I Am Strong if You Are Strong

The Elias Fund is a non-profit organization that believes community matters . . . and this is our blog.

Manuel: 4 Years Later

Many of you will remember this story. When it first occurred it was a heartbreaking and incredibly difficult time. Nearly four years ago, the son of our namesake and first ever scholarship recipient, Manuel, was stabbed in the head and left for dead. MIraculously, he survived and through the support of incredible people in Zimbabwe and all over the world he has made an extraordinary recovery. Many of you contributed financially to the Ndakasimba Trust that was established to cover Manuel’s health care costs and rehabilitation expenses. Many of you offered thoughts and prayers for his safety and life. The story below, told by our partner Rob, is a story of strength, resilience, belief persistence and an incredible example of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Many of you played a part in making this story possible. Thank you. 

There are some days when I look at my life and wonder what on earth I am doing. Yesterday was just such a day. We had Elias Sithole and his family around for tea. The time spent with them blew me away and I hope I have learned some lessons from them that I can build on for the future; lessons we would all do well to learn and gain some perspective from.

Elias and His family arrived in a car, their own car. Now this may not be amazing to you if you look at it as it stands on its own, but as with everything, if you scratch below the surface you find that there is so much more to the story than meets the eye, and here is why:

Elias earns less than $300 a month and lives in a small village with his family on a sugar estate. He does not earn enough to pay for much beyond bare necessity much less buy a vehicle. However, the values he has instilled in his family have empowered his sons and created in them a determination to help themselves out of a tough situation and start to do well for themselves. Manuel, Elias’ eldest son was stabbed a few years ago just before he was due to start university under scholarship. It should have been a fatal wound as he was stabbed through the head and the blade went all the way through his midbrain. The attack came from a boy who had taken a 2kg bag of sugar from the family and Manuel was asking for it back. Incredibly, Manuel didn’t die. He recovered and over time, with the help and support of friends and family, learned to walk again and function with a degree of normality far beyond any expectations that the doctors had for him. Unfortunately, as a result he was not able to go to university due to needing sustained healthcare and various other issues. So, he started to buy small items and resell them in his village. His brain which had been injured and affected his ability to speak properly had not cost him his abilities to deal with numbers or his ability to formulate a business plan, nor had he lost any determination to get on with life and be productive.

As soon as his brother Honest was done with high school they became business partners, and with Honest’s equally positive work ethic and the fact that he was more mobile than Manuel, his presence brought a positive influence to the business. Honest started buying things from across the border and bringing them back to sell with Manuel, increasing their product base and so expanding their customer base.  They have had the ability to see where the needs are in the retail markets here and work towards providing customers with what they want. The result of this is that not only are they contributing to projects like the house that is being built for their family, but they have made enough profit to buy a vehicle which increases their mobility and allows them to open up another line of business in transporting people from one place to another.

How many people do you know of who have grown up in such impoverished and tough circumstances who have pulled themselves through it so remarkably? When was the last time you heard of a family like this with a single earning parent on less than $300.00 per month, have enough money to pay $6,000.00 cash for a car? Through their hard work they have put over $2,000.00 towards the building project being done for them; they are remarkable. To top it all off yesterday Elias reaches into his pocket and tells my mother, Mrs. Maureen Davy, “this is the way that my mouth says thank you to you for all you have done for us as a family”, and when his hand comes out of his pocket he is holding cash that is equivalent to a full month’s salary for him, and he gives it to her.

Never have I been so ashamed of the little I have done with the large amount (in comparison) of resources that I have. I have done a little and it may have been good but I have not done nearly enough. These are the types of people we should be investing in in this country. Those who have taken a little, and in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, have excelled with it. I was inspired and happy and proud and sad all at once. Inspired by them to do better and to do more with what I have. Happy for them because they have done so well and have retained a beautiful humility that only makes their success more poignant. Proud to know them and to be a part of their lives and proud because they were so keen to show us what they had been able to do and desired to celebrate their success with us. Humbled and saddened by the comparison of my life to theirs, not in quality of life but in quality of achievement. Like comparing  a man who plants a single seed and witnesses it grow into a mighty tree which bears much fruit and provides shade for others, to a man who plants a bed of beautiful flowers that grow and look beautiful for a season but that fade away and die, leaving no lasting goodness save a fading memory of beauty and fresh soil to plant in.

