Making a Difference: US-based golfers helping thousands in Zimbabwe
Take three female professional golfers with ties to Utah — one from Zimbabwe, one from South Africa and one from Norway — and you create a successful foundation that gathers items and donations from Utah and Norway to help thousands in Zimbabwe.
Reeve Allison Nield and Laurette “Lolly” Maritz, both founders of EYES4ZIMBABWE, and Cecilie “CC” Lundgreen, a self-proclaimed cheerleader of the organization and donation container packer, have become legends in many ways.
In 1991, Dr. Gary and Cheryl Fogg flew to Zimbabwe from the United States to teach doctors there how to do cataract surgery. In 1996, Nield’s father asked her to take a visiting paediatric ophthalmic surgeon to a hospital where she would be teaching new procedures to local specialists. Upon entering the hospital, Nield witnessed the eye patches removed from a blind 12-year-old girl who had just had eye surgery.
She was stunned and humbled at what she saw. “If you have any infirmity in Africa, it is a curse from God,” Nield said. “When I saw the miracle of sight, I started crying. I knew I had to do something to help.”
Not long after, Nield and Maritz began brainstorming ideas for helping people while walking down the fairway of the 18th hole at Chapman Golf Club in Zimbabwe. They decided to start a foundation, and Lolly suggested the name EYES4ZIMBABWE.
The next issue was how to fund their new project.
“We had seen how fundraising worked on the tour,” Nield said. “They did Pro-Ams and raised money. We decided we could do that and started the foundation. Our goal was to buy the medical supplies and convince the doctors, nurses, golfers and helpers to do everything for free.
“We invited professional golfers and played in four different Pro-Ams, and the money raised during the Pro-Ams helped pay for portable microscopes, surgical sets and all medical supplies required for cataract surgery. Ambassadors from various countries assisted by directly paying for medicines and medical supplies.”
Not long after, Nield met Lundgreen, a Norwegian player on tour, and felt she needed to be a part of EYES4ZIMBABWE. It took a year or two, but Lundgreen eventually travelled to Zimbabwe.
“I was a spoiled rotten, rich and famous professional golfer,” Lundgreen said, “but when I went to Africa, everything changed for me. As one of 10 professional golfers traveling around Zimbabwe helping with charity Pro-Ams, I watched many cataract surgeries. It was amazing! Once you go to Africa, you can never be the same again. EYES4ZIMBABWE completely changed my life.”
Many wonderful miracles have happened. In 2001, they needed to raise $120,000 to purchase 17 portable microscopes and all of the required medical supplies to support 14 eye camps serving 40,000 people over 16 days. Twenty-six ophthalmic surgeons kindly volunteered along with nurses, helpers and 10 professional golfers.
“As I prayed for inspiration, I felt impressed to contact the Canadian Embassy,” Nield said. She called, and the woman who answered asked how long it would take for Reeve to submit an application as there was $30,000 available that needed to be spent before the next day. They submitted the application, and the money was received.
Nield has a soft spot for Utah and has many friends here who have helped her along the way. She served a church mission in Utah, a long way from Zimbabwe. After forming EYES4ZIMBABWE, she met with friends and donors and decided to fill and ship the containers from Utah “because everyone there loves to serve.”
In 2003, EYE4ZIMBABWE packed a container in Norway, and in 2008, the organization packed its first container in Utah. Its efforts have continued since then.
“We started small, then expanded,” Lundgreen said. “You tell a Relief Society sister, and it goes from there. Plus, people knew Reeve, including lots of private donors who wanted to help.”
EYES4ZIMBABWE utilizes donated space in the LDS Humanitarian Center to fill its containers. “Since I am the container-packing woman, I return to Utah each November,” Lundgreen said, “and fill three to eight containers, depending on the funding we have. This year we filled three.”
People have been so willing to help. One 90-year-old woman knits hundreds of baby beanies. Another group made 900 pairs of boys’ shorts. Youth groups pack suitcases full of missionary clothes for missionaries in Africa. At the centre, people donate and help pack newborn and hygiene supplies; school and birthing kits; wheelchairs, walkers, medicine and medical supplies; reading glasses and other necessary items. Volunteers in Zimbabwe help EYES4ZIMBABWE distribute the supplies throughout that country.
The family of a Utah senior missionary, Sandy Whitlock, visited Zimbabwe with four children, ages 8 to 18, and had an incredible experience delivering some of EYES4ZIMBABWE’s donations. “My grandchildren delivered similar toy cars that they helped paint for a service project with Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids,” Whitlock said. “Reeve, Lolly and CC are helping the poorest of the poor out in the bush.”
On one occasion, a Dutch ambassador went to an eye camp where more than 2,000 people came for help. She was amazed at the cataract surgeries being done for all ages, including 6-month-old babies, and said they needed to double their funding.
Nield visited a hospital where third-year students were working and discovered just one surgical set was being used and then sterilized between surgeries. “I felt each third-year student needed to have their own surgery set of instruments,” she said. “We obtained 40 surgical sets and gave one to each new surgeon so they could keep their patients safe.”
Some years later, at a busy eye camp, Nield handed the ophthalmic surgeon five new surgical sets. He shared that he was the first third-year student at the University of Zimbabwe to receive one of the donated sets.
What started out as helping people in Zimbabwe with their sight has morphed into a much larger vision for EYES4ZIMBABWE. “It is a challenge to focus on just one thing, especially when you drive out into the bush and you see various needs,” Nield said.
“You want to help do that thing. Often we give out candy. Some of the children have never tasted candy. Now, instead of pushing rocks around, they have a toy car. Some have nothing to read in their homes, so each child receives a book and a pen or a pencil. How can you not help? We have felt our heart is in the right place when we help others.”
A few years ago, a young man soon to be serving a church mission asked if EYES4ZIMBABWE would assist his former junior school, Howson Primary School, with its annual awarding of prizes. “Rather than selecting just a few outstanding children to receive prizes, we took 620 Tiny Tim’s toy cars, 620 books, 620 candies, 620 T-shirts and every child received a prize,” Nield said. “The children loved them!”
EYES4ZIMBABWE is blessed to work with many partners. For example, Tiny Tim’s Foundation For Kids, a nonprofit in West Jordan, donated more than 100,000 toy cars to be given to children in Zimbabwe.
Lundgreen calls herself the “happiest participant in this amazing project.”
“I am good at playing golf and even better at packing containers,” Lundgreen said. “It is so much better helping people than winning any golf trophy. It is fun to help others. Living in Norway and America, we are so blessed.”
EYE4ZIMBABWE is changing lives in big ways. “When I think of a footprint,” Nield said, “I think of an elephant footprint. What started as an eye project is now amazing. We are grateful for the love and kindness of people around the world. These people are sacred souls in ways that are amazing.”