Just a month after her return from Zimbabwe, Susan Janetti is already thinking about what more she can do to help those struggling with crippling poverty in the African country she was born in.
The Ocean Park woman recently wrapped up her latest project April 3 – filling and shipping a 40-foot container of desperately needed donated items to the southern African country – and is focusing on her next.
Janetti, who founded the charitable organization Zimbabwe Gecko Society in 2008 with her husband, Frank, is working on bringing Canadian doctors to Zimbabwe in order to provide aid and education.
She will be working with Dr. Ray Markham, the medical director of the UBC Rural Continuing Professional Development Program, to find doctors – and funding – to support the program.
“Ray and his wife, Allison, joined us in Zimbabwe and now we’re working together and we’re going to put in a health component,” Janetti said, noting Markham, like herself, is originally from Zimbabwe.
For the last three years, Janetti has been running the society largely on her own, as her husband battles cancer.
And even though she’s tough enough to take on the task, she admitted help is needed.
“I’m getting old. I’m over 65,” she said. “Because it’s just me and the work is multiplying, we are looking for corporate sponsorship.”
Funding would support the doctors travelling to Zimbabwe, where more and more people are going to the hospital, not get better, but to die, Janetti said.
Now, by having a health component, donations can be made directly towards medical care and saving lives.
The couple’s first project was building an orphanage 21 years ago to bring relief to families caring for children whose parents had passed away.
Previously, there were no orphanages, as the children were simply absorbed into the relatives’ family, Janetti explained.
“But because of the situation with the money collapsing, lack of food and the amount of people dying daily, they couldn’t care for these children anymore,” she said.
Then, in 2008, amid financial turmoil in Zimbabwe due to hyperinflation, Janetti founded the society in order to increase support to those hit the hardest.
“People were dying of cholera, starvation – just literally dying by the hundreds – so we thought, we can’t do much, but we can do a little,” she said.
Janetti was quick to add that while she is often on the frontlines in Zimbabwe, none of the work she has done would have been possible without the outpouring of support she has received from her community.
“We really have to thank them,” she said. “They have been incredible.”
In the years since the society has formed, the Janettis have helped bring clean water and sanitation to communities in Zimbabwe, as well as farming program Foundations for Farming, which teaches sustainable farming methods.
“We work as a community, not individuals,” Janetti said. “Everyone that took a farming course had to teach 10 more.”
Though it has been hard work for the couple for the last two decades, the rewards are far greater, Janetti said.
She recalled her most recent trip and the reaction once the big, blue container was opened.
“We had people weep over things we throw away after one use. For the medical supplies, they were literally crying,” she said. “I remember asking ‘why are they so happy for such a little gift?’ and the reply was, ‘they have more now than they did 10 minutes ago.’
“Something about that just sticks with me.”
For more information, visit www.zimbabwegecko.com/