This is why we are here, in this place at this time, for stories such as these, these moments that change our lives and help us change the lives of others around us. If we can teach those we are trying to help, using even a fraction of our resources, to do what they can with what they have in the same fashion as Elias and His family then we perhaps will be heading towards a place where we can do something with an impact that lasts a little longer than a fading memory of good things past.  

The Sithole Family and their new car: (From left to right) Obey, Honest, Manuel, Elias and Servi. 

"It is so simple, so let’s keep doing it"

The following post was written by Rob Davy, one of the Co-Director’s of our partner group, Elias Foundation Trust (EFT). It’s a letter written to the participants who participated in our pilot trip over the summer and it provides a look into and a perspective on the work that was accomplished by the 10 people that took part in the journey. 

As time has passed since our brief little excursion into the Gudo community with our group of daring and slightly offbeat volunteers we have gained some insight into the potential that these projects have. Potential for good and potential for bad. It has been good to see all the feedback from the group, the forming of an alumni group and all the promise that holds for future endeavours. It has been good to see how different people have been affected by the time spent here. Some seem to have gone back and disappeared once more into the hustle and bustle of American life and others seem to be restless as a result of their visit. Their sojourn here creating the same sort of feeling you get when you have an itch that you cant reach, that uneasy frustration and desire to do everything possible to scratch it in the hope that it will be a desire satiated and you can concentrate on other things. Let me tell you now, the itch doesn’t go away easily, we will see you soon I am sure (said with a smile and a wink).

I am not entirely sure how you all felt upon returning to America, I know that the change from here to there must have been fairly dramatic, the contrast between home and Gudo somewhat unreal. What did you take away with you? Looking back, what do you think you achieved? These are questions that will be asked continually of you and the answers will change over time as you see more of what happens as a result of your work. As we speak the clinic has a block up to about roof level and we will be going there soon to give you some up-to-date photographs. The area has been getting progressively hotter and drier and the food shortages more severe and the need for the clinic to be completed more urgent than ever. Yet you speak to the people there and they seem to be the same, perhaps some what leaner, but also more resilient. Kids are being born, the ladies are drawing water from the borehole, the men are laying bricks and drinking beer and that same kid is still belabouring his donkeys with a stick; in short, life is going on.

Because of your visit, however, their lives will never be the same again. You may not have felt completely involved but the reality is that without you being there to kick start it, to light a metaphorical fire in that community, it would not be where it is now. There would not be a building standing on that barren patch of ground. You remember how you sweated for a week and then went home feeling that you hadn’t done much? Tell that to the mother who has lost three children due to insufficient medical care, or to the husband who lost his wife to malaria for the same reasons. You see, where you may think you have wasted time, what you in fact did was leave a legacy of hope, because when that mother or that husband sees the beginning of that clinic they see that there is a tomorrow for those they care about.

None of you are incredibly wealthy, but you came with what you had and you made a change in people’s lives by being present and giving what you had in both time and money. That teaches people that change comes through ordinary everyday people of every tribe and colour including their own. Not necessarily from the biggest corporations or the most powerful people, but rather through people like you and me and the people of Gudo.  Where does that leave us? Off the hook, walking away feeling that our job is done? On the contrary, I believe that it shows us that once we get involved and witness such things our responsibility is greater than ever. We have seen what can be done, that this is not some NGO, African-orphan petting zoo for self gratification. Rather this is a time and a place where we can instigate positive and lasting change in peoples lives, we have an opportunity to change peoples’ worlds and lives forever in the best ways possible. And it is so simple, so lets keep doing it and lets keep finding ways to do it better. 

