To Zim, with love, Jenny…

Jenny Des-Fountain and her assistant
Whanandi-Ann Louw, have been
inundated with calls since the plea to
help Zimbabweans was publicised.

Food and other necessary supplies have
continued pouring into Jenny’s home.

Jenny preparing the supplies for the long
journey ahead.

After a long day’s work, Jenny is a happy
tired.
(Images: Khanyi Magubane)

Khanyi Magubane

When 50-year-old Jenny Des-Fountain thought about the perfect gift she would like to have for her birthday, an entire country came to mind.

The decision however, was not fuelled by pretty images of pearly white beaches and azure waters, rolling green hills or 18th century architecture; it was the image of a destitute mother and her child scraping the bottom of a pot in rural Zimbabwe.

Des-Fountain, who turned 50 in December 2008, was suddenly struck by the enormity of the suffering of those affected by Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.

Immediately, she knew a grand-scale party to celebrate her milestone birthday was out of question. “I have more than enough. I have been blessed with everything I need. This time, I wanted to give to those who have less than I do.”

She sent text messages to friends, asking them instead, for mealie-meal (a type of polenta staple food in Southern Africa), tinned food, cooking oil and rice.

In Jenny’s mind, she would fill up her boot and head out to Zimbabwe to make a small contribution.

But what started off as a few friends donating food has now escalated to a four ton truck packed with food and other essential supplies, ready to head-off to a village in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

“My friend Mike Hooks was chatting to a waiter in Rosebank called Thulani. The young waiter told him about the sad conditions back home in his village. He called me and that’s when I thought I should call 702 and appeal to them for help.”

Shortly after she called the station and told them of her intention to donate aid to a village in Zimbabwe, Des-Fountain says the calls started pouring in, and they haven’t stopped,

“People’s hearts have just opened. So many people who called me said they wanted to help, but they didn’t know how. I’ve even received over 200 e-mails.”

Running around in her Johannesburg home, which also doubles up as her office, the youthful Des-Fountain is full of energy and constantly up-and-about answering calls from interested parties and replying to e-mails offering help.

Her assistant Whanandi-Ann Louw, says Des-Fountain, has been the right hand of the operation, helping Jenny create a sense of order by ensuring that the administrative work is done.

According to Des-Fountain, it’s not just South Africans who have been in contact with the philanthropist, but Zimbabweans in South Africa have also been donating goods for their fellow compatriots back home.

“A man from Zimbabwe called me. He told me his story, as many other Zimbabweans have. He told me that he was forced to come to South Africa as his children were going hungry back home. After he told me his story, he wept over the line, I couldn’t hold back the tears myself,” says Des-Fountain.

Although the idea of sending aid to Zimbabwe was Des-Fountain’s, she doesn’t credit herself for the success of the project,

“I haven’t driven this, South Africans and Zimbabweans have driven this project. All I’m doing is riding on a wave, a wave of kindness and gratitude.”

So far, sorting out the logistics has been the most challenging part of this venture, but thanks to the generosity of a number of individuals and companies, they are being overcome.

Isuzu Trucks have donated a four ton truck, with a driver, to transport the goods to Zimbabwe. To drive the initiative online, Cantusstar website developers have helped Des-Fountain develop a site where people can keep abreast with developments around the project and pledge their donations.

Though many may view Des-Fountain’s venture as gracious, to her, it comes as a second nature.

She is the director of the Quantum-leap training and coaching institute,

“My company logo is ‘How can I contribute, life is love made visible.’ I basically help people find meaning in their lives.”

Quantum leap works with executives who want life coaching, with the aim of getting more out of life.

Its her work, she says, that has made her attuned to the needs of others and there was no doubt in her mind about what needed to be done when the opportunity presented itself.

The two villages that Des-Fountain and her team of assistants, including 21-year-old daughter Talia will be donating aid to, have run out of food,

“I received a call from one of the villagers, who heard that we were coming. The villager told me that food had completely run out now, and that there weren’t even any more fruits on trees.”

This has now prompted Des-Fountain and her team to move quicker than anticipated.

The first village has 120 people, and the second one nearby has 250 residents, who will all benefit from the donations made by South Africans and Zimbabweans who heeded Des-Fountain’s plea for help.

Meeting an immediate need

As preparations are underway for the truck to enter Zimbabwe, the country is grappling with a rapidly collapsing government system.

To this end, regional leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) leadership gathered in South Africa on 26 January to attend an emergency summit on Zimbabwe.

The main thrust of the meeting, attended by 15 member states, was to help the country’s President Robert Mugabe, representing the Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and a faction MDC breakaway party, reach a final agreement for governing the country.

Chaired by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, the current SADC chairperson, this is the fifth attempt at a solution.

During the meeting, a strong suggestion was put forward by the member states that Tsvangirai be sworn in as prime minister of Zimbabwe, while Mugabe remains the president.

The allocation of cabinet posts, which has been a main point of contention between the parties, was also discussed during the emergency round-table.

A power sharing deal brokered by former president Thabo Mbeki in September 2008 was largely seen as a chance to prevent an economic collapse in the Southern African country, where millions have already fled to find greener pastures in neighbouring countries.

Zimbabwe’s stumbling economy is now also standing on one leg, with the latest inflation rate reaching an all-time high.

The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the local Zimbabwe dollar is no longer used for trading in retail stores, estate agents are also asking tenants to pay for rent in foreign currency and even hospitals are now charging foreign currency for their services.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) recently demanded that workers in Zimbabwe be paid in foreign currency, as everything they need to pay for, is being charged in foreign currency, usually in US dollars or South African rands.

Steve Hanke, an economics at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, US, estimates that the latest official year-on-year inflation figure is standing at more than 231-million percent.

Hanke has also developed a hyperinflation index for Zimbabwe and in a recent article for the financial magazine, Forbes Asia, he put the annual inflation rate at around 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent, which is 65 followed by 107 zeros.

“Prices double every 24.7 hours and shops have simply stopped accepting Zimbabwean dollars,” he said in the article.

The cholera pandemic, a result of the country’s collapse water system, has seen thousands of people lose their lives.

Official statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that 2 755 people have died and 48 623 others are suspected to have been infected with cholera since August 2008.

Speaking to reporters on 22 January, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai blamed the government for the current cholera crisis. “Cholera in Zimbabwe is a man-made crisis. The problem we have here is coupled with (the) fact of negligence on the part of government to provide the necessary facilities. It shows the collapse of the health delivery system.”

The cholera outbreak has worsened as a result of erratic water supplies, shortages of water purification chemicals, broken water and sewer pipes and uncollected garbage.

Members of the public wanting to contribute can contact Jenny on 082 308 7181 or e-mail her at jenny@quantum-leap.co.za

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