Middlebury College Relief Team Returns from Flood-Stricken
Mozambique and Zimbabwe
MIDDLEBURY, Vt.A team of Middlebury College students returned to
campus on Thursday, June 22 following a two-week relief project in flood-stricken
Mozambique and Zimbabwe. While in Africa, the volunteers helped with reconstruction
and clean-up efforts in areas damaged by the torrential rains that had occurred
earlier this year. They were honored at a reception held on the Middlebury
College campus on Friday, June 23 where they described their experiences.
President John McCardell presented each team member with a citation of commendation
in recognition of their participation in the relief effort.
In April, eight studentsseniors Mishael Coggeshall-Burr from Walpole,
N.H., Sarah Glendon from Windsor, Mass., and Nadezhda Tkachenko from Almaty,
Kazakhstan; juniors Peter Dixon, Westport, Mass., and Arvind Ponnambalam,
Goldens Bridge, N.Y.; sophomore Suzanne Slarsky, Ayer, Mass.; and first-year
students Brian Hoyer, Golden, Colo., and Benjamin Morris, East Lyme, Conn.were
selected by a College committee to form the relief team. Augustus Jordan,
assistant professor of psychology at Middlebury, and Kathleen Ready, administrative
director of the Colleges health center, were also invited to accompany
the team to Africa.
An earlier endeavor, "Middlebury-Mozambique Relief Initiative: Race
Against Time," was launched this year by Middlebury College senior
Negar Ashtari, who took action upon hearing of the plight of the people
of flood-stricken Mozambique, a country near her homeland of Botswana in
southern Africa. The torrential storms from February through April that
saturated the region with rain and three major tropical cyclones that hit
Mozambique caused the worst flooding in southern Africas recent history.
The country struggled to rescue people trapped on rooftops and in trees,
and to provide shelter, clean water, and food for hundreds of thousands
of its displaced citizens. Concerned about reports that the international
community had been slow to respond, Ashtari rallied members of both the
Middlebury College and local community in the fundraising effort that contributed
thousands of dollars in support of Mozambiques disaster relief. College
President John McCardell praised the Middlebury-Mozambique Initiative, saying,
"This is yet another way in which Middlebury students demonstrate their
personal commitment to improving the world that lies beyond the College
walls." Inspired by the project, McCardell proposed that a volunteer
team of students be sent to Mozambique to learn more of the situation there,
and to offer physical assistance. "It is with great respect for this
exemplary willingness to make a difference that I offered financial backing
from the College to send a team to Mozambique," said McCardell.
A selection committee comprised of Ashtari, the college chaplain, a faculty
member, and an associate dean of student affairs appointed eight students
to the team after considering 67 applicants. "It was no easy decision,"
said Ashtari. "So many have done amazing volunteer projects all over
the world and are enthusiastic to apply themselves to this kind of work.
We tried to choose a flexible, culturally sensitive crew who would, above
all, know what it means to work together through thick and thin."
Middlebury College Chaplain Laurie Jordan helped set up the trip, and
contacted Middlebury alumnus Lee Adkins and his wife Bonnie of Salisbury,
Vt., who have jointly served as deputy general secretary of the United Methodist
Committee on Relief, and have led numerous volunteer groups to countries
around the world, including five mission trips to Mozambique in the past
decade. They also served as official observers for Mozambiques 1994
presidential elections. Assisting Jordan as advisors, the Adkins suggested
that Africa University in neighboring Zimbabwe be asked to host the Middlebury
volunteers in Africa, and to facilitate their entry into Mozambique.
Before departing, the students organized a highly successful campus-wide
drive to collect items to take with them: books for Africa University, and
clothing for villages in Mozambique. "Despite the potential dangersincluding
landmines from Mozambiques 16-year civil war that have been displaced
by the floodwatersthe students were optimistic and active in preparing
for the trip," said Chaplain Jordan. Team member Brian Hoyer also arranged
for their donation of $150 to the Denver-based organization PROJECT CURE
to obtain a "care kit" containing $3,000 worth of medical supplies.
Flying from New York City to Harare, Zimbabwe, the volunteers arrived
on June 6 at the Africa University (AU) campus in the border city of Mutare.
While working alongside AU student and faculty members on repairs at a nearby
village high school, the Middlebury team found the social and educational
connection with its hosts to be a very important aspect of the trip. "In
both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, community leaders such as pastors and teachers
would pull me aside and discuss the importance of education for their bright,
young students," said team-member Gus Jordan. "AU, now only 10
years old, has much the same mission that Middlebury College did at its
inceptionMutare is seeking to invest in its communitys future
through education," said Jordan. "I hope that the College will
in some way participate with AU in the unfolding of that history."
The team found that sponsorship of local students in their pursuit of
educational careers was another way to assist the Zimbabwean communities.
In the village of Munyarari, the cost of a high school education is only
$35 per year for each student. Many students are nevertheless unable to
finish high school for lack of the annual tuition fee. Working with one
of the local teachers, team member Suzanne Slarsky coordinated the Middlebury
volunteers in the sponsorship of nine Munyarari young people, assuring that
the students will have the financial backing to complete their high school
"I was very excited to hear that by contributing as little as $105,
we can help a student complete three more years of high school. Its
one of the best $35 a year I can imagine spending," said Slarsky. In
addition to the nine students already sponsored by the Middlebury team,
Slarsky returned to Middlebury with the names of another 21 students needing
tuition support. "We felt confident that wed find people here
in Vermont willing to help sponsor the students," she said. "As
important as sponsorship are the cross-cultural relationships which will
develop between the Middlebury and Munyirare communities. Its a way
to bridge the ocean between the two, and will benefit both sides enormously,"
Slarsky added.The Middlebury volunteers then traveled into Mozambique, where
they helped with reconstruction and clean-up in the town of Chimoio and
other villages in Manica Province. One of the worst hit was the village
of Dombe, which the students targeted for the donated clothing and PROJECT
CURE medical supplies. With the help of the provincial administrator and
a representative from an international volunteer relief organization called
Concern Worldwide, the team took the materials to the village clinic for
distribution to the people who needed them most. "After we drove the
supplies in on a hired bus, we worked with the two nurses and a translator
to unpack the medical supplies and to sort the 500 articles of clothing,"
said team member Brian Hoyer. "It was all used right away, and Dombe
still needs even more."
Returning to Zimbabwe where the political climate continued to heat up
prior to elections, the Middlebury team reaffirmed ties made at Africa University
before flying home to the United States. The group was welcomed back to
the Middlebury campus at a reception held in its honor on June 23, and members
described some of their experiences to members of the College and local
community. Sarah Glendon, a team member who was one of the first students
to join the early relief initiative, said, "I continue to find it incredible
that our student efforts on campus for Mozambique turned into this opportunity
to do hands-on work in southern Africa, but this trip was about far more
than physical labor. I now emotionally perceive the world in a very different
way." Photographs and a stone carving that depicts the team itself,
made by a local artisan in Zimbabwe, were displayed during the reception,
and each volunteer received a citation of commendation from the College.
For more information or to arrange for an educational sponsorship of a Munyarari
student, please contact Middlebury College Chaplain Laurie Jordan, at 802-443-5626.