runs a simple bakery out of her home.
Another way in which CRS improves lives is by making schooling more accessible through practical help. The Nemangwe High School covers a large attendance zone, but the students have to get to school on their own, and often walked many miles each day. To help students get to school and allow them to focus their energies on their studies, CRS created partnerships to implement a bicycle program. Donated bicycles are made available to students, and stewardship is fostered through a community system of maintenance, safety training and accountability.
Seman Nyatti used to get up at 4 a.m. to make the 2.5 hour walk to school. A bicycle cuts his travel time to 30 minutes, and the time saved goes into his studies. His schoolwork has improved, and he is now a leader among his peers.
“It was awe inspiring to see hundreds given a chance at something we take for granted,” Deacon Olsenholler said.
Both deacons praised the cooperation and collaboration CRS has with the local bishops, who love their people and understand the problems within their dioceses. Jesuit Bishop Dieter Scholz of Chinhoyi explained that CRS provides help in the spirit of solidarity for the poor and is willing to adapt projects to local needs, making success more likely.
The deacons also praised the devotion of the Catholics they met. When Deacon Moran attended Mass, he noticed that those in line for Communion softly clapped twice before receiving. He later found out that clapping is a cultural expression of gratitude for a gift.
“This is an acknowledgment of the great gift they have received in Jesus Christ,” Deacon Moran said.
As CRS Global Fellows, Deacons Moran (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Olsenholler (email@example.com) welcome the opportunity to visit parishes, share their experiences, and highlight the work of CRS in helping the poor by honoring their dignity as children of God and upholding our Catholic values.