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LLL Life in Zimbabwe

Caroline Wood
Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 2, April-May 2001, p. 41

Living in Zimbabwe, an African country, I often wonder what kinds of challenges LLL Groups around the world experience with the administration of their Groups. We seem to be constantly struggling! Although Zimbabwe has a high incidence of breastfeeding and most health care providers are very supportive, we face problems getting accurate information out to mothers. The year 2000 was exceptionally difficult for Zimbabwe, with the violent build-up to elections, the break- down in law and order, the emotional roller-coaster rides, devaluation, lack of foreign currency leading to fuel and power shortages, and crippling inflation of over 65 percent. Inflation in January 2001 is running at over 75 percent and climbing; it is expected to reach over 100 percent by the end of 2001.

"What has this got to do with La Leche League?" you might ask. It has all had an enormous impact on our Groups. Leaders, Applicants, and members have left the country to seek a more secure future for their families - our numbers have decreased, one Group losing all their "core" members. The soaring inflation has reduced the spending power of our hard-earned monies from membership subscriptions, book sales, and fundraising. Mothers have less disposable income and often can't afford our membership fees, which we've tried to keep to a minimum (about US $2.75 per annum, which equates to half a loaf of bread a month!). Yet our expenses for postage, stationery, and photocopying are rising. Leaders and mothers have to return to work to make ends meet - no longer able to listen to their hearts and stay home with their children. The fuel shortages mean mothers (and often their children) are spending hours in queues and can't spare the fuel to attend meetings (or can't afford to, as fuel has just increased by 50 percent!). And before the fuel crisis, nationwide strikes and riots put a halt to some meetings.

There is no foreign currency to pay our Group and Leader dues or order books. Many Leaders are unable to afford Z$2,000 (which is about a week's groceries) for their dues and much-needed NEW BEGINNINGS and LEAVEN. The landed cost of a copy of the WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING is Z$1,000, once bank charges, shipping, LLLI handling fees, and Custom's duty are taken into account. Inflation eats away at savings, and luxuries are a thing of the past; and whilst we may consider THE WOMANLY ART essential, increasing school fees, medical expenses, and groceries leave nothing to spare. A very successful fundraiser at a children's park raised the equivalent of US $25 - once all the bank charges and related costs are considered, it barely buys a single copy of THE WOMANLY ART!

Despite all the hurdles, there are still active Leaders committed to helping mothers and babies breastfeed. They are holding meetings and courses, making home visits, counseling, organizing publicity campaigns, editing the Area Leaders Letter, and sitting on the progressive Infant Nutrition Committee to ensure the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes is upheld. Other projects, such as the Peer Counselling Programme (PCP), have been put "on hold" as we are now stretched too thin! However, because the PCP is very much needed, a Leader is currently looking for ways to implement the program with our limited resources.

Along with this work there are many joyful occasions. Attending the opening of a new maternity wing at Harare Hospital was one such event. It was held in the open, with "entertainment." Among the entertainment, a group of women came out, singing and dancing, with towels wrapped around them. Only when they got closer could you see the tops of little knitted caps - all premature babies being kangaroo cared! These are the things that make the struggles of running a Group in Zimbabwe so worthwhile.

I am sure there are many other countries that face similar problems - especially the problems with money! Like Leaders everywhere, we are committed to sharing breastfeeding information and giving support to mothers. Our goal is to increase publicity, despite our limited funds and difficult circumstances. Any assistance in the form of donations, old or new copies of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEFDING, tear-off sheets, and back issues of NEW BEGINNINGS to put in doctors surgeries, would be appreciated. We would be grateful for any assistance you could give us to help reach our goal.

"My hope is that this will be the beginning of other Leaders and Groups in the United States (or any place that has the funds and desire to share) learning about other Groups around the world and what their day-to-day lives are like, and where and how we can help out if there are any who can use some assistance. I'd love to see your article become the start of a continuing section in LEAVEN that talks about LLL around the world."

Karen Rotondi, Leader from Heidelberg, Germany, in a letter to Caroline Wood

Editor's note: Some funds have been donated to Leaders and Groups since Caroline wrote this article, but the need remains great.

If you or your Group would like to help the Groups in Zimbabwe with books, handouts, or in materials, please contact: Deevia Chohan, 21 Arundel Road, Alexander Park, Harare, Zimbabwe before making any contributions, because of complicated regulations and duty requirements.

Financial donations to International Division Leaders and Groups: Aris Tomac, ID Treasurer, 815 Greenbriar Lane, University Park IL 60466-2807, USA; telephone 708.534.2859; or arisjt at juno.com (email).

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