HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – An elderly home opened by Britain’s Princess Diana in a Zimbabwe township during her African charity crusades has run out of money nearly two decades after its opening, workers at the home said Thursday.
The Society for the Aged Destitute has had to reduce the number of elderly given shelter with only a few months of funding left, administrator Louise Allaart said. She said the home has space for 50 people but can only care for 24.
After years of economic meltdown in this southern African country, those turned away from the home resort to the surrounding litter-strewn streets where homeless elderly dressed in rags beg for money and scavenge for food scraps and anything of value.
The home’s grounds are overgrown and a bedroom wing has been shut down. The residents stream into a bare eating room holding battered tin plates. Two well-wishers have brought them food, and there are broad smiles in the line for the cornmeal staple, rice and beef.
“We still have good people in Zimbabwe,” Allaart said.
Allaart met Princess Diana at the home in 1993 and said she touched the hearts of everyone she met.
“I was so impressed with her. She had contact with people. It was absolutely amazing. She had that gift. I want her children to know she touched many people’s hearts in Zimbabwe,” she said.
The late Princess Diana opened the home in 1993 as patron of the British-based HelpAge charity. A sign outside the home still honors the princess’ enormous popularity on the continent because of her African charity work, but the plight of the home is seen as a reflection of Diana’s dying legacy in Zimbabwe.
British embassy officials in Harare told The Associated Press that they have begun looking at possible ways to help the home.
Allaart said the home is relying on donations from well-wishers but has only enough cash in hand to stay open for less than six months.
The British charity HelpAge cut its funding in 2008 at the same time as foreign development aid to the country dwindled. Local social services were also hit by record inflation and deepening economic woes surrounding violent elections that year. Donors saw inflation depleting their funds by more than tenfold a day.
Sevias Mujere, a trustee at the home, said Zimbabwe’s approaching winter months pose health risks to the men and women, some aged into their 90s. During frequent power outages after years of political and economic turmoil, the vulnerable “sit in the dark, cold and shivering,” he said.
He said they were susceptible to sometimes fatal infections and respiratory disease and the home lacked money for medicines, treatment and hospital care.
“We are struggling to pay salaries for our six workers” who made personal sacrifices in their dedication to the home, he said.
The commemorative sign at the closed residential wing records how it was officially opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales on July 11, 1993.
“We don’t want Princess Diana’s name to disappear,” Mujere said.
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