Missionaries lend hand in Africa

But 1962 Warren G. Harding graduate Robert Vine and his wife, Candace, did just that. For the past 16 months, the couple have been trying to do their part to help ease the 90-plus percent unemployment rate in Zimbabwe and Zambia, by teaching multi-day seminars to young African men and women on building a resume, setting goals, networking and possibly even opening a business. The Vines are missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have signed up to serve for two years anywhere in the world. That is not an easy task considering most of the students they are assigned to teach have never held a ''real job'' and ''have lived their entire life growing maize and living in a mud hut in the African veld.'' Though the couple lives comfortably in a two-bedroom suburban flat in Zimbabwe's capital city Harare, their work brings them face-to-face with the impacts of the political and economical hardships facing the country. ''In Zimbabwe, we have found ourselves with a ring-side seat to an unfolding national tragedy ... The real pain, suffering and eventual death occurs mostly among those bouncing along the near bottom of the economy. That would cover about 75 percent of the population of Zimbabwe,'' Vine wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune Chronicle. ''The rural people are suffering the most because they have no access to cash. City people with jobs are still getting by, but the margin between survival and disaster is paper thin these days.'' In Zimbabwe, the average life expectancy is about 38. Massive inflation, food and fuel shortages and a crackdown on political opposition to President Robert Mugabe's regime have sent Zimbabweans fleeing by the thousands, leading to mounting concerns that South Africa will be swamped with destitute refugees. Vine said the line for bread in a KweKwe grocery store was about 200 people long, lining out of the store and down the block. All the rest of the shelves, except those containing liquor, were empty. Restaurants are either closed or out of nearly everything on the menu, and cars line up at least 40 deep waiting to get gasoline, even when there was no electricity to run the pump. Recently Zambian immigration authorities reported that the number of Zimbabweans crossing into Zambia at the southern border city of Lingstone had risen from 60 to 1,000 people per day, and that they feared the influx threatened security. While there are few reliable figures on the number of economic migrants crossing through South Africa's borders, estimates consistently refer to 3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa. Vine referred to Mugabe as a ''hero to some and nemesis to others," saying although the country is officially a democracy, it is nothing like the democracy known in the United States. ''. . . if you vote for anyone other than the ruling ZANU PF, your life may be in danger (yes we actually know people who have had to flee the country because they were 'suspected' of not being loyal),'' Vine wrote. ''The democracy reminds me of the Russian days where elections were held, but there were no real options. The smiling face of His Excellency President Mugabe is backed by a ruthless police force, a semi loyal Army and an invasive Central Intelligence Organization (like a CIA) that consider any political opposition to be equivalent to promoting what they call 'regime change' which is equivalent to treason and is dealt with accordingly.'' The Warren native grew up on Belmont N.E. and remembers ''when you could sit on the front porch on a summer night and watch the sky to the south turn red when Republic Steel would pour their ingots.'' After he graduated from Harding in 1962, he joined the U.S. Air Force and spent four years as a radar technician serving in Thailand during the first part of Vietnam. In 1966, he returned to Warren and began at Youngstown State University, from which he graduated in 1972 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has six children and soon-to-be seven grandchildren, but after his second retirement, he and his wife Candace decided to indulge their love of traveling. The couple bought a recreational vehicle and traveled both in the United States and abroad, visiting countries such as Israel, England, France, South Korea, Germany, China and Tibet. In March 2006, they packed their bags and headed to Africa. ''We are now feeling acclimated and are able to comfortably navigate our way around through cities, countryside, grocery stores and crowds in a sea of people where we are the only white faces in sight. Life in a Third World country like Zimbabwe has to be lived to be appreciated, and also needs to be accepted as another form of 'normal.' '' Vine wrote.
Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com