The things I learned with a bucket on my head

We have been home from Zimbabwe for nearly two weeks and the landscape of Zimbabwe continues to run through my mind while the laughter of the Gudo people echoes in the background of my thoughts as I do my best to get back into my routine in Chicago. My initial reaction upon arriving home was how we have so much “stuff” in comparison to the people we left in the Gudo village. Even my grandfather noticed this as he looked at my pictures from the trip at his house. When he looked at the pictures of the school children, their smiles radiated off of his television screen and he kept saying how happy these children looked and how they may not have everything, but they are simply so happy.



            The people in the Gudo village taught me in a humbling manner to appreciate the intangibles in life: conversations, stories, company and experiences over how much money you have in your pocket or possessions you have in your house. For the four female Elias Fund volunteers, we were able to converse with the women in the community over daily trips to the borehole to get water. The women were patient and kind, and usually highly amused, by our attempt to carry the buckets of water with no hands. By the end of the week we still carried our buckets of water with one or two hands, while the women in the community walked in ease with buckets of water, filled nearly to the brim, as well as buckets full of stones, with their hands remaining at their sides. During these walks we introduced ourselves and learned each other’s names, spoke about our families, homes, interests, and exchanged stories about our own lives. We learned that the women learn to carry a bucket on their head when they are twelve years old, with no hands, while typically becoming a mother the following year at thirteen years old.

            I met another Ashley in the village and her son Ask (in the picture below). She has another son, Again, whom was at home the day we were filling our buckets with rocks to be taken back to the primary clinic work site. The women kept shouting, “Ashley,” and I would wave, and then they would point to the Ashley that lives in the village and all of the ladies would burst out laughing, being entertained by the visual of two Ashley’s, from two different sides in the world.


            Mama Maria (in the picture below helping me put a bucket on my head) and Mama Leta were our liaison with the community women as they were at our campsite for the entire week, cooking delicious porridge for breakfast and sadza for dinner, accompanied with a rotating type of meat and fresh vegetables, sometimes from the community garden. Mama Maria and Mama Leta’s demeanor and work ethic reflected positively of the women in the community and were proof of how hard the women worked, being strong both physically and emotionally. It was incredible to watch the women trickle in from surrounding villages as word spread regarding the progress of the primary care clinic.



            Midweek, our goal was to fill the well with water several feet from the clinic in order to have easy access to water to mix with the rocks to create cement. Before we knew it, there was a constant and steady stream of women walking to and from the river  to collect water, and bucket after bucket emptied into the well, causing it to overflow. The work immediately shifted back to getting rocks, with the women then coming into the worksite with their buckets on top of their heads full of small stones, pouring them into piles spread throughout the sides of the foundation of the primary care clinic. The progress we made through building relationships far exceeded the tangible progress we made in building the clinic.

            However, the morale and community relationships need to remain strong and grow, in order to finish the primary care clinic. We were able to raise enough money to provide 20,000 bricks for the clinic, which will reach the roof level. The community not only consists of the Gudo village, but of the Elias Fund volunteers and supporters all over the world. I cannot wait to return to Zimbabwe, as it has an unique pulse like no other country that I have traveled to, and it will always draw me back to it because of the stunning landscape and genuine people. A sincere and big thank you to the Davy family (Mo, James, Rob, and Steph) and the Byingtons (Bruce, Scott, and Eric). This trip would not have been possible nor successful without any of you. Until next time. Love, Ashley

Reflections On Our Journey

Immediately following our recent trip to Zimbabwe, I found it difficult to wrap my head around all the images, relationships and cultural insights, let alone putting it into words. Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had time to digest, and i’ll give it a shot here.

I’ll start at the beginning. The day before we left on what would be the trip of a lifetime, I had to sit for my doctoral boards. So the plans for Zimbabwe seemed a bit rushed for me. Luckily, I have a great wife who took care of most of the packing for me while I had my nose buried in books. We travelled to Manhattan to sit for the boards, then flew out of JFK the next day. Immediately following my boards, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we would be boarding a plane to Africa in less than 24 hours. But we did some sight-seeing, grabbed a late dinner and got the last night of sleep in America before departure.

