Heather’s Trip to Zimbabwe

With no running water, laundry day is just that – a day.

Using technology when there is no electricity is a bit odd.

I’ve been all over Africa – from the remote Namibian coastline to the glacial peak of Mount Kilimanjaro – but nothing quite compares to my trip to Norton this past July. Since Liz and I landed in Harare at night, my first look at Zimbabwe was all that could be seen in the headlight beams—mostly people walking along dark roads flanked by vast,dusty fields. They looked like apparitions; appearing when the pickup truck’s lights bounced off them, and then disappearing again.

Comparisons are inevitable in anywhere new and, in a place like Norton, it’s easy to notice first what the place doesn’t have—no running water or reliable power, no school buses or Starbucks. For children here, school is not a given, meals are not a certainty and the safety of a parent to come home to is most often a distant memory. “In life, there are some days you can be afraid, and some days you can be brave,” wrote one fifth-grader, in his entry for the writing contest we held during our weeks there.

Heather and Hazel

Of all the luxuries it lacks, pretense may be the greatest—there’s no time or energy for that, no point to it. This is a place where people look you in the eye, inviting you to acknowledge their existence. During the writing workshops I held, and in their contest entries, kids poured their hearts out about their fears and the indignities they’ve suffered, and about their palpable longing for a chance to be something more.

It’s easy to get lost in a place like Norton, to recede into the darkness if the headlights aren’t shining directly  on you. But that’s just what Coalition for Courage does—it recognizes and invests in kids. With their hearts and checkbooks, C4C donors tell these kids they are special. And these scholars know it; their pride and gratitude is genuine and effusive. Sponsorship almost visibly floods their todays and tomorrows with light.

Emmy taught Heather to make sadza.

When people ask me what my time in Zimbabwe was like, I tell them it’s a raw but exceptional place where people take you by the hand or hold you in an embrace and, when they do, obvious differences fall away. What’s left is what unites us—fear and hope, shyness and bravado, tears and laughter, disappointment and dreams.

It’s an impossible place to push too far from your mind because those kids, with their unmitigated determination, simply won’t allow it. In my memory, their ready smiles are warm but somewhat haunting, like those lonely souls out on the road from Harare. By supporting C4C,  we can stay focused on them, keep them from vanishing, and help them to fulfill their visions of wholeness.

-Heather Hansen

Heather co-authored a 2008 book entitled Disappearing Destinations. In it, she chronicles travel destinations endangered by global warming, environmental degradation, predatory logging, mining and fishing.  It was winner of the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ general nonfiction award.

She also published an article in Mount Holyoke’s Alumnae Magazine about Coalition for Courage.

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