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Catherine Foster '25 founds Friends of Chidamoyo
In 2019, Catherine Foster ’25 traveled with her mother, Elizabeth Foster, to Zimbabwe on a trip to Chidamoyo Christian Hospital. The 100-bed rural hospital that serves poverty-stricken patients was about a six-hour drive from the city, Foster says. “It’s a difficult journey for patients, especially those who are weak,” Foster says. “We picked up a woman on our way who was traveling to the hospital by mule.”
At Chidamoyo, Foster helped out with the hospital’s HIV patients by preparing vials for blood collection, she knit hats for the hospital’s newest, tiniest arrivals, and other times, she simply did her best to entertaining sick children. "These younger patients have nothing to do," Foster says. "No internet, no games, no TV, no puzzles." Foster was struck by how, with such limited technology and resources, a patient like Nora, a young girl Foster met who broke her arm falling from a tree, would spend months in the hospital to heal rather than return home to her village.
“It was really eye-opening to see how the hospital worked,” she says. Foster was particularly taken with the hospital’s maternity ward, which mostly consisted of small beds lined up on the floor.
“The hospital did have some technology,” Foster says. “But as far as having tons of IV bags around and a constant supply of medications like you’d see at a modern hospital, there was nothing like that.”
After her few days at Chidamoyo, Foster was sad to leave. She felt connected to the place, the people, and the mission, and she didn’t want the door she’d opened to swiftly close behind her. “I felt strongly that somehow, I could bring a part of Chidamoyo to St. Andrew’s, and continue to help from school, where we have a student body so willing to step up for other people.”
This all, once Foster saw that St. Andrew’s had settled back into routine and culture this school year, she launched Friends of Chidamoyo, a student service club, co-headed with Frankie Elliott-Ozug ’25 and Emma de Ramel ’25.
The trio started out by making blankets for the mothers awaiting care in the maternity ward. “The need for something as basic as warmth from a blanket is strong,” Foster says. Her time spent knitting hats while in Zimbabwe came with a learning curve, so instead, the three co-heads opted for hand-knotted fleece blankets, which will ship from Foster’s home state of California to Africa this summer.
“Making the blankets seemed like a good way to start, but I really wanted to make Chidamoyo real to St. Andrew’s,” says Foster. To do that, she invited the head of the hospital, Dr. Major Mereki, to a Zoom conversation that centered on public health, medicine, service, and community.
“I thought if someone with the personal experience of being there on the ground every day could talk to us, that’d be important,” Foster says. “His perspective was incredibly valuable.”
Mereki Zoomed with students in April, and told them about the new pre-partum care unit the hospital started after women kept coming to the maternity ward too early because they had no where else to go, nor were they sure how far along they were in their pregnancies. He also told the 15 or so students in attendance in the Gahagan Room in the O’Brien Arts Center about the alligator bites he treats; the dentist who comes in once a month; the local community that has rallied around Chidamoyo; obstacles the hospital faces; and, most important, how critical it is to tell Chidamoyo’s story.
“Dr. Mereki basically told us, bear witness, and share the story with others, so people can find out about the work,” Foster says. “There are only so many ways to get supplies to where they are, so we need more people involved.”
Foster notes some of her classmates—like Ashley McIntosh ’25—were so inspired after the conversation with Mereki that they were trying to figure out how to become boots-on-the-ground advocates in Africa.
“That talk really showed me that a lot of students want to be involved in service like this,” says Foster, who hopes, with her co-heads, to evolve the club toward an even bigger mission. “I’d like to start thinking about how our club could somehow help provide medical gloves and equipment and other tools to the hospital. It was really nerve-wracking for me at first to put myself out there and say to the student community, ‘This should be important to you,’ but the response has been really great, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”
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