From the moment we stepped onto the plane in Queens, we knew something amazing was about to happen. It was hard to get some quality shut-eye on the overnight plane to Frankfurt, Germany, with the whirlwind of emotions and the anticipation of what was coming our way. We landed in Germany and met the rest of the team before spending our 10 hour layover wandering the streets of Frankfurt. After some soft-pretzels and traditional German hefeweizen, we made our way back to the airport for the next portion of our travels. We flew to Johannesburg, South Africa before assuming our home for the next two weeks, the incredible and beautiful country of Zimbabwe.

We were greeted at the airport by members of our host family, newlyweds Rob and Steph Davy, who would prove to be our sanity and our caretakers for the duration of our stay. We spent one night in Harare before embarking on the early morning 5 hour drive to Chiredzi. After one night in our host house, we travelled another 2 hours to the Gudo Village, 40km from the tar road that brought us there. We pulled in well after sundown to find members of the village anxiously awaiting our arrival. We had a short introduction ceremony, followed by prayers to keep us safe and healthy while working. We then broke out the tents and had a late night camp set-up before collapsing for the night. Early the next morning, the team started on various tasks. I assumed the job of bricklaying for the new bathroom soon-to-be-installed. My mentor, Robert was more than understanding with my lack of experience in this arena. He taught me well, and before you knew it, the walls were built and we moved on to the next of many jobs. The women worked hard, carrying buckets of stone and water from the river, really connecting with the women of the village. My wife found this to be one of the most interesting and touching experiences of the trip. The time when the women would get to the watering hole and sit momentarily for a rest. The women would open up to them, telling them about life in the village and sharing their experiences. Working with the men, my outlook was quite different. They were a little more quiet and less talkative during work hours. They were there to work and most of their talking with us was directing work flow to appropriate areas. I had a friendly connection with one man, who I found myself working with day in and day out. But even so, all I would here from him was, “TJ. Come,” and “TJ. Stop.” But I could tell by his demeanor and his half-smirk when working together that we had an immediate connection. One afternoon, he invited me to come with him to his home to fetch more buckets for hauling water. I was lucky enough to meet his two sons and two daughters, as well as his wife. I felt truly accepted by the community at this time. Being invited to his home to personally meet his family was a touching offer that I will never forget.

After a few days of working in the village, the volunteers were incredibly amazed at the increase in man power that occurred. Other members of the village had heard about our presence, the construction and the progress it was making and decided to come help. What started as twenty or thirty workers quickly morphed into one hundred. Although it was rather frustrating only having three wheel-barrows and four shovels, the impact that we had on the village after only a few days was incredible. They looked truly empowered and proud of what was being accomplished. The days turned into nights, and the nights turned into days, and before I knew it, it was time to head out. Although the clinic only had a few layers of bricks for walls, and there is much more work to do, we all left there with a feeling of accomplishment, knowing that it was our presence that provided bricks, wheel-barrows, shovels, buckets and hope. The community was sad to see us go, but after some heart-felt goodbyes, they were seen immediately returning to the work site. With no time to lose, construction once again commenced. I’m eager to return, to view the progress of what we were able provide.

We spent a few more days in Chiredzi before our light hearts grew heavy and we departed. Upon returning home, there is an insurmountable feelings of sorrow, pride, empathy, wonder, empowerment and global responsibility, among others. My wife has said on a number of occasions since being stateside, that she is feeling drawn to return to Zimbabwe. She has feelings of a certain magnetism attracting her back to the people, the scenery and the need for help that is so apparent there. We feel so blessed to have been a part of this trip, while recognizing the uphill battle for future endeavors. It is an exciting time to be associated with Eric, Scott and the Elias Fund. Big changes for the Earth are in store. With special thanks to the team, the hosts, the community and the trip leaders, until next time… T.J. Shaughnessy

Belated Thanks

I have just returned home from the pilot trip to Zimbabwe with the Elias Fund and it is something I will truly never forget. I got to spend a little over two weeks with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting let alone working with on something as powerful and moving as this experience.

