Kids use persistence, cents to help mission

The Baltimore Sun

An African mission, sponsored by a Methodist church in Bel Air, will receive blessings from Trinity Lutheran School students in Joppa.

The students raised $10,000 during the past school year for Healing Hands Across Zimbabwe and will make a symbolic check presentation today during services at Bel Air United Methodist Church. The church established the mission for the country two years ago.

The check represents a million pennies that the children coaxed from their families, friends, neighbors, parents' co-workers and their allowances. They set a goal and took most of the school year and a lot of persistence to collect the money.

"We had a minister from Zimbabwe speak to them last year, and he showed how children in his country are in dire need," said Bev Talbot, a former middle school teacher at Trinity Lutheran. "He really touched my kids with stories of 1.5 million orphans."

Their million pennies will be used to help build a health care clinic in the southwestern African country.

"We already have the land, a water pump and bricks," said Chris Hoffman, who helped coordinate the donation effort. "Now we need a contractor."

Plans call for construction of a clinic in the town of Munyarari, which is near a Methodist mission school established more than 100 years ago.

From there, health care workers will serve about 23 nearby villages and as many as 20,000 residents a year, Talbot said.

The Bel Air church has raised more than $75,000 since beginning its effort, which members call Chabadza. Translated from the Shona dialect, the predominant language in parts of Zimbabwe, Chabadza means "we are obligated to help."

The church's goal is $120,000 for construction of the clinic.

Talbot plans to travel to Zimbabwe next month with her husband to visit the site and determine what else will be needed before a groundbreaking.

The collection drive also spawned pen-pal relationships between the Trinity students and their Zimbabwe peers.

The literacy rate in Zimbabwe is nearly 90 percent, Talbot said.

"This was a good project for our students," Hoffman said. "They are making emotional connections with kids who are similar in age but living under vastly different circumstances."

The African children have been sharing their lives and hopes with the Harford County students.

"These children have the same plans as ours," Talbot said. "There are so many common denominators."

Of the 120 letters received, 20 percent were from children who said they are orphans, a population statistic that stands throughout the country, Talbot said.

The average life span in Zimbabwe is 37 years. About 20 percent of the country's children are orphaned, often by AIDS, and many die before they reach 5 years of age.

Every five minutes, a child dies of malaria, a preventable disease, Talbot said.

"The clinic will provide immediate care, everything from malaria treatment to AIDS meds," Hoffman said.

The facility will also join with the local university to further disease-prevention education.

"The really cool thing is that Lutherans and Methodists are working on this together," Talbot said. "After all, it's one big church."

Services are at 8 a.m., 9:20 a.m. and 11 a.m. today at Bel Air United Methodist Church, 21 Linwood Ave. Information: 410-838-5181.

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