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Matheny speaks on Rotary efforts in Zimbabwe

Rotarians listen to a presentation by Jeff Matheny concerning the work of Rotary International in Zimbabwe during Monday’s meeting of the Parkersburg Rotary Club. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — Rotary International is making headway in humanitarian efforts in Zimbabwe, but many challenges remain.

Member Jeff Matheny presented an update on ongoing projects in Zimbabwe at Monday’s meeting of the Parkersburg Rotary Club.

Matheny has participated in humanitarian missions for more than 18 years, first in Nicaragua and then with Rotary for the past nine years at a hospital and children’s home in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Matheny said while the programs are making improvements, many large-scale challenges remain, including a destabilized economy in the region and an ongoing drought.

Matheny said following an economic crash in 2008-09, the country move to the U.S. Dollar, but soon found itself running out of actual currency. The Zim Dollar was created as an online currency, but saw an inflation rate of 460 percent in a single month.

Jeff Matheny speaks Monday at a meeting of the Parkersburg Rotary Club concerning his recent efforts with Rotary International in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Michael Erb)

“It’s extremely difficult just to transact business,” he said. “It’s extremely challenging to get anything done.”

The online transactions, which have to be done up-front before receiving any goods, can take 3-4 days to complete, and by then those goods may already have been sold to someone else, Matheny said. Places that do accept cash charge much higher rates for goods and are priced beyond most people’s ability to afford.

The drought also has had widespread effects on the population, not just in its scarcity, but in the country’s ability to produce electricity. The dam-powered electrical system only functions a handful of hours at night, leaving towns without any power during daylight hours, Matheny said.

“There’s just not enough water in the dam to produce electricity,” he said. “Most people are running diesel generators, and diesel fuel is expensive and hard to get.”

In some of the largest cities, running water is only available for a few hours a day, Matheny said.

But Rotary has helped to provide solar-powered water heaters and ovens to help people rely less on hydroelectricity and diesel.

“We’ve tried to get them away from burning wood or using electricity,” he said.

The children’s home serves about 80 children, Matheny said, and the hospital helps deliver about 1,500 babies a year with a surprisingly low mortality rate. There is a new outpatient clinic which is being built, which will give the hospital more space and services.

Matheny said the recent trip gave him a chance to meet with local and international Rotary members.

“I got to see some old and new friends,” he said.

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