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Zimbabwean doctor helps children accept themselves

Rujeko and Mazvita Machinga visited First United Methodist Church to talk about hydrocephalus and albinism in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 3
Mazvita Machinga, center, speaks while Cici Riehl and Rev. David A. Bard listen. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 3
Mazvita Machinga visited First United Methodist Church to talk about hydrocephalus and albinism in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

Mazvita Machinga, a visitor from Zimbabwe, spoke to members of First United Methodist Church on May 29 about a mission to help children affected with hydrocephalus and albinism.

Both groups of children tend to be neglected and even abused.

Machinga, a United Methodist and psychotherapist, is director of the Safe Communities Project in Mutare, Zimbabwe. When a doctor informed her that children with hydrocephalus and albinism are hidden away, she wanted to do something to help.

The Safe Communities Project provides a gathering place for these children and their mothers to share their concerns and to receive proper health care. Machinga teaches parents and villagers to accept the children.

"Superstitions are widespread," Machinga said. "Hydrocephalus and albinism are commonly perceived as a curse."

Children with hydrocephalus have abnormally large heads because of a excess water in the brain. Albinism is a lack of melanin, a natural substance in the body that gives color to hair, skin and iris of the eye. Children with albinism often have eye problems.

Children with these conditions are often kept behind closed doors. With proper attention they can live better lives.

Machinga is working to bring health care and support programs to families in the form of a mobile health clinic for prenatal care to pregnant mothers.

Shunts are used to drain water from the heads of children with hydrocephalus. Sometimes mothers and children need to travel 250 miles for shunt treatment.

Children with hydrocephalus tend to fall a lot. Machinga is starting a program which will pay for their mothers to attend a Red Cross first-aid training.

Machinga is looking for donations in funds and real goods such as toys to help develop children's brain neural network functions and hats to protect children with albinism.

"I was impressed by her attitude," church member Cici Riehl said. Riehl said she had not ever heard of hydrocephalus.

"I think her work bringing it out to the light and getting the children to accept who they are is good." Riehl said. "It's good that she is working to help their parents and village leaders to accept them."

Machinga earned a Ph.D. in pastoral care and counseling from Claremont University, a seminary affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Machinga was in the U.S. to attend the United Methodist General Conference, a global meeting of the church's top legislative body held in Portland, Ore. this year in May. While there she met Duluth's Rev. David A. Bard, who invited her to speak in Duluth.

Machinga also was in Minnesota for her daughter's graduation from Mankato State University. Her daughter, Rujeko Machinga, earned a master's degree in community health education.

For more information on the Safe Communities Project in Zimbabwe, see the website.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at