Friday, October 31, 2008

Local resident works on development projects in Zimbabwe

Sarath Peiris
The StarPhoenix

As someone who follows global events with more than a passing interest and as an editorial writer who occasionally pontificates on things international, I've been frustrated at the world's reluctance to intercede while Robert Mugabe and his thugs devastate Zimbabwe.

Although the horrors taking place in a beautiful land that once held such promise to be the role model for development in Africa seem far removed from Saskatoon, Sylvia Cholodnuik is determined that the plight of the Zimbabweans will not go unaddressed or be ignored.

Since she first visited rural Zimbabwe 15 years ago on a trip through Canadian Crossroads International, she's returned 10 times, acting as a one-woman development organization to work on small, useful projects in Tshelanyemba, a town south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.

She found things were really tough when she went there two years ago, but after her latest visit in May, she says 2006 "seems like a gravy train."

Zimbabwe's economy was effectively non-functional, with inflation that reached 230 million per cent in July. The store shelves were bare, health care non-existent and the electricity hadn't come on for weeks. Bread has become a luxury item people cannot afford. While things are a little better in rural areas where people eke out a living from the land, urban residents are hopeless, hungry and desperate.

She first got involved with the people in Tshelanyemba in 1992 to set up a canteen and a bakery in the vocational training centre, which are still in operation.

Cholodnuik, who has worked for the past 14 years in student housing at the University of Saskatchewan and spends her vacation time on these development projects, isn't a registered charity and isn't affiliated with any religious group. However, her projects since 1992 have built school desks and a playroom in Tshelanyemba, installed showers and toilets for the hospital kitchen, replaced water tanks at the hospital, developed a school market garden and helped provide school supplies for primary schools in two other villages, Mazwi and Sun Yet Sen.

She returned from her trip this summer determined to send a shipping container of hospital equipment, medical supplies and school supplies to Tshelanyemba. She's working with Canadian Food for the Hungry International, an agency in Saskatoon that has the expertise in logistics to arrange the container shipment and to find and refurbish the hospital equipment to be sent to Zimbabwe. She's also working with students at Cardinal Leger, College Park and Lakeview elementary schools and Bethlehem High School to collect the needed school supplies.

Cholodnuik estimates it will cost $3,500 or so for the container, with another $15,000 to $16,000 US to ship it to Zimbabwe. She wants to ship the container by January and expects to be on hand in Tshelanyemba when it gets there in early May.

Various fundraising efforts so far have brought in about $8,000, but she hopes to raise the majority of the money at this Sunday night's special event, An Evening To Zimbabwe With Love, to be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Quance Theatre in the Education building on campus.

The doors open at 6:30 p.m. so you can grab a good seat to catch the lineup that features Eileen Laverty, Brenda Baker, Ricasso, Sheldon Corbett, Brent Taylor, Come Full Circle and the Saskatoon Soaps. There's also a silent auction. Tickets for the event are $25 and can be bought in advance at Carriage House Florists, Caffe Sola and the Residence office on campus, or at the door on Sunday night. She's hoping to sell about 230 tickets.

If you have a few hours and $25 to spare on Sunday night, this is a great cause to support. More information on the container project can be found at

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