By Andrea Arnold
Dr. Ray Markham and his wife Allison of Valemount are looking forward to once again returning to their home country, Zimbabwe, and providing another wave of medical support by way of supplies, training and short term manpower.
The pair began their adventure by sponsoring Canadian Susan Janetti, a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, through the Zimbabwe Gecko Society. Janetti and her brother Frank founded the Society in 2008, and began with Frank sending handmade wire-beaded-geckos made by street children back to Canada where Susan would collect donations for them and return the money back to Zimbabwe so the children could buy food.
This simple idea has grown to allow the society to support grassroots projects in Zimbabwe, supporting local communities as they build infrastructure, and learn skills so they can support themselves and have a healthy future.
Janetti wanted to expand the Society to also include a medical support element, and in 2014, the Markhams made their first trip to Zimbabwe.
Since that first trip, the Markhams have been working to build a medical support system for the Gecko Society. In 2022 they established the ZimCan Health Society to work in a partnership with the Gecko Society.
The Markhams have often travelled with teams of medical students from UBC through their Global Health Elective program. The students spend several weeks serving in a variety of roles.
“It gives the students an opportunity to experience what medical service is like in a high-volume, low-resource setting,” said Dr. Markham.
One of the first big technological contributions to the Zimbabwe medical services that the Markhams were a part of was the implementation of an electronic records system.
“The clinic here in Valemount was already using it, and a group of staff from here travelled over to train the staff on location,” said Dr. Markham.
The Gecko Society sends equipment and supplies by shipping containers from Canada, and this January, the containers contained four new x-ray machines.
According to Dr. Markham, the need for x-ray machines is great. Many clinics and hospitals do not have them, but they do have ultrasound machines.
“During this next trip, I will be teaching physicians and nurses how to use the point of care ultrasound as a diagnostics tool (when there is no access to x-ray),” said Dr. Markham.
There is also a significant shortage of specialized doctors in the country. The Markhams say that up until just a few years ago, there were only three family physicians in the whole country, populated with over 16.5 million people. It was only recently that the country recognized the need and has begun providing the training for that specific specialization. The Markhams have included practicing family physicians in their teams to act as instructors for the training.
Their upcoming trip in March will unfortunately be a shorter trip, as Dr. Markham is needed here in the valley, but they have planned a very intense itinerary.
They plan to travel to the capital city of Harare. From there they will travel to the outlying areas of the country to help with projects in progress, as well as assess needs for future projects.
They plan to spend time at the Karanda Missions Hospital located about 124 miles from Harare. The hospital was built in 1961 and has grown to include a three-year nurse training school, a one-year midwifery program and a primary school for children of hospital staff. It also offers a home-based care program focused on the needs of widows, orphans and individuals with HIV. This is in addition to their daily medical services including up to 30 surgeries, up to 300 outpatients, and the care of those in their 150 beds.
The Markhams will also visit the community of Binga, an extremely poor area in the northwest of the country.
“Hospitals on the periphery are on the low priority for equipment and help,” said Allison. “For example, there is one blood pressure machine for the whole hospital.”
The facility in Binga has set up an accommodation unit nearby that regularly houses up to 300 women in the last month of pregnancy.
“It is like a dormitory,” said Dr. Markham. “But there is no running water or sewage system in place. We plan to help them get both of these problems solved as well as build a fence for a garden.”
“There is a lifetime of work there alone,” said Allison. “We also will be helping build a ceiling over the maternity ward and complete some of the cosmetic finishes – like washbasins. The space had flooded, so these repairs are needed.”
The third main focus for the couple is in the community of Raspah. Here, two rundown barns have been converted into a church – housing a computer room, sewing room and a carpentry workshop, and an elementary school. They have also created a clinic space that is being used not only for servicing the community, but also providing opportunities for further medical education. Nurses are now being brought in through a government funded program.
Throughout all of their trips, the Markhams try to provide a level of health education, working with and teaching those local to the area how to identify illnesses as well as how to mitigate and prevent further sickness.
“Our hope is to make it better each time we go,” said Allison.
For those wanting to get involved, there are two main ways. One is by financially supporting the cause, and the other, is by physically making the trip and providing hands-on support.
“Teams travel throughout the year, not just this one trip,” said Dr. Markham. “Medical experience is not required.”
“There are always things to do,” said Allison. “Moving equipment and supplies for projects, making deliveries. It is hard work, but it is fun.”
Dr. Markham said they would like to connect the communities of McBride and Valemount to communities in Zimbabwe and help foster a relationship between the locations.
“We could send people from the valley to help communities with specific projects. If there are people who have a passion or skill set that they want to use, we can connect them with the community that needs them.”
Allison recalls a med student who sat down with an enthusiastic young musician and taught some piano skills. They have a young man who is looking for support while building a photography business. As well, there is a need for sports minded people to come host basketball clinics.
“There are so many ways to use people’s talents,” said Allison.
The Zimcan website describes their intent as “capacity building in both healthcare systems through the development of relationships and bidirectional learning opportunities leading to partnerships. Capacity building for this group has been presented to the group though 3 lenses, direct capacity building (as an individual e.g. skills transfer), contextual capacity building (supporting the team to do so e.g. input to health education), and longitudinal (laying the foundation for future groups, e.g. needs assessment).”
“Our end goal is to build relationships and help them get to a place where they can be self-sufficient,” said Dr. Markham.
“We want to not be needed anymore,” said Allison.
More information about Zimcan can be found at