A friendship that’s growing

TO many of us it is simply home, or the place we go to work or shop. But thousands of miles away in Zimbabwe, Stevenage is seen as a beacon of hope and friendship. Back in 1989, the central Zimbabwean town of Kadoma was selected to become one of Stevenage

TO many of us it is simply home, or the place we go to work or shop.

But thousands of miles away in Zimbabwe, Stevenage is seen as a beacon of hope and friendship.

Back in 1989, the central Zimbabwean town of Kadoma was selected to become one of Stevenage's twin towns.

Nearly two decades later, the link is flourishing.

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Two organisations in Stevenage, the Stevenage Kadoma Link Association and Cornerstone, an inter-church youth group, run the twinning and have so far managed to help their twin town in numerous ways.

Firefighters from Stevenage have taken over a fire engine and trained locals to use it, an old people's home and a school classroom have been restored, an aromatherapy clinic set up.

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Currently the link association helps fund the education of 400 children as parents have to pay for schooling in Zimbabwe.

Because of this help and friendship, Stevenage has come to have a special place in the hearts of Kadoma residents.

When two members of the link association and three from Cornerstone made their way out to Zimbabwe last year, they found a warm welcome awaited them.

Cornerstone member Andy Hills, 49, was among the group, and witnessed first hand a huge celebration called Stevenage Day, set up especially by the people of Kadoma to thank their British friends.

Around 400 people gathered in the town square where children performed dances and specially-written songs and poetry.

Andy, who is a senior architect at Stevenage Borough Council, said: "It was particularly to express their thanks to the people of Stevenage for all they've done in supporting the Stevenage link over the years.

"It's really interesting because the link to them over there is like a lifeline in a small way."

The group had travelled out to Kadoma to see how the various projects they were involved in were faring because the troubled political climate had affected communication between the two countries.

Andy said: "First of all we didn't even know if we would get into the country because of the situation. We actually got a tremendous welcome right from the moment we hit the tarmac."

The Stevenage visitors had also been concerned about the welfare of their Kadoma friends, but soon found morale to be high.

"We found the people there in very good spirits and that was what we were surprised about. It was a great relief," Andy said.

The visitors from Cornerstone were particularly heartened to find that its Zimbabwean counterpart Sungano was still going strong. However, the political problems of this troubled country were having an impact.

"The economy there is just totally haywire and it is very difficult for people to cope with in everyday life," Andy said.

"The percentage inflation was running at was incredible."

Aids and unemployment are both rife, often with tragic results.

Andy said: "One of the strangest experiences for me was when we went into a carpentry workshop.

"You couldn't initially tell what they were making but then it became clear there were making coffins."

Among the hand-made coffins Andy saw were child-size versions.

The group did not directly discuss Aids with any Zimbabweans but the shadow the virus casts on the country was obvious.

"Walking around some of the outlying country areas, we saw malnutrition and people who were thin, which could be Aids related. What one notices, particularly in the youth centre, is that the information that they've got in there for young people is all Aids advice.

Despite the problems the country faces, not everything looks gloomy for the future.

In a bid to improve communication with Kadoma, the Stevenage visitors took a laptop over as a gift, and it is already helping improve the link.

"We've had some tremendous contact. It's almost been continuous which is something we've never had and is a real bonus," Andy said.

The Cornerstone contingent used the trip to see if it would be appropriate to take a group of young people out to Kadoma, as they have done in the past.

Because they were all welcomed so warmly, a group will be heading out later this year for three weeks. As part of their trip they will live among the people of Kadoma and the neighbouring township of Rimuka and work on various projects to help their Zimbabwean friends.

* For more information about Cornerstone, and its work and links with Kadoma, email Andy on andrew.hills@ntlworld.com

* Information on the Stevenage Kadoma Link Association can be found at: www.skla.org

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