Clunes resident working with community to gather supplies for people in need

GIVING BACK: Wesley College students Jake Hymer, 14, and Max Rechner Thomas, 14, are helping to fundraise to support the people of Sidinda as part of the Collective Potential program, part of their International Baccalaureate. Photo: Dylan Burns
GIVING BACK: Wesley College students Jake Hymer, 14, and Max Rechner Thomas, 14, are helping to fundraise to support the people of Sidinda as part of the Collective Potential program, part of their International Baccalaureate. Photo: Dylan Burns

Clunes resident Michelle Leishman and her daughter Ellen have been fundraising for Zimbabwe for 18 years. 

When they inherited the rural Sidinda Health Clinic, a not-for-profit organisation in Zimbabwe in 2005, it was a shell. Today, the clinic is responsible for the medical needs of 5000 people.

Ms Leishman said she and her daughter were the sole financial providers for the clinic, and were also in the process of gathering resources for the town’s primary school. 

“On average, we raise $20,000 per year which goes to on-ground projects for health and education,” she said. 

Their initial connection to Zimbabwe was with wildlife in the early 1980’s but it was through witnessing the economic demise of Zimbabwe in the 90’s, that the women were inspired to fundraise to improve health and education facilities in the area. 

“Our support is linked through our long term friend Mark Butcher of Imvelo Safaris. He operates an eco-tourism arm of Imvelo which funds Community field officers to improve these facilities in rural and remote areas of Zimbabwe,” Ms Leishman said. 

PROUD: Michelle Leishman with the first baby born at the Sidinda Health Clinic in rural Zimbabwe. Photo: Supplied.

PROUD: Michelle Leishman with the first baby born at the Sidinda Health Clinic in rural Zimbabwe. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Leishman said since their time in running the clinic, it has greatly improved.

“The people of Sidinda had to walk up to 25km for medical aid. Now, Sidinda Clinic has three full time nurses and a nutritionist (who) see up to 600 people a month,” she said. “Apart from (addressing) daily medical needs, our nurses treat patients with malaria, HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases. We have built, in conjunction with World Vision, a separate birthing clinic for mothers to stay in one month prior to birth.”

In addition, the women have established a fruit and vegetable garden to support patients in waiting, as well as funding a water bore for the village, clinic and for the school as well as installing solar electricity and establishing a craft facility for women to run as a business in order to generate money for their community.  Ms Leishman and her daughter visit Sidinda Health Clinic, Sidinda School and Lumbora Secondary School every two years. 

Neither school has desks, chairs or books, so the women are working with organisations like Ballarat Base Hospital, Rotary Donations in Kind and Alfredton Rotary to pull together supplies, including medical supplies, like cots. 

A large portion of the clinic’s financial support comes from efforts undertaken by year nine students at Clunes’ Wesley College campus, who are participating in a program called Collective Potential, in which they work together to help people in need. Ms Leishman is working with the pupils to send a 40 foot shipping container, filled with education and medical supplies, to Zimbabwe from Melbourne by way of Durban and then through to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

From Bulawayo, it will be unpacked and distributed to Sidinda Health Clinic, Sidinda Primary School and Lumbora Secondary School by the contacts at Zimbabwe Imvelo Safaris Field Offices. 

On August 24, 20 students from the campus will be swimming laps sponsored by their parents and friends.

Ms Leishman said it was hoped that in 2019, other schools would join the fundraising effort to make the program more competitive and engaging.