I have to admit though it’s been eerie being back and returning to the uniquely American bubble I live in. I know I’ve left behind so many amazing people with not so certain futures and the things I experienced for just a few days are a microcosm of what they go through over the course of a lifetime.

It’s difficult for me to begin thinking about everything I have to do now that I’m back knowing that it pales in comparison to the kinds of struggles they’ve gone through. Through it all though I find solace in what I was able to learn through this process and remembering the qualities of those I went through this journey with. Before I left I was never really able to fully express my gratitude to everyone involved and I regret not showing it enough in person but hopefully it isn’t too late to make the effort…

To the Davy family, Rob, Steph and Mo specifically, I will always remember and admire you for your strength in the face of adversity and uncertainty, your unrelenting desire to help those in need, your intensely genuine faith and spiritualty, your love and respect for art and nature, and finally your hope and trust that you have the ability to change and improve the lives of the people around you and make not just the country you live in, but the world a better place. This is just a few of the reasons I am grateful for all that you have taught me and I know I will be able to draw from what I’ve learned for the rest of my life.

To Scott and Eric Byington I am eternally grateful to you guys for allowing me to be a part of this opportunity and for affording me the chance to do something I would have otherwise never really had the means or ability to do and for having the bravery and strength to launch an endeavor like this with such a noble cause behind it. And to Bruce Byington I am grateful for your teachings on leadership and your ability to help break down the cultural barriers that stand in between efforts like this and progress. Your open and light hearted nature is infectious and it is easy to see where your boys got their sense of humor and caring personalities.

To the rest of the crew I will always remember and be grateful for the time we spent together and your seriousness towards the cause along with your ability to not take everything too seriously…if that makes any sense? It was really an honor getting to know each of you and working alongside one another. It became clear very soon into the trip that this was a special group of individuals devoted to helping others and not just a collection of people looking to add another stamp to their passport. We were able to forge many new friendships, many of which I know will continue to grow for several years to come.

In the end I know we all have to move on with our own lives and it will be difficult to gauge the lasting effects of this experience but I know that as long as those involved continue to put forth the effort and do so for the right reasons this type thing can only continue to grow. It will take time, maybe longer than we hope, but if I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that you have to persevere in the face of adversity, and the only time in which we fail is not the moment we make a mistake but the moment we give up and stop trying.

Again thank you all, these experiences and lessons are ones that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Lots of love,

Jackson Connolly

To learn more about Jackson, visit his bio page. 

And So It Goes …

The pilot trip is in full swing and updates (and pictures) are happening over on EF’s Twitter! 

Here’s a few highlights thus far:

  • 7/4 - “Halfway there! Teams all here (minus Ashley who’s on her way) in Frankfurt. Next stop Jo’burg!”

  • 7/6 - “Great day today! Picked up the missing three bags and then drive 5 hours to chiredzi. Big brie tonight and off to the project tomorrow!”
  • 7/12 - “Incredible day. Brick foundation of the clinic is laid. Spent the afternoon at a primary school where we were gifted corn, greens & 4 chickens! Now, dinner time.”
  • 7/13 - “Left the project site this afternoon. The foundation of the clinic is in place and the leadership training was fantastic. Goodnight from Zim!”

We’ll be posting more once the team returns. Thanks for following along and supporting the trip.

Why go?

We are counting down the minutes until take-off of our first ever Service and Leadership trip and the anticipation is exciting. Two thoughts have been on my mind as we prepare to leave: I’ve spent time reflecting on the last time I was in Zim, and also considering a question that is so often asked of us before we leave - why?

My last journey to Zimbabwe was hands down my most difficult trip to date. A broken phone call, from half way around the world, informed me that one of my closest friends from home had suddenly passed away. It was a call that knocks the air out of your gut and slows time around you. We carried on and pushed through the work we had to get done, but every day it was a challenge to focus on the task at hand. As the trip came to a close and we gathered with partners to say our goodbyes, a new moment presented itself that will always remain etched in my memory. Our friend and partner, the great Dr. D, was battling cancer at the time, but looking strong and fit. That was part of who he was though, a strong and resolute man. Everyone there held hope that he could, and would, defeat his illness, but the unspoken reality was that his sickness was one that would be hard conquer.

