The current political situation in Zimbabwe has been difficult for many people, but, as with any humanitarian crisis, some members of society are hit harder than others. A friend of mine–Clare Lobb, a current Zimbabwean Rhodes Scholar–recently passed along a plea for help from one of her former teachers–Catherine Jackson–who has been recognized for her work in helping the blind in Zimbabwe. She is currently trying to raise money to purchase a new building for the Dorothy Duncan Braille Library to provide care and education to blind students and adults. As described below, it’s quite a worthy cause that imminently needs attention.
Clare and I have set up a PayPal account to accept donations, and although they are trying to raise $57,000, any donation of whatever size is helpful. To make a donation via PayPal, please click on the “Make a Donation” button or click here.
Here is the original email from Catherine Jackson:
Dear Friends of the Dorothy Duncan Braille Library
With some of you I have managed to keep contact over the recent months, and I thank you all for your interest and tremendous support. From others, many of whom have written to me and I have failed to respond, I ask for your forgiveness. This email is to catch everyone up with the recent goings-on and the critical situation in which we find ourselves at this time of desperation in Zimbabwe.
All of you know the enormous effort and amounts of money that have been put into the building up of the Braille Library and Rehabilitation department over the years. Today we serve over 2000 school students who are trying to study in Braille in spite of the unaffordable school fees, and the fact that the blind children are the first ones who are withdrawn from school when family finances drop to totally unsupportable levels. We try to provide books in Braille, Audio tape, CD and Daisy for the tertiary students as well as large print and audio books for all the elderly who are now print-blind and impoverished in the economic collapse of this country.
Apart from the Library and Transcription services we offer, our rehabilitation department is extremely busy with adventitiously blind adults requiring help to live as blind people in a sighted world. They are taught Braille, computers and household skills and many of them are then able to return to their former places of employment. However, since we have no accommodation for these blind people we can only help those who are able to find their own residence in Harare. We now have a file of names of others from around the country who have been waiting for some years sometimes, for help in rehabilitation.
The situation in the country is such that it is becoming impossible to keep the Library running. The Librarian and other staff cannot make ends meet with the escalating cost of transport and the hourly increase in basic foodstuffs. We are now down to a skeleton staff and, with emigration, the original 120 volunteers we used to have working so willingly and generously for us are now at a level of three individuals.
We are battling to keep the Library open under such circumstances – so desperate situations require desperate solutions. Some months ago we decided to look for a suitable house within the vicinity of the Library. The librarian and his wife, both of whom work for us, could live there as caretakers and carers, and blind adults could be accommodated for the duration of their rehabilitation courses. The search began and I tramped the streets of the city!
An almost ideal house was identified at a cost of US$120 000. A number of very generous people contributed to this amount which is handled by the very same Rotarians who were responsible for the initial establishment of the Library. To cut a long story short, the owner withdrew the offer at the last minute and currently the estate agent has said the owner wants to clear US$150 000 net of taxes. We have searched the property market locally only to find that there is absolutely no property available at anything less than that since everyone is desperate for accommodation in town for their staff.
The situation is now critical and we have to move as fast as possible if the Library is to continue to provide an essential service, and the blind of this country are not going to be condemned to the unavailability of print or technological assistance for the indefinite future. I am therefore appealing to any individual who may be able to help in any way. If the story could be told in an ever-widening network, someone, somewhere, may be in a position to contribute towards to the collection of the final balance of US$57,500. Should such a person or people come forward, I would be able to give them the details of the Rotarians concerned who are out of the country. I understand that some countries give tax relief for donations to charity.
Once the property has been bought and all formalities completed, staff could move in as “campers” and the renovations begun. In the main house these are minimal, but the domestic quarters would need to be converted into suitable housing at acceptable standards. There are three embassies who have indicated that they would be able to help in this regard, although they cannot donate towards actually buying property. This part of the project is not time-dependent so could be done with a certain amount of leisure.
A local professional film-maker told me that he would be happy to produce a documentary of about 15 minutes of the project from start to finish, to be used for donors at the completion of the operation. At this time and place of corruption and misuse of funds, this would indeed to invaluable to prove the transparency and complete honesty in the administration of every detail.
I shall try to keep you fully informed of the progress of this project.
With many many, thanks to you for reading this missive and thereby continuing your interest in the work for the blind of Zimbabwe.
May God bless each one of you for all you have done, and are going to do for us.
If you are interested, you can donate here.