In recent decades, Zimbabwe has been marked by dictatorial leadership and economic meltdown—major contributors to its widespread poverty and decline in health. The nation has seen inflation skyrocket into the sextillions. But this year, a unity government effort has led to some political hope, and the recent dollarization of the economy has put a lid on hyperinflation. Despite the chaos and uncertainty that has painted the landscape, Zimbabweans are known as a resilient people.
During a trip to Zimbabwe in 1994, Dispatch frontman Chad Urmston met Elias Sithole—a gardener with a great capacity to love. Urmston went on to write what became one of the band’s most well-received songs, “Elias.” Inspired to do something to help Elias and his family, a fundraiser was organized. Friends of the band, Eric and Scott Byington, headed up the effort, helping to raise $13,000 for the family. Elias’ three sons were then guaranteed an education—the realization of their father’s dream.
After the Byingtons visited the country and met Elias firsthand, they went on to expand the effort into a grassroots organization, the Elias Fund, which now partners with local initiatives in Zimbabwe. The brothers aim to empower the struggling nation toward self-sustainability, so when they discovered locals already doing something in their own communities, they were inspired to offer partnership. The Elias Fund currently supports locals in Chiredzi and Kadoma who organize food and medical outreaches, educational scholarship funds and a micro-agricultural program. It also supports a school in Johannesburg, South Africa that educates Zimbabwean refugee youth. The Byingtons hope to begin supporting other local initiatives, perhaps in retail. The idea? Sell handmade shoes, made from recycled material, in the American market.
But the focus is not just on Africa. The Elias Fund encourages Americans to also remember to stay involved in community-building stateside. It stems from a greeting they discovered in Zimbabwe—one that’s become an approach to life. The nation has a strong belief in community, which impresses the Byingtons during their visits. “Life is meant to be more than just personal pursuits,” Scott Byington says. “It’s most vibrant when you are taking care of the community around you. When you care for those around you, they in return care for you. It’s a beautiful feeling. People in Zimbabwe have a saying for this feeling: ‘I am strong if you are strong.’ In this small African country racked with poverty and oppression, you find people dedicated to caring for their community. When everything is stripped away, we find that this is the only way to live abundantly.”
To find out more and learn how you can help, visit EliasFund.org.