A thin film of gray powder covers the scattered vegetable patches, hiding the green leaves. A gust of wind brings more of the toxic dust from the nearby factory that manufactures fertilizer.
Pollution is just one of the daily struggles at United Theological College, where students face difficulty getting enough clean water or adequate housing.
Adam Mutemachani, a second-year student studying to be a United Methodist pastor, said the pollution from Zimphos, the fertilizer plant, is a big challenge for students.
“Residual ash from the manufacturing process is heaped at a dump site near our college, and it triggers allergic reactions in students, especially those who are asthmatic,” he said.
Respiratory infections characterized by persistent coughing are endemic at the college, the 32-year-old student said. Newspapers and television stations in Zimbabwe have reported on efforts to control the pollution.
“There is a lot of dust in the air here, and we are supposed to drink a lot of milk to protect ourselves, something most of us can ill afford,” he said.
The Rev. Jairos Mafondokoto, The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe’s cabinet representative for the theological college, said boreholes that provide safe drinking water had to be drilled far from the college campus.
“The water situation has greatly improved over the past two months. Last year, we spent more time trying to get clean water for household use than studying. We would queue for a long time just to collect water to store in 200-liter (52-gallon) drums in our residences,” he explained.
System to share housing
Mafondokoto said a shortage of living space is a major headache, too.
“We do not have adequate houses for the students, and we have devised a system whereby two students and their families share the four-room houses available,” he said.
Mutemachani and his wife, Netsai, 28, share a house with a third-year student.
“Third-year students are given the opportunity to choose which of the four rooms they wish to occupy. As a result, my wife and I got the small kitchen and the smaller bedroom,” he said.
“Last year, I had only one room to use so I could not live with my wife on campus,” Mutemachani added.
Mafondokoto said the college library does not meet the research demands of the students.
“It needs to be beefed up. The library has old editions of theological books from the 1970s,” he said.
Mutemachani said the installation of an Internet Wi-Fi facility at the college was a welcome move but one from which few students benefit since not many own laptops.
“I am quoting very old textbooks because I do not own a laptop and cannot get updated information from the Internet,” he explained. “The college has only 18 computers for use by more than 200 students.”
Stretching the monthly stipend
The general welfare of students at United is also cause for concern, said Mafondokoto, as students who are not married get a monthly stipend of $120.
Mutemachani said he receives $152 monthly and must budget carefully.
“I am currently attached to Seke South Circuit, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from here, and I have to travel there every Sunday to attend church service. I also participate in activities such as conferences held on Saturdays,” said Mutemachani. A circuit in Zimbabwe is a church made up of more than 90 members. Seke Circuit, also known as St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, is located in the city of Chitungwiza and has more than 1,300 members.
Mutemachani’s duties at the circuit include preaching or serving as liturgist in order to gain practical experience in a church.
Roundtrip to Seke South Circuit and back to college by public transport costs $3.
“My wife and I are barely managing to survive,” said Mutemachani, who said the couple was grateful for the grocery hampers they received from the Zimbabwe East Conference women’s union, Rukwadzano Rwe Wadzimai. The total value of the hampers was $2,000.
The 43 United Methodist student pastors at the college received hampers. Eunice Muponda, evangelism chairperson for the women’s union, said the donation of hampers was part of the organization’s mission work.
“We were concerned about the welfare of trainee pastors. … Some of them are married and need extra support to care for their families,” Muponda said.
Mutemachani said the visit by the women’s delegation and the hamper he received, which included laundry soap, bath soap, cornmeal, a chicken, cooking oil, body lotion, toothpaste, sugar and rice, was a big help for him and his wife.
Mafondokoto noted that the gesture by the women’s union had uplifted the spirits of the student pastors. “We are grateful for the gift from the women’s union. This shows the church is concerned about the welfare of trainee pastors at the college.”
The 60-year-old United Theological College is an ecumenical institute that has about 100 ministerial candidates from mainline churches in Zimbabwe enrolled each year for training. The colleges offers a diploma in religious studies for 150 students who plan to become schoolteachers.
Student pastors come from The United Methodist Church, Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, United Congregational Church in Southern Africa, and the Uniting Presbyterian Church and African Methodist Episcopal.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.
News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469.