[November 16, 2007] by Elizabeth Lechleitner/Adventist News Network
Students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities in North America are raising funds to provide immediate assistance to a fellow university in Zimbabwe that church leaders say is running out of food.
Adventist-owned Solusi University near Bulawayo, in the Southern part of Zimbabwe, is on the verge of sending students home due to the country's food crisis. Solusi's estimated 3,200 students, faculty and staff -- along with much of the country -- have faced dwindling food supplies since February 2007, when hyperinflation and widespread droughts cleared the country's shelves and fields of food.
At a November 9 worship service, students, faculty and staff at Adventist-owned Andrews University started a fund for Solusi. The Berrien Springs, Michigan-based university has since matched the amount collected, and "ripple effect" collections on campus have added to the tally, organizers there say. The fundraising is expected to continue into the November 16 to 19 weekend.
Other Adventist universities in North America -- including Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California -- are expected to join the effort, organized by leadership in the church's North American region. In a separate effort, La Sierra University Church also collected funds for Solusi.
"This has to be an ongoing effort," says Larry Blackmer, vice president for Education for the church in North America. "Otherwise, Solusi will get a bunch of food in one load and none afterward." Blackmer anticipates the project will continue for six months to a year.
The first collection of funds, Blackmer says, has already been sent to the church's regional headquarters in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where the money will be used to purchase food in Botswana, Mozambique or South Africa and trucked across the border into Zimbabwe. University officials estimate US $120,000 would buy enough food in Zimbabwe's neighboring countries to sustain Solusi for a year.
Church leaders resorted to a similar solution in September, when the organizers of an Adventist youth training conference brought food in from Botswana to feed the 350 delegates gathered in Zimbabwe for nearly a week.
Food supplies for Solusi have "been scarce for quite some time," according to the church in Zimbabwe. Reports from the university indicate that food, where available, is prohibitively expensive for those on Solusi salaries.
Fifty percent price cuts ordered by the Zimbabwean government in June to fight inflation have only accelerated the country's food crisis. Reports indicate the abrupt cuts spurred panic buying that drained already limited supplies.
"Food is a short-term solution, but it is really the only way to help the students at Solusi right now," says Andre Brink, director of Communication for the Adventist Church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region. "Even their agricultural fields in the south of the country are all dried up. They are not able to plant because of the drought. People in that region are really starving."
Brink, who visited Zimbabwe in February, says that sending money or food to the country is a challenge. Published reports indicate most non-governmental agencies refuse to work in Zimbabwe because aid is often seized and redistributed to government-approved recipients. Limits on food purchased in neighboring countries and brought back to Zimbabwe have also been imposed. Compact, highly nutritious packets of food are the best way to get food to Solusi, Brink says.
University officials say they plan to obtain an irrigation system and farming equipment in an effort to achieve food self-sufficiency within six months.
Solusi University, established in 1894, is Zimbabwe's largest private university. The campus also includes an elementary school and a high school.