When it came time to depart, the hug between he and I lingered longer than normal, our goodbye was a bit more absolute. As our car drove away, I told myself I’d see him again, but the sinking feeling in my heart knew that I would not. He was a man that embodied honesty, strength, and goodness. He is someone I will always admire and aspire to emulate. And, he was a rock to the community we work in. His absence has deeply impacted everyone involved with the Elias Fund, but, most importantly, it has inspired us to carry on.

The question of why tends to take on many forms. Why do we go? Why Zimbabwe? Why travel halfway around the world to serve and learn? Why not serve and learn in your own community? Like an inquisitive five-year-old child discovering the workings of the world, these simple questions of why can be endless.

These questions are not always simply answered, however. For each person the answer will be different and can often be open to healthy debate. An individual’s stance on the question will surely be determined by his or her own worldview and lens.

For me, this question of why has never felt more relevant. A wildfire of “epic” and “historic” proportions recently ripped through the neighborhood in which I grew up. My childhood home was threatened, causing my family to flee the oncoming firestorm. Incredible flames reduced neighborhoods I used to ride my bike through as a kid to nothing more than charred rubble and left friends and neighbors homeless. If ever there has been a time I have asked myself why travel halfway around the world to work in a foreign community, that time is now.

I feel a strong pull to go back to the place I call home and do my part to help restore the community I grew up in. The neighborhood that my friend – the one who passed during my last trip to Zimbabwe – lived in was one of the most severely impacted by the fire. I feel compelled to honor him by serving his immediate community. At the same time, I’m drawn to Zimbabwe. It’s a place that I’ve come to love and respect. I’m inspired by Dr. D’s legacy and his strong spirit, which leads us to assist in building a primary care facility for people that have been persistently working to fulfill their community health care needs for nearly a decade.

I’ll board a plane headed towards Zimbabwe soon and I must continuously ask myself the question why, but for now, the answer for me is simple. It’s all because of relationships. I feel compelled to return to Colorado Springs because of relationships with family and friends and neighbors. And, I go to Zimbabwe because of relationships with friends who have become like family.

I can’t wait to get this trip underway (in just under an hour now) and continue to pursue this question of why. I’m excited to return to a place I love and to share it with new people who I hope will answer their own questions of why. And I look forward to continuing to share these learning’s and experiences as we move through this work together.

Lastly, I look forward to continuing to serve these communities in way that would make my friend and Dr. D proud.

- Eric B. 

Mike and Ian updating from Belchertown - The Night Before Edition

Mike and Ian are two of the Elias Fund team members traveling to Zimbabwe today! Here is their conversation the night before the trip…   
 (IG): What’s the Toughest Part About Packing? 
(MW): The toughest part about packing for me was not knowing exactly what I need. Like knowing the clothing I like, over what is necessary. Like should I bring short sleeve or long sleeve t-shirts, little questions like that have been stressing me out.   

(MW) Tomorrow’s a huge day of travel, what’s one thing you’re looking forward to… and one thing you’re nervous about. 
(IG) +Probably the thing I’m most excited about about traveling tomorrow is the opportunity to meet parts of the team. All we’ve had so far is superficial phone conversations, but having quality time to sit and really get to know the people on the trip will be awesome. 
(IG)- Just the general physical strain. Being up for long periods of time, knowing that I don’t sleep well on planes. I’m really just realizing how much traveling we’re going to be doing. 

(IG) How did you really feel starting the trip today? (Mike and Ian started Monday from Burlington to Belchertown, MA.) 
(MW) I guess, today was hard. I was trying to balance between keeping my mind off the trip, but also your mind off the trip. Knowing that is was important to talk about trip with you, but also consciously choosing to talk about other things as well. Which is really easy with you. I count it as a real blessing having a close friend on the trip, and not only team members I have yet to meet.

