Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cheers for Pencils!

While most of my friends and family were enjoying hotdogs and fireworks this 4th of July, I was helping to pass out school kits to over 400 children in the rural Mutumbami area of eastern Zimbabwe. I had already been in the country about a week to follow up on a variety of UMCOR relief activities, and finally had the opportunity to accompany a pastor from the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe to distribute the UMCOR school kits to children who lacked these necessary supplies. Driving several hours outside of Mutare along dirt roads, passing a few baboons and countless small villages along the way, we bumped along in a pickup truck carry dozens of boxes of the highly-prized commodity.

Currently recovering from one of the worst economic crises in history, Zimbabwe’s inflation had spiraled out of control, and resources had become scarce and expensive, particularly for those in more remote areas. This left many of the most vulnerable communities without access to basic necessities such as food or clean water, much less the “luxury” of such items as paper or a ruler. Often seen as a privilege, access to education and educational materials is highly valued and much appreciated by all, providing a foundation of hope for the future.

When we finally arrived to find several communities assembled in anticipation of the exciting distribution event, my Zimbabwean counterpart began to describe the contents of the kit to the crowd: notebooks (smiles, clapping), scissors (smiles, clapping), an eraser, a ruler, crayons (more smiles and clapping), pencils (LOUD CHEERS!!!!!!!), and a pencil sharpener (back to smiles and clapping). Never have I seen such excitement about 6 pencils!! In that moment, I suddenly and humbly realized that something most Americans consider so commonplace was valued so highly in this place… it actually brought tears to my eyes to know that I am part of an organization that is responsible for bringing so much joy and optimism into people’s lives.

While part of me may have missed eating hotdogs or seeing fireworks, I can’t say I was sorry to be away from home… because I got to spend America’s birthday by giving the gift of hope.

By Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response, UMCOR

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