After a decade of raising money, awareness and facilitating the travel of dozens of volunteers from Peterborough, Ontario (Canada) to Howard Hospital in Mashonaland Central Province, a grassroots group of Canadian supporters is at a crossroads.
Having raised close to $240,000 for the Salvation Army facility and its surrounding community, the group is faced with an uncertain future after the hospital’s chief medical officer was removed from his post in late August.
Toronto-born Dr. Paul Thistle, who ran the hospital for 16 years, leveraged a massive network of Canadian donors to keep the hospital funded and equipped and helped pay for a plethora of services for the community such as sending orphans to school.
Regardless of the rationale behind Thistle’s removal, it has put the Peterborough group in a difficult position. The group purchased $18,000 worth of building supplies for the hospital last year, which it says have gone missing in the wake of Thistle’s departure. Without Thistle at the helm, the group has to decide whether it can still safely continue its work in the Chiweshe District.
But, as fundraiser Brian Nichols explains, you can’t support a community for 10 years and just walk away. “We have created some dependency in the last 10 years,” he said. “What is the responsible thing for the Peterborough community in honouring some of that, at least in the short term, even if we’re not involved at Howard Hospital?”
The children have not been able to attend classes after international donations to the community halted when Thistle left in August. Because the schools run outside the purview of the Salvation Army, Nichols said his group can safely transfer the donations to the children using its connections within the country.
In the long-term, the group will take the next several months to decide how best to move forward, monitoring the situation at Howard closely, Nichols said.
Thistle and his wife Pedrinah remain in Zimbabwe and may have other opportunities to work within the same community, Nichols said. The Peterborough group would like to continue to support the Thistles if possible, Nichols added.
Despite the tough decisions facing the local donors, Nichols said Peterborough residents should be proud of the contributions they have made to date. “I think it has been incredible what we as a community have been able to do in supporting this place,” he said.