UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2009 / 0129 - Journey to Hope

Journey to Hope

By Judith Santiago*

January 29, 2009 —Chuma**, is a 13 year-old boy from Zimbabwe who fled to South Africa as a refugee. He has seen and faced unimaginable horrors in his young life. The most devastating was when he witnessed the murder of his father and two step-mothers. Chuma fled for his life leaving behind the raging violence that plagued his hometown. He journeyed alone across the Limpopo River, Africa's second largest river, in search of safety.

Chuma walked an additional 100 kilometers and arrived at the United Methodist Committee on Relief-supported Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa. In a state of shock and fear, Chuma could not hold down any food or water for days. He was also unable to completely relay his story to staff workers without collapsing.

"We have taken him into the church and have found a psychologist to work with him," related the Bishop Paul Verryn of Central Methodist Mission, who met with the boy as he arrived at the Mission.

Chuma is among millions of Zimbabweans who crossed the border into South Africa in search of a place of refuge and a better life. Many Zimbabweans fled to neighboring countries to escape the harsh treatment of government-supported raids, political persecution or violent land seizures which caused millions of people to become homeless or violently killed.

School Provides New Hope

UMCOR is a major contributor to the ministry and work of Central Methodist Mission that works with children like Chuma to provide them with much-needed trauma counseling or pastoral support. Central Methodist Mission also helps these children regain their life by engaging them in school. Today, Chuma is on a different journey. He is on the road to recovery with the help of many UMCOR-supported services offered through the Central Methodist Mission such as food, medical services and material support.

The Albert Street Refugee School, a program of Central Methodist Mission and part of the Albert Street Methodist Church, is serving refugee children primarily from Zimbabwe, but also from Mozambique, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The school is giving them new hope for a better life through education, but also through the daily needs of food, clothing and shelter. Children like Chuma live in an area separate from the adults at Central Methodist Mission-commuting daily to the Albert Street Church where the Albert Street Refugee School is located.

The school is filled with children, most of whom traveled alone to the central city of Johannesburg looking for safety and food. Some of these children helped one another find Central Methodist Mission through word of mouth. For instance, a boy would flee from his Zimbabwe home, make his way to the Limpopo River, and meet another boy who would tell him what he'd learned about safe passage into South Africa. A girl would be homeless on the streets of Johannesburg, meet another child who would direct her to the Mission. In this way, the word spread about Central Methodist Mission, the school and its services.

A Place of Refuge

UMCOR is also a strong supporter of Central Methodist Mission's Ray of Hope ministry, which provides a safe haven for over 2,000 refugees who fled the violence and hunger that has stricken Zimbabwe. While the conditions at Central Methodist Mission are less than ideal because of over-crowding, it is the only alternative to living on the streets. Zimbabwean refugees are subject to xenophobic attacks by South Africans, who are themselves struggling to survive. In South Africa, only a small percentage of refugees applying for asylum are granted legal status. The rest live in an indeterminate state waiting for the right time to return home safely to Zimbabwe. Central Methodist Mission is their place of refuge.

In addition to a place to live, Ray of Hope offers preschool, infant care, legal aid, literacy classes and a free health clinic to arriving refugees. The program provides food, diapers, clothes, and other basic supplies for infants whose mothers have no financial resources. The program also extends its medical services to help those in need and also helps cover the cost of expensive prescriptions.

A History of Hope

The Albert Street Methodist Church, built in 1893, was the first church for Africans in what was formerly called the Witwatersrand Mission. In 1887, the first Wesleyan minister arrived in Johannesburg to help serve the hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to the area to work in the gold mines. These workers lacked basic education and gathered at the church in the evenings to learn how to read and do simple math. Before long, the Albert Street School was born for children of domestic workers who were barred from enrolling in new schools for white children. In 1958, during the Apartheid era, the Albert Street School was shut down by the government. The school, in operation for more than 50 years, provided sound academics and excelled in athletics and music education and also launched many distinguished African educators and ministers.

In July, 2008, the new Albert Street Refugee School under the direction of Bishop Verryn, reopened to serve refugee children living at Central Methodist Mission and on the streets of central Johannesburg. The Albert Street Refugee School now plays a key role in rebuilding a community that suffered greatly under apartheid and the depopulation of central Johannesburg.

How You Can Help

Accommodating the growing number of refugees arriving at Central Methodist Mission daily places a strain on its available resources and supplies. Help Central Methodist Mission provide the much-needed services to those like Chuma who are on a journey to hope by giving to South Africa, Undesignated, UMCOR Advance # 00393A. Online Giving

*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications

**Name has been changed.