(MW) Generally how would you catalog your feelings about the trip, your general psyche? 
(IG)  Up until today it was excitement and excellent feelings. I was at a party the other night and I got to say what a cool and fulfilling project I was about to be on. But today I hit this wall of reality, and I got really scared. I’m feeling like I’m not really ready to experience this intense change. This is going to push me outside my comfort zone, so I think it’s going to be a positive experience overall. 

(IG) Same Question, Generally how would you catalog your feelings about the trip, your general psyche? 
(MW) I am scared… really scared. I think it is more nerves scared than actually being scared. I am not used to stepping out into a situation that I don’t know, and can’t really predict. I mean, we go to school in Burlington Vermont. Even tomorrow when we will be in Germany, I feel like I have more of understand of what to expect than when we are in Zimbabwe. But actually it is that unknown, the unexpected, that is acting as kind of a calling. 

To learn more about Mike and Ian, visit their bio pages.

Feeling so grateful

Finally reached my fundraising goal over the weekend!!!  Ah and it feels so good.  I’ve never attempted to raise that much money before.  It blew me away at points to see so many people being so generous; especially those whom I haven’t connected or spoken with in years.  It’s been very powerful to see who reads your story and shares in your belief.  Money tends to be a touchy subject and asking for it proves to be no different.  When it comes down to it you kind of have to be ruthless.  But then again, I can’t remember the last time I heard of someone regretting a donation…especially one to a cause so great.  

Whether it was pocket change or a chunk of someones savings, whether it was big or small, it added up. And it continues to.  Three hours after reaching my goal an old friend (whom I haven’t seen in seven years) made a $50.00 donation to my page.  To connect with people like that for the first time in years, over something so moving… It feels awesome to say the least.  I’m extremely thankful for the people I am surrounded by and have been completely in awe over the past few months. Generosity and support has literally been pouring out from every direction.  For my brother, too.  Seeing all of the donations posted to his fundraising page and reading the comments left by contributors has been so inspiring and at times so emotional.  

People have been, and continue to be, so supportive, so generous, and so proud.  This is how change is started.  It only took one person to believe. :)  

- Jenna W. 

To learn more about Jenna, visit her bio page.

Before we go

A few nights ago my parents hosted a BBQ as a bon voyage to Zimbabwe. Maggie was kind enough to send out I am Strong if You are strong bracelets and necklaces for another push to raise money for The Elias Fund. They were immediately a hit, as shown above by the gentlemen and then ladies showing off how strong we really are! I cannot wait to finally meet all of the amazing team members face to face: Eric, Scott, Jenna, Josh, Kyle, TJ, Ian, Mike, Jamie, Noemi, and Jackson. As a teacher, I am fortunate to have these days preceding the trip off to fully focus on packing and getting myself ready for this unbelievable opportunity. Below is the beginning stages of sorting out what I truly need to take versus what I want to take with me on the trip.


The biggest goal that has been reached is actually fitting my sleeping bag underneath my backpack. It took way too long to fit it through the two straps underneath my carry- on backpack! As I was going through my t-shirts, I came across a gem; check out the Dispatch Zimbabwe t-shirt circa July, 2007. Fast forward five years, and I have to keep pinching myself that I am lucky enough to be joining The Elias Fund on its Pilot Trip to Zimbabwe! I am looking forward to meeting our friends in Harare, Chiredzi, and the Shangaan village. We have an incredible group of people determined to help break ground on a primary care clinic in a Shangaan village. Other projects include hopefully breaking ground on a community center in Tshovani, assist in refurbishing the Chiredzi Poly-clinic, and potential for working on Elias’ home. I hope time is on our hands, allowing us to reach out to as many people and areas as possible and I cannot wait to see what we end up accomplishing by the time our plane lands on July 19th back in the United States. By no means is this trip a one hit wonder. The Elias Fund will only continue to grow and expand, reaching out to as many people in Zimbabwe as possible as time goes on. My intention is to help out as much as I humanly can, remaining strong to help those in Zimbabwe stay strong.    


- Ashley J. 

To learn more about Ashley, visit her bio page.