The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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April 2017

Palm Crosses

Canon Margaret Johnson

For many years weve bought our palm crosses from the Zulem Trust in Northampton. This will be the last year we use their crosses as the Trust is closing.  So in this last letter from the Zulem Trust we thought you might like to know a little of its history.......

Once upon a time there was a group of grandmothers in Zululand. Faithful Christians. Upset that they had nothing to give to God because they were so poor. Their assistant priest (fresh out of a curacy in England) said what can you do?

We cant do traditional beadwork: our eyes are too weak and our hands are too bent and we have no spare time. Perhaps you could make palm crosses.?

That was 1963. The priest sent a packet of palm crosses to his father who was a vicar in Yorkshire. He sold them to his congregation and sent back 10.00 to Nongoma.

A fortune to grandmothers. They could now put money in the collection plate. So they kept making a palm crosses. Every spare minute.

Do you know what they did next?
They built a beautiful church designed by this priest who also happened to be a structural engineer. Still lived in traditional mud houses themselves but built an exquisite house for God.

Then the priest came to be Team Rector in Northampton and set up the Palm Cross Charity (later the Zulem Trust): a partnership between the Emmanuel Group of Churches and Zululand.

Three quarters of a million pounds has gone back to Nongoma, to Eshowe, to the diocese of Zululand. Three quarters of a million pounds in hard cash plus untold and immeasurable investment in lives.

Those original grandmothers have long since gone to their eternal reward but a new generation of grandmothers found themselves looking after little children. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren. HIV/AIDS  wiped out two generations.

No income except making palm crosses. But the palm crosses provided a steady annual wage that kept 60 extended families in food and clothes.

Some children however lost all their relatives. The fields of crosses are a terrible sight. Graves as far as the eye can see. So for 10 years as the palm cross income grew we were able to feed up to 1000 orphans a day with a hot meal.

The money you have sent for your palm crosses has paid for field workers to teach women how to grow crops; and to build fences to keep the wild goats out. It has built a networks of Sunday Schools. It has brought water up the hill so children didnt have to walk a four mile round journey twice a day and so were too tired to go to school.

But the schools..Dear God. The schools
The head of one school went to see the priest  Michael Glover  when he and his wife returned to Africa from Northampton. We have three classes of children and one classroom.  One class learn under the tree and one class go across the valley to the Catholic Church. How can they learn? No water, no toilets, no food.  And no teachers who can teach English in English. 

So Michael sent a letter to the Head of Emmanuel School in Northampton and the whole school started to raise money to build a school. 5 year olds did hopping races, 7-year-old baked rock cakes. How can you build a school with a rock cake?   But today Emmanuel School Embalane has 80 children in 4 purpose built classrooms with a toilet block, kitchen block and clean running water - and a headteacher trained to teach English to non-English speaking children.

The owner of the hardware store in Eshowe (Cathedral city and capital of Zululand) reached 75 and thought it might be  time to retire. His wife had other ideas. She was one of the women who had organised the feeding of the orphans. She was very upset to discover that some young women had to become sex workers to provide for their families.

So she offered to sell them packs of beads for 10 rand and then buy back any beadwork they made with the beads for 20 rand.   Then she took over the shop front window to sell the traditional Zulu beadwork these women made.  She now supports 60 women who are able to feed their families with self-respect and dignity.
And finally, Maureen, the administrator of the Palm Cross charity here in Northampton, was  on a fact finding visit and went on a tour of the hospital with the Medical Missionary (Dr Amy Glover), now Hospital Director. One room had a chair, a pair of crutches and a wheelchair. Physiotherapy unit. Break your leg: lose your livelihood.

This upset Maureen so much she came home and wrote to all the churches and organisations who bought palm crosses and asked them to put in a 5 please, or 10 if you like.  It took 10 years to raise 40,000. Which disappeared. A bribe here, a handout there, a government tax to be paid there..

However, 5 years later we went to Nongoma for the grand opening of a state of the art physiotherapy unit with the King and the Bishop and Maureen doing the honours.

Now soaring postage rates have made the trade in palm crosses to England uneconomical. Other charities are lessening the burden of poverty. Antiretroviral drugs have lessened the curse of HIV/AIDS.  The Church in South Africa is burgeoning and proud of its own identity, free from a colonial past.

We hope that you will continue to pray for the Church in KwaZulu-Natal. For oaks from acorns, for trees of shade from palm leaves.

Thank you for your commitment to the work of the Zulem Trust. We are so, so grateful for your support through the years. 

God Bless Africa; Guard her children; Guide her leaders;
and give her peace, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Canon Margaret Johnson (on behalf of the Zulem Trustees).

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