For the past several years the Sandra Jones Memorial Village (SJMV) has been based around 30km outside of Bulawayo at a campsite called Willow Park. There are seventy kids in total being looked after by SJMV. There’s a house in Bulawayo itself for abandoned and/or neglected babies. Out at Willow Park there is a house for toddlers, also mainly abandoned and neglected babies and AIDS orphans. And then there is a crisis centre for victims of terrible acts of sexual abuse.
The SJMV is the only facility in Zimbabwe that can take children who have been assaulted by relatives or sold into sexual slavery from very young ages, and rehabilitate them. Anne’s going to write some more about these incredibly resilient children, their horrific stories and their heroic carers.
For those who haven’t caught up with the news, The SJMV are on the cusp of moving into a Hotel on the edge of Bulawayo. We’ll cover this facility and the amazing vision for it sometime next week – I (Andrew) am hoping to pull together a business plan for them, we’re doing a visioning exercise there on Monday.
Once Willow Park is vacated it will revert to being a campsite. It’s owned by Youth For Christ (YFC) Zimbabwe, the same outfit my Dad worked with when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s. It’s also a place I went to several times for church camps and youth groups camps, a place of really fond memories. So it was kinda emotional to come back to it as the son of the ex-National Director, ex-camper, and now a Director of a Camping Ministry on the other side of the world.
I left Mapleton with around twenty kilos of outdoor education gear – stuff that we are forced to retire in the strict OH&S compliance requirements of Australia, but that were in excellent working order. Harnesses, safety helmets, carabiners and several books describing activities. This was QCCC’s gift to YFC and Willow Park, a place where I’m sure they will get much use and help many more people than they could retired in Australia.
The current National Director of YFC is a man of the Kingdom named Sheunesu Masuka, Sharky for short. He met me out at Willow Park to take delivery of all the gear and then we spent several hours talking about his vision for YFC’s ministry at Willow Park as a camp site.
The place has a heap of opportunity. Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to walk through and over several non-operational campsites and you get a pretty quick feel for their potential, with one of the key factors being – how much work would it take to get it operational? Well Willow Park is very much a proposition that is ready to go. It’s well maintained, the buildings are in good order and it’s attractive. A little oasis sliced into the foreboding foothills of the beautiful Matopos area – some say the place that is the birthplace of the concept of Ubuntu.
It was exciting to hear Sharky’s desire to make Willow Park a place that will be key to YFC’s discipleship, training and outreach efforts in Zimbabwe. There is talk of internships, leadership camps for High Schools throughout Zimbabwe, couples’ retreats to address the importance of family in Zimbabwean society. The site has potential to cater to many niche activities and with more than 150 acres there is a lot of scope for some wilder, frontier type tent-camping options in what is stunning, but uncompromising African bushland. There’s an awful lot of raw material to work with there.
I say I listened because one of the most important principles we have at QCCC is that people will support what they create. Talking to the local Zimbabweans, they’ve seen far too many foreign ‘experts’ come through who are convinced the ways of their home country are better than Zimbabwe and therefore Zimbabweans should be sponges for their ‘superior’ knowledge and/or expertise. Those ways may work well in the home country, but they don’t always translate. Cultural context is vital. The best thing for a foreigner (or someone like me who has been absent from the country for twenty-five years) is to listen to those at the coalface, particularly in a country like Zimbabwe where anyone who has come through the past five years is tough, inventive and a survivor.
I hope to stay in touch with Sharky and the YFC guys as their hopes and dreams for Willow Park unfold. Sharky and I departed with prayer and a hope that in twenty years time we will be trading stories of the incredible life-changing (and nation-changing) experiences Willow Park has been responsible for.