Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

One-woman aid mission to Zimbabwe


A truck destined for Zimbabwe is loaded with food in South Africa

By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Johannesburg

Fiftieth birthdays are supposed to be special.

But a party was the last thing on Jenny Des-Fountain's mind as her half century approached.

Jenny Des-Fountain
Jenny Des-Fountain will drive tonnes of donated food to Zimbabwe

"It just didn't seem meaningful when Zimbabwe was going through what it was going through," the blonde life-coach says.

"So I just got hold of my friends and said: 'Come on guys, bring a bag of mealie-meal [maize porridge powder] along', and they did.

"They brought beans and they brought fish as well and I ended up with a boot-load of food."

The plan then was simply to drive the food from Johannesburg to the Zimbabwe border and find someone to give it to.

Chance encounter

But after appearing on local radio and television it soon became clear that the food was not going to fit in her car.

Donated tins of pilchards and bags of food were now piled high in the garage.

Some 120 people in Thulani's village will benefit from the aid

The distribution of food inside Zimbabwe was also going to need some thought.

Clearly dumping several tonnes at the border was not an option.

The answer came in a chance encounter at a local restaurant.

As Ms Des-Fountain ordered she struck up a conversation with a waiter called Thulani.

Like many of the restaurant staff in Johannesburg, Thulani is a Zimbabwean and for the last two years has sent the money he earns back home.

"I called my mum and she told me that the situation is very tense," Thulani says.

"So many people are starving and she told me that my daughter would not be able to go to school as there is no money and no food."

So after a few more calls it was decided that this week Ms Des-Fountain will drive her truck to feed the 120 people in Thulani's village.

Drop in the ocean

A pastor there has promised to help manage the distribution.

Five million people - almost half population - need food aid
Central bank introduced Z$100tr note, worth about US$30 (20)
Unemployment more than 80%
Nearly 3,000 people dead in cholera outbreak

Ms Des-Fountain puts the overwhelming response to her appeal down in part to the South African government's inability to find a solution for Zimbabwe.

"What is our government doing? Let's be honest - they're not doing anything," she says.

"People are calling me asking me what can we do. They wonder what they can do because our neighbours are suffering so much."

Zimbabwe's problems are such that Ms Des-Fountain's truck is barely even a drop in the ocean.

But for Thulani's village it will make a real difference.

For those with cholera or chronic malnutrition it may be the difference between life and death.

While Southern Africa leaders may have drawn a blank, Ms Des-Fountain's one-woman aid mission is a reminder that there are still those who refuse to accept that Zimbabwe is a problem beyond hope or resolution.

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