Mishap puts humanitarian workers behind bars

October 27, 2010 5:53:17 PM PDT
A volunteer group from the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland is home from a humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe that ended in arrests. The four health workers were as surprised as everyone else when they were arrested. The church has been going to Zimbabwe for a decade when suddenly they were told they were breaking the law.

"Zimbabwe is a country that is resource poor, so you could imagine the holding cells that we were in, they were bare and minimal at best," AIDS Ministry Chairwoman Gloria Cox-Crowell said.

But Cox-Crowell said they were fed and treated with respect. The Allen Temple Baptist Church AIDS Ministry has been going to Zimbabwe for 10 years under the leadership of Dr. Robert Scott who died a year ago. They treat about 800 people living with AIDS.

The workers say it was all a big misunderstanding. They had moved to a different location to provide clinical services to more people, and that's when the government charged them with operating in a location that was not licensed.

They were also charged with not having a pharmacist on site.

"After clearing up the misunderstanding, the charges were dropped and the ministry medical team was commended for the humanitarian work," Rev. Alfred Smith from Allen Temple Baptist said.

David Greenburg is a nurse who volunteered with the group for nine years and he says everyone was upset with the government for having them arrested.

"Whether it was the inspectors who arrested us, whether it was the officers at the jail, whether it was the people on the street that saw us in the news, they all thanked us and wanted us to continue," he said.

Greenburg he'll go back to Zimbabwe and so will the others. They're urging the church community to continue providing them with financial support.

"So we're saying don't back up, but continue down this path," Rev. Smith said.

While in the holding cell, one of the workers was asked by prison officials to talk to some of the locals about HIV and AIDS, so there she was giving out information to the other prisoners. The government of Zimbabwe says the health workers can return anytime and apologized for the misunderstanding.


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