I have been volunteering in Zimbabwe for the past three years with a local charity called Oasis. We are based near Epworth, the poorest high-density suburb in Harare, and we have five projects reaching out to vulnerable people in this community. One helps to establish pre-schools for orphaned and vulnerable children, one trains local churches in community development, one trains young men in life skills and livelihoods, as well as setting up self-help groups for women, one works with vulnerable girls to train them in tailoring and business skills, and our final project works with children on the streets.
I have been learning a lot recently about the “ripple effect” of loving and serving vulnerable people. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the scale of the need in Zimbabwe – constantly hearing stories of people who are sick, hungry, out of work or unable to progress in their education because of the cost of school fees. But Jesus said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Even small actions can have big consequences. We have recently had two girls pass their O’Levels, having gone to evening classes for a year with the money they earned from tailoring jobs after training with Oasis. They are now able to apply for formal jobs because they have the minimum qualifications, and their sense of dignity and identity has been restored. They are motivated to keep working hard and to help provide for their families. Seeing the girls so positive about their futures makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Similarly, Oasis helped a group of local women to form a self-help group in Epworth, where they agreed together to save $1 each per week. The fund was used to provide micro-loans to group members in order to establish small businesses, payable back at a small rate of interest. The group has helped its members to buy and sell vegetables, to travel to South Africa and Mozambique for cross-border trading, and to travel to rural areas to buy maize for sale back in Harare. These are not large businesses yet but they have significantly increased the members’ household incomes, meaning their nutrition has improved and they are able to save for school fees for their children. The group has been so successful that it has multiplied to set up a further three groups! The women see the group as a source of support, friendship and solidarity, as well as providing financial capital, and their sense of hope for their futures has also increased.
The poor are especially close to God’s heart – we see this constantly through Scripture. Jesus was never too busy to come alongside vulnerable people, and His meeting of people’s practical needs always intended to point them towards Him as the source of life and hope. At Oasis this is what we are seeking to do – to reach out with practical help to enable people to stand by themselves, as a demonstration of life in abundance which is only found in Jesus.
Lisa is an active member of Kingdom People Church. You can find more about her work in Zimbabwe at http://lisainzim.wordpress.com/