Saturday, February 8, 2014

An amazing visit

We had yesterday's activities all worked out, but God, it turned out, had other plans.plans to open my eyes.

Somewhere between the visit to my hosts' biscuit and sweet factory (amazing, fun and very delicious!), and coffee with one of Wendi's many friends, she and I found ourselves sitting in Debbie Brennocks' office at the Sandra Jones Centre, tears welling in our eyes, listening to stories of young sexually abused black Zimbabwean girls.

Several years ago Cathy Smith, an online friend from Quilt With Christ NZAU, encouraged some members to make quilts for children in the Sandra Jones Centre, an orphanage in Zimbabwe. Debbie Brennocks, the Director, is an Australian who has spent 25 years in Zimbabwe, and Cathy, a fellow Queenslander, had heard of her work through her church and wanted to help. 

At the time I wasn't in a position to become actively involved, just made a donation towards the cost of posting the quilts to Zimbabwe, and that was that. I had no idea where in Africa Zimbabwe was, hadn't yet met Wendi, and certainly never dreamt I would one day travel to Bulawayo!

I've never met Cathy face to face, but when she saw on Facebook that I was in Bulawayo this week she reminded me that the Sandra Jones Centre was right here. Thinking we might just drive past and take a picture, I asked Wendi if she knew where to find it. She did! And she insisted that we go in.

What we saw and heard touched our hearts in the most extraordinary way.

Debbie welcomed us with open arms, and dropped everything to show us around. It was so heartwarming to see the rooms where the girls sleep, their beds covered with bright quilts lovingly made by Cathy and her online quilting friends. 

Most of Debbie's young charges are girls, and the shocking fact that brought us to tears is that most have been orphaned or abandoned after being sexually abused or raped, generally by members of their own family.

Apparently one in three girls in this country will have been sexually abused by the age of 18.

Through an open door we glimpsed a young girl, a rape victim who had been brought to the centre the night before, huddled on her bed.

Every new arrival at the Sandra Jones Centre, an old hotel purchased a couple of years ago, is given her very own quilt to keep. These quilts are absolutely treasured by the girls who often come to the centre with almost nothing. Debbie told us of one who even arrived wearing a hessian bag and no underwear. 

Here they sleep in spotless ex-hotel rooms, in bunks sleeping 3 or 4 to a room, receive ongoing counseling from qualified counsellors, and go to school or receive vocational training.

The grounds are beautiful, and in such an oasis the children are helped to heal their deep hurts and turn their lives around.

The property stretches over many acres, and Debbie has planted a huge vegetable garden which feeds the 80 or so residents who range from the little 18 months old poppet you see at the top of my post to young ladies of 18 studying for their O Levels.

Their need is great, not only because the Sandra Jones Centre is a charity dependent on donations, but because there is so much bureaucratic corruption in Zimbabwe. 

Even basic medicines can run short, with tragic consequences. Debbie lost a little 18 month old orphaned boy from pneumonia purely because the hospital where he was being treated had no paracetamol to bring down his temperature.

If you're interested in helping, even a tiny bit, please take a look at the Sandra Jones Centre web page where Debbie has listed some very concrete and practical ways we can make a difference in a child's life.

And if you can't help, please pray for them. It's a long way from Australia and if I hadn't seen the work here with my own eyes I would never have had them opened to the shockingly widespread problem of child sexual abuse among the black population.

The message on the wall is true. There is so much love in the Sandra Jones Centre which, by the way, was named in memory of Debbie's fellow Australian colleague who died of cancer several years ago.

As the sign at the gate says - "Save the life of a child today and you change the world tomorrow."


  1. Oh Di what a beautiful post! I'm hoping it will touch the hearts of people who are able to help financially and/or with prayer. I would love to visit one day.

    Quilts for the SJCentre are now being made by my group of lovely "Quilting Queens" at Jimboomba Christian Family. We now have 10 ladies who have learnt to make beautiful quilts for these girls. As you can see we make them all very bright and cheerful, as Africans love.

    If you would like to help, we always appreciate donations of beautiful bright fabric and money to help with postage (Each quilt costs approx. $15 to post).
    If you are able to help the SJC directly, that would be wonderful - see the Sandra Jones Centre web site.

  2. I have friends who lived in Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe. They have told me a little of the horrors of the war they were involved in there. After their side lost the war, they moved to South Africa, England, USA (where I met them) and finally they settled in Australia. I am glad they are somewhere safe. Thank you for bringing this oasis of safety and love to our attention. They are deserving of any help we can give them.

  3. What an eye opening experience. I have no words.

  4. Thank you Di for this touching story, so lovely to see those bright quilts hopefully adding some brightness to the girls/young ladies lives!!! Enjoying your travels. Take care xx

  5. Such a sad, but heartwarming story. I am going to contact her and find out how I can send a quilt to them.

  6. Lovely quilts. So many needs in the world, here and overseas. Thanks for reminding me how blessed we are here in Australia, and particularly how blessed I am. Thank you, too, for opening my eyes to something I'd never heard about before.

  7. This post brought me to tears, Di. I am aware of the sexual abuse suffered by children, but it's different to "see" it first-hand, as you have done. It simply hurts my heart to know that children are in such pain. The quilts are beautiful, and must certainly be a bright spot in their dark lives. Such a noble cause, and facility. I'm glad you could visit, and then share this with us.


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