When Kathy Gann, of Belle Plaine, and six other adults took a plane on March 11 and embarked on a trip to a remote part of the world, they had no idea the world would be changed when they returned.
Gann and the others set out on a United Methodist mission trip to Zimbabwe, Africa. After a brief stay at the country’s capital city, Harare, went to the village of Arnoldine where there was no running water, little electricity and no towers to get cell phone coverage.
It was only after a week when they returned to Harare, had wifi and retrieved messages from people back home, asking if they were okay.
“That’s when we heard about the virus,” Gann said.
“Some people have been very critical,” Gann said. “‘How dare you go on this trip,’ but when we left on the 11th, it was not like that.”
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) was not worried about the group contracting the virus because they had been in such an isolated area. Some of the flights back home were nearly empty and that’s when COVID-19 became more real to them.
To be certain they were safe, everyone in the group was asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days. They did, and everyone was healthy.
Gann spoke fondly of the people in the Arnoldine area of Zimbabwe, saying they live in small homes and have to wash with a bucket of water from the river, yet everyone and everything they have is immaculately clean.
While most of the people in her United Methodist mission trip worked on building a parsonage for the pastor of the local church, Gann, a teacher at Wellington Christian Academy, was invited to work with the children in the schools. The vast majority of children were well behaved and had been taught to value their education as a way of escaping their impoverished circumstances.
A former pastor, Gann preached the sermon at the church, which had 1,000 members, the most people she had ever spoken in front of. An interpreter translated her words to the congregation in their native Shona language.
“They are the most joyful, loving people I’ve ever seen,” Gann said. “But when they sing, boy, they sing loud.”
While in Arnoldine, Gann stayed in the home of a widow named Susan. Her home “was like a small bedroom,” Gann said. “That one room was her home.”
There was a place in the middle of the room for a cooking pot. Outside, there was an enclosed brick area for taking a bucket and washing rag bath with water from the river. The outhouse was another brick enclosed area with no toilet, just a hole in the floor.
Gann was invited to the primary school and secondary school in the town. The principal translated her words to the students.
“I was constructing a relationship with the kids about school, about Kansas,” Gann said. “It was a different kind of missionary work with the kids.”
Gann, who has been teaching for 20 years, brought a couple of suitcases filled with school supplies for the kids. She gave out 2,000 pencils, protractors, compasses, colored pencils, markers, crayons and paper.
There were also pictures Gann’s students back home had drawn, which she gave to the children in Arnoldine who, in turn, drew pictures for the kids from Kansas.
Gann took over 900 pictures in Zimbabwe. All the children wanted to get their pictures taken. Some of the kids had never had a picture of themselves taken before. Gann gave them prints of the pictures. Most of the children had never seen a white person before.
She is sad that there is no school for the remainder of this year, “no closure,” she said. When the stay-at-home order is lifted and churches reopen, Gann would like to speak to them about her experience in Zimbabwe.
“I want people to know what’s out there and about experiences you can have,” she said.