CORINNA, Maine — The Rev. Grace Mercy Mazhandu is a native of the African country of Zimbabwe, but it took another United Methodist Church pastor’s trip there to literally bring home to Mazhandu what the country has become.

The Rev. Ellen Bridge of Newport United Methodist Church visited Zimbabwe last fall, and in January shared her experience with a gathering of parishioners in Corinna. It was an emotional event, especially when Bridge described the desperation of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean children whose parents have died from HIV and AIDS.

“I’ve been crying since January,” said Mazhandu. “I’ve been crying for the children of Africa.”

Asked after that presentation whether she felt compelled to return to her home country, Mazhandu said that her duty is to go wherever the church sends her. But those desperate stories swirled in her head, and before long, Mazhandu made a huge decision.

“I kept sensing something that I needed to do,” she said. “I talked to the bishop, and I’m leaving Corinna at the end of June. I’m going to Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. The last time I looked, there were more than 220,000 kids living on the streets.”

Mazhandu, who has been developing an idea to open an orphanage there for two years, intends to found what she calls the We C.A.R.E. Village about 40 miles outside of Harare. In addition to an orphanage, the village will include a school and an agricultural center.

Backed with blessings and financial support from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church and the donation by the British Methodist Church of 100 acres with a building on it in Zimbabwe, many of the pieces that will make the orphanage a reality are falling into place.

Mazhandu won’t be doing it alone. The Rev. Naomi Sam-Kpakra of the Houlton United Methodist Church, who has dreams of opening a similar orphanage and school in Sierra Leone, will travel to Zimbabwe with Mazhandu in late June. Sam-Kpakra’s calling to do so was sudden and unexpected.

“One day, I was getting ready to leave the house,” she said. “I was minding my own business when I was arrested by God.”

Despite the fact that the two countries are on opposite sides of Africa, Sam-Kpakra, who lived in Sierra Leone for many years, said their situations are the same. Disease, war and ruthless dictators have hobbled both countries, providing a terrifying level of need for organizations like the ones Mazhandu and Sam-Kpakra are starting.

Mazhandu’s needs are considerable. Between now and her departure in June, she hopes to amass enough supplies and equipment to fill a 40-foot storage container to ship to Zimbabwe, and she’s counting on the generosity of Mainers to do it. To begin with, she seeks the donation of the shipping container and costs. Past that, she needs virtually everything an orphanage would need: children’s clothing, cloth diapers, clothing of all sizes, sewing supplies, cooking equipment, nonperishable food, a variety of tool kits, blankets and toiletries. She also needs several large items, for which her nonprofit organization can promise a tax deduction: a gas-powered refrigerator, freezer and washer and dryer, a chain saw, a large generator and a photocopying machine to print lessons for the orphans. She is even hoping for some 13-passenger vans to transport children to and from school.

There’s no question that Mazhandu needs lots of help, and she knows it.

“I just have to do it,” she said. “Those kids don’t even know what they need. Just seeing them smile when they are struggling so much is so wonderful.”

Cash donations for the We C.A.R.E. Village may be sent to Jim Dixon of Lighthouse Christian Fellowships, 7 Morrill Ave., Waterville 04901. To arrange the donation of a larger item, call Mazhandu at 278-3251.


Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.