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Gloucestershire Business News

Campaign fights coronavirus and creates jobs on Zanzibar

Heather Culshaw

A spell working in an island hospital with her husband has inspired a Gloucestershire businesswoman to launch an ambitious fundraising project.

And Heather Culshaw hopes it will not only help the people of Zanzibar improve hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic, but also create jobs.

Not only has COVID-19 hit the Tanzanian islands off the coast of east Africa, but has all but wiped out the tourism industry which much of the community depends upon.

Many areas of Zanzibar struggle with poverty, a fact that made a huge impact on Mrs Culshaw and her husband Joe when they worked there last summer.

She joined her paediatrician husband for the six-month healthcare programme and returned committed to making a difference for the community who had made the couple so welcome.

She said: "I arrived with little knowledge of medicine. I was supporting my husband in his work in the hospitals and I fell in love with the people.

"They face many challenges and tourism underpins everything they do. Now it has reduced drastically due to coronavirus, they have few ways of making money to support their families."

She continued: "In addition, they are seeing their first cases of coronavirus. Social distancing is difficult as they depend upon fresh food and have to go out of the family home regularly to get their food.

"It is hard to maintain hygiene standards too as access to water and soap is limited; especially with the rainy season, which brings cholera, malaria and typhoid."

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, she launched a not-for-profit project called Zecobrick Community Project with locals working in partnership with the island's government run schools.

Its aim was to encourage the community to recycle the huge quantities of plastic that arrives on the island, turning much of it into ecobricks (building blocks made from single use plastic) which could be used to build a number of classrooms.

She said: "Education is so important to the future sustainability of the island. We are passionate about setting up extra English classes.

Heather Culshaw, inset, and Asya from Zanrec with one of the bars of soap

"But when coronavirus hit, we started to work with Zanrec, the leading hotel recycling company on the island which had connections with soap suppliers.

"With their support we are working with local mamas - the elder women of the communities - to help them make their own soaps which will provide them with an income from the donations."

The charity and Zanrec are linking up with partner organisations on a hygiene education project to teach the local people how to stay safe during the pandemic.

She said: "We are having to think outside the box. We take it for granted that we can wash our hands by using soap and turning a tap on, but out there water is in limited supply.

"We are working to teach the elders to use leaves, for example, to avoid touching the communal water dispenser taps and how to use the soaps affectively.

"The best way to fight COVID-19 is through prevention and so we are all working together to help."

She continued: "Our aim is to provide jobs for those on the island to make bars of soap which will be distributed to those in the local villages by our staff and collaborations with NGOs.

"Teaching on good hygiene, how to wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds and talks on social distancing will be provided by Zanrec and through other charity organisations on the ground"

As well as helping to promote fundraising for the project, she has set up a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/corona-virus-and-cholera-aid-in-zanzibar 

Donations will go straight to those making the soaps, providing families with an income and paying for the ingredients to make the bars which will be given free to all who need it.

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