A shipping container full of kindness: St. John’s Rotary clubs deliver aid to Zimbabwe

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$100K grant provided by Rotary International, Government of Canada, donations from locals

By Geoff Bartlett, 

Helping local villagers in Mazwi find ways to engage in trade and commerce will be one aspect of the Rotary Club aid program.

Helping local villagers in Mazwi find ways to engage in trade and commerce will be one aspect of the Rotary Club aid program. (Rotary)

An eight-person team left Newfoundland and Labrador on the weekend to provide aid to an area in southern Africa.

‘Truly it was an eye opening experience to see how people can thrive with so little.’– Jillian Gibson

They’re heading to a Tshelanyemba, Zimbabwe to meet up with a 40-foot shipping container they filled with supplies from donations from people in St. John’s, and will spend the next two weeks unloading it and training locals how to use the goods.

From the North Atlantic to southern Africa

Rotary Clubs in St. John’s have been providing support to Tshelanyemba for decades, and this particular team has been going there since 2007.

But during its last trip in 2015 the group become involved with members of a Rotary Club in Zimbabwe and were able to secure a grant through Rotary International called Adopt a Village, with the Canadian government stepping in to match the grant.

SHipping container

The team will meet up with a 40-foot shipping container, like the one seen here, which members previously filled with equipment and supplies. It will take two weeks to unload the container and provide training to the locals for how to use the goods. (shippingcontainertrader.com)

With that, and donations from local Rotary Clubs and individuals, they were able to raise $100,000 and fill the container with supplies which is now en route to Tshelanyemba.

“We’ve sent a 40 foot container filled with hospital goods, school supplies, computer technology, general household supplies, you name it,” said Jillian Gibson, past president of the Rotary club St. John’s Northwest. “Everything that a village will need to help sustain itself.”

Even though the team will only be there for the next two weeks to get the supplies off the container, the actual project will span the next two years, with the team training local Zimbabweans how to properly dispense and use the materials.

Jillian Gibson Rotary Club

Jillian Gibson is past president of the Rotary club St. John’s Northwest, and last traveled to Zimbabwe with the Rotary Club in 2015. (CBC)

The main focus will be improving access to clean water in the village, but the supplies will also go towards improving healthcare and education.

“The eight people going each have their own unique skill set and will be providing training to the people in the village on how to use the equipment that’s on board the container,” Gibson said. “We’re hoping it will transform the village towards being more self-sustaining.”

‘Thrive with so little’

The region that will receive the aid, Tshelanyemba, in southernmost Zimbabwe, has a population of approximately 44,000.

A village called Mazwi is at its centre with approximately 500 people. That’s where people can access a hospital, a primary school, a high school and some small shops.

clean water ZImbabe rotary club

Helping the people living in Tshelanyemba have better access to clean water will be the main focus of the aid that the Rotary Club members will be delivering. (Rotary)

Gibson said her last trip to the region in 2015 was a formative experience for all the team members involved, and seven out of eight of them going this year are returning for a second time.

She said while the group is there to provide aid to Africans, the experience can be just as rewarding for the Newfoundland and Labrador team members themselves.

“It made me feel as though I’ve won the lottery already by being born here. Truly it was an eye opening experience to see how people can thrive with so little,” she said.

“I think I said ‘thank you’ to them as much as they said ‘thank you’ to me — for letting me see and experience how the simple life is a beautiful life to live.”