Scholar felt called to help children with hydrocephalus

Vicki Brown

When Mazvita Machinga learned of the plight of children with hydrocephalus through a doctor who treated the children, she was horrified at the superstitions that are still widespread about the condition in which excessive fluid accumulates in the brain.

So Machinga, who earned her Ph.D. at Claremont School of Theology with financial help from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Women of Color Scholars program, offered children and their families a safe place to share their experiences.

Now, her pastoral counseling service in Mutare, Zimbabwe, works with about 100 children with the condition.

“There are many myths around having a child with a big head. These children are very vulnerable and sometimes neglected,”  said Machinga, who is also a graduate of Africa Universitey's Facuilty of Education. She said often, mothers in rural villages will hide children with the condition, so part of her work involves education.

Scholar felt called to help children with hydrocephalus | GBHEM
Dr. Mazvita Machinga talks about how her work with children with hydrocephalus wouldn't have been possible without her Ph.D. from Claremont School of Theology, which she earned with financial assistance from GBHEM's Women of Color Scholars program. Photos by Vicki Brown.

 “I was horrified by the superstitions that still are widespread; hydrocephalus is commonly perceived as a curse or caused through witchcraft, hence a child may be subjected to horrific abuse as a result,” Machinga said.

“This led me to say, ‘Here I am Lord. Make me an instrument to bring hope and life to these children and their families,’” she said. “When I got my Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to do pastoral counseling, that my calling is to help people learn and grow in the ways they handle life’s challenges.”

Machinga also works with the elderly, widows, single parents, people with mental health challenges or substance abuse, and youth and adolescents. She and many of her clients talked about the challenges they face with staff and members of the Board of Directors of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry during a visit in March.

Clara Shenje, the mother of an 18-year-old young woman who has hydrocephalus, talked about how she cried when her daughter, Talent, was born.

“I had never seen this type of problem,” she said. “But now I am grateful to God for the gift of this child.”

Not many of the children live to the age of 18, and because of that Talent is an example to mothers and families dealing with the condition. Machinga said Talent needs help to do some kind of vocational training after high school, because her mother cannot afford it.

“She can reach out to other children. She is an inspiration to us all,” Machinga said of Talent.

Scholar felt called to help children with hydrocephalus | GBHEM
Longina Mawere holds her baby, Tafadzwa Tasiiwei, as she dances and sings during a visit by GBHEM Board of Directors and staff to the pastoral counseling program in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

This is especially important in the villages where children are hidden away. That shame is made even more difficult by the fact that children with the condition are slow to develop motor skills and need more care than other children their age.

She also introduced a boy named Tanaka Chipongo, who she said only was able to sit up when he was 2-years-old. With surgery and physical therapy, he is beginning to stand on his own. “We are so proud of him,’’ she said.

Machinga credits the training she received with the help of the Women of Color Scholars program in opening the Pastoral Care and Counseling Services program that operates out of Elim Pentecostal Church in Mutare. The Women of Color Scholars program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“The power of the investment that was put in my education cannot be underestimated. I give my greatest appreciation to the help that I got from the Women of Color scholarship. From the education that I have received through my Ph.D., I have learned to journey with people in distress, helping them work through life problems and help them have productive lives. I can safely say the education that I received transformed my life and strengthens my calling as a caregiver,” Machinga said.

Allyson Collinsworth,  executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships, said the original goal of the Women of Color Scholars program was to provide scholarships for racial-ethnic women who wanted to earn a Ph.D. and teach at a United Methodist seminary. The program emerged from concerns raised by a network of professional women employed at UM seminaries and by participants at the 1987 Black Clergywomen’s Consultation regarding the lack of women of color in theological education.

The program provides up to $10,000 a year in scholarship funds for women of color who are Ph.D. or Th.D. students, as well as mentoring by women of color already working in theological education. Since it began, 40 have graduated, and 11 are teaching in theological schools. In 2006, GBHEM endowed the program with $500,000.

Talent Shenje, left, and her mother, Clara, talk about learning to live with the disease. Machinga said few children live to the age of 18, and because of that Talent is an example to mothers and families dealing with the condition.

“While Mazvita has not found employment teaching in a UM seminary, we believe her work as a pastoral counselor provides a wonderful role model to young women of color about the power of education when paired with the power of the United Methodist connection to transform the world,” Collinsworth said.

The Pastoral Care and Counseling Services program is a nonprofit organization that depends mainly on donations and funds from well-wishers and church members.

“Our greatest need is to build a counseling center for our province. . . . The local city council is willing to offer us space to build once we have some funds. A donation of around $50,000 will help us begin to build a spiritual care and counseling center in Mutare,” she said.

One of the things she would like to do is a survey to identify the causes of hydrocephalus and to determine why so many children in the area have the condition.

“At the moment what is very clear is that we have more pediatric/infant hydrocephalus. We need to find out why we have certain areas where women give birth to children with hydrocephalus,” Machinga said.

Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

How You Can Help

Donations can be made to the program through the Safe Communities Project Advance Special on the General Board of Global Ministries website. Click the Advance website link below to get more information and to donate.

If you give through your church, make checks payable to your local church and write SACOP and Project No. 3021538 in the memo line. Drop your gift in church offering plate. Or, you can mail a check directly to The Advance, United Methodist GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO New York, NY 10087-9068.

Support the Women of Color Scholars program.

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