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Smell is Memory: the Howard Hospital Crisis

Douglas MacLellan | Zimbabwe

Nyachuru, Zimbabwe. November, 2012. Forbes and Gladys with two of their three children at home. Both are teachers and taking masters courses in international affairs.

Mashonaland Central, Zimbabwe, 2012. A beloved doctor is gone, 'crushed' by his employer. His former patients now face a grim future of more expensive treatments and medicines. Very few people will care.

The Howard Hospital is a Salvation Army run facility located in rural Zimbabwe. Paul Thistle, a Canadian, was the Chief Medical Officer until November, 2012, when he was transferred then terminated for bringing up suspicions of missing donors' funds to his superiors. Thistle's removal will have a serious negative impact on this mostly poor, rural subsistence farming community: no surgeries; increased costs for medicines and transportation; reduced access to outreach programs.

I started a photo essay in 2001 after meeting Thistle in Toronto, Canada. I returned to Zimbabwe in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

This past November I visited with the intention to photograph those affected by this decision. Many are people I met and who I know.

I met a woman who fell down a mountain and broke her back seven years ago. She is paralyzed from the neck down and can barely talk. Yet she wanted me to take her picture. I noticed she was eating only boiled leaf greens--no fat. She was barely staying alive. Her sixteen year old daughter was her caretaker. The two of them have precious little and now that the outreach program, initiated by Thistle, doesn't work, she is in even more trouble.

I met a boy who fell and broke his arm above and below the elbow. Thistle would have repaired it for about $20. Instead the boy and his family had to travel to another mission hospital 2 and 1/2 hours away. They were charged $200, roughly the same amount they need for maize seed, fertilizer and other inputs. This family may starve in a few months.

There were more stories with each person interviewed affected in one way or another by Thistle's dismissal.

It was the saddest trip. There seemed to be hope in the past, that something was being done. Not enough but something. Now I see a bleak future.

I knew I would have limited access to subjects for this trip. I decided portraits, straight on portraits would best serve the story.

I had no idea how personal this visit would be. It is heart breaking to watch a slow motion wreck of the lives of people I know.

I channeled all those emotions in this exhibition of simple, direct, dark, warm toned portraits.

Douglas MacLellan
Windsor, Canada
06 December 2012


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