In The Village NEWS edition of 3 April 2019, we reported on two projects – one in Kleinmond and one in Hermanus – to collect clothing and other essentials for the victims of Cyclone Idai in the Chimanimani region of Zimbabwe. Mrs Elvia Bury was the organiser of the initiative in Hermanus and coffee shop owner, William Chiwara in Kleinmond.

William Chiwara is greeted at the collection point in Chimanimani by many villagers hoping for assistance.

The people they wished to assist were villagers in the mountainous Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, near the Mozambican border, where whole villages had either been washed away or engulfed in landslides. Apart from the extensive damage suffered in these settlements, roads and bridges had also been washed away, leaving them isolated from the rest of the world, unable to access clean water, medical assistance, food or shelter.

When made aware of the dire circumstances under which these Zimbabweans were living, the people of Kleinmond and Hermanus came forward in their numbers with generous contributions in cash and in kind. A friend offered William storage space for all the items that came streaming in and when that began to overflow, he decided that the time had come to make the trip to Zimbabwe.

Paying most of the travel costs from his own pocket, which included hiring a large trailer, he set off on a journey of epic proportions. Instead of being able to go directly to Mutari by bus, as he had hoped, he was obliged to go on a detour to Harare, which not only lengthened the trip by a day, each way, but greatly increased the costs.

Once finally in Mutari, he and his brother, Gabriel immediately set off with his 12 huge bags of clothing, household linen, tools, food and a variety of other  items to a collection point he and Zeddy Chikukwa, Elvia Bury’s friend had agreed upon. Beyond that, there were no navigable roads. Indeed Zeddy, together with some of his fellow villagers had had to walk 23 km to reach this point themselves.

William reports that the conditions he discovered there were far worse than he had imagined. He heard countless tales of unimaginable tragedy from the throngs of people who had walked many kilometres to the collection point. Even in places where houses had not been destroyed, their livelihoods had been decimated. One village with a population of just over 1 000 had, for example, lost 50 cows, 220 chickens and 27 goats. Another group of men who were working as lumberjacks, cutting down trees in the forest, lost all their equipment.

He heard stories of people being pulled out of their houses by their neighbours through the roof, because they couldn’t open the doors. Tragically, in some cases, those same houses, together with the occupants and rescuers were washed away. He met a man who was walking around in a daze, doubled over in pain from several broken ribs, still unable to come to terms with the fact that he had lost his whole family. An old woman in one of the villages he visited was doggedly digging with her hands and a bucket in the mud and he was told that she was searching for her grandson.

After William and his brother had unloaded at the collection point the bags were blessed by two pastors and an army chaplain and then divided up for distribution. Zeddy took some of the stuff, carrying it back 23 km to his village, the chaplain took some to distribute and William and Gabriel took the balance to villages in a different direction. He estimates that 350 to 400 people – maybe more – received something, even if it was just a pair of shoes or trousers.

It was a gruelling trip for William, both physically and emotionally, but when he returned, he found that even more contributions had arrived. Elvia, too, had continued to receive donations. William estimates that he already has over 300 kg of goods, so is now planning another trip, when he hopes that he and Zeddy will be able to use ox- and donkey-carts to reach further into the hinterland. However, having depleted his own resources, he will need assistance with travel costs, which he estimates will amount to about R7 000, if he is able to go directly to Mutari this time.

He emphasises that the people, even those with houses still standing, have nothing – no crops, no tools, no household goods, no food. They are grateful for everything they receive. As one woman said when he apologised for having so little to give her, “Even if you give me only a teaspoon, at least I will be able to feed my baby with that, instead of with my hands.”

Anybody who can assist with either funding to cover the travel costs for William’s next trip, or more items to distribute can contact him on 078 4925175 or email ndichihwa@gmail.com, or Elvia Bury on eabury@hermanus.co.za.

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