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Thursday

Happy New Year from eSwatini! 2020


Guys, we have been trying to post a blog the last couple of days.  Yesterday the wifi was out, today it’s the power.  There was a really strong thunderstorm and we haven’t had electricity since.  As soon as I am able, I will post this!

Life is hard here in Swaziland.  There are struggles in the communities due to jealousy mostly, but also just greed.  After delivering the chickens to the child-headed homes this week and showering to rud our  bodies of the AWFUL POOP SMELL 😉 we high fived a job well done. But nothing is ever that easy here.  We soon found out that there was a fox in the hen hole and it wasn’t an animal, yet a human wishing to steal the orphaned children’s chickens. We consequently bought locks for the chicken coops and tried to arrange for people to watch the chickens while the kids were in school, but at the end of the day, nothing is going to stop a determined thief.  Who would steal from a child orphaned and alone in a small one room hut with no basic necessities, you might ask? I had the exact same question...  So far, they’re all safe. Happily chirping, locked in their new homes.

Yesterday we delivered aid to Malindza (school uniforms/supplies, soap, sanitary pads – even iPhones thanks to my badass partner Kait, her mom Maureen and our long time donor Jan. These phones help keep the kids safe and help them with their college assignments/research projects) And then went two nights ago to a child-headed home in eLangeni where we’ve been shooting off fireworks and dancing into the new year for over a decade.  It’s INCREDIBLE to have been so privileged to watch these kids grow and thrive.  It’s my biggest blessing.

The girls went on safari yesterday and saw a bunch of animals including a baby elephant.  Mama elephant wasn’t super impressed by how close they got to her baby and charged their jeep.  Luckily, the driver backed full speed in reverse and high tailed it out of there! 

And finally, today we hosted a clinic in a very remote area of Malindza under a tree.  There was an entire “shelter” of double orphans waiting for us. Luckily thanks to Susan’s friends & the Chi O girls, we had an entire suitcase full of bras, stuffed animals, toys and other gifts.  The kids went wild. Today Lexi has been a little sick.  She has had a sore throat for the whole week but today got a bit worse.  She took medication after medication to combat her symptoms – an added reminder of our privilege.  Most of what the people asked for today at the clinic was Tylenol or ibuprofen. 

We just got home from Mazwi and Mphilo’s home with Nomfundo, Nosipho, Junior, Nelly, and Zinhle.  It’s bizarre to feel fully at home in two places on opposite sides of the world.  Tonight, although I’m missing my 4 year old and my husband, there was no place in the entire world I’d rather be.  I listened to Mphilo talk about the amazing Christmas she had thanks to my friend Kandas for including her and Mazwi in his family’s celebrations.  I listened to Nomfundo talk about her dreams of becoming a business woman in the future.  I listened to Nosipho talk about anything – every single word that comes out of her mouth is joined with a joyous laugh.  She laugh-talks. It’s amazing.  I’ve never seen anyone more genuinely happy in my entire life.  And I had “the talk” with Mazwi (age 16) asking how many wives he planned to have, he didn’t hesitate.  ONE.  Good boy.  Then, I asked Junior (age 6) and immediately he held up 1 finger.  We teach them young lol. 

Goodnight and happy 2020 from Swaziland. Thank you for all of your past support and your continued support. Thank you to all of my volunteers’ parents for sharing your kids (even you, Jean, sharing your “big kid Susan”).  It’s not lost on me that this is often family time.  I’m grateful you allowed them to be introduced to this amazing Give Hope, Fight Poverty family we love so very much.  Thanks for every single dollar… every penny.  We could do nothing without you!! 2020 blessings to you all, and goodnight from eSwatini! www.fightpoverty.org/donate.html

Monday

First blog from Kansas/purdue/keen trip!


I promised a blog, so I am going to deliver. But it is midnight, so it is going to be short!

Today was:

NECESSITIES: We delivered food and necessities to child-headed homes.  We had umbrellas (Thanks mama Jan) and a solar energy system (Thanks Kim!) and toiletries (Thanks Kansas Chi Omegas) to give to the kids in need.  We also spent donor dollars to provide emergency food aid to provide the families. This is an exceptionally hard time because the children aren’t in school so they aren’t receiving school lunch or any food aid.  Thank you!   

STINKY HOT GREAT WORK: Today we had 103 chicks in the car.  They smelled bad and pooped EVERYWHERE but they were so cute and serenaded us with their chirping!! Oh, and they pecked Hayden and Kiyah’s legs… but there are no bruises... well Hayden has a little one but she said it’s cute and Kiyah said it felt like a tattoo and already has a bunch of those  - so all is good. 😊

We took the chickens to child-headed homes in Malindza to give the kids an opportunity to have access to protein (eggs) and income generation (selling the chickens).  When we dropped the chickens at Amanda’s house (one of the 7 homes), she exclaimed “Now I am a chicken mommy, I’m so happy!”  I loved it. Amanda lives alone with her grandmother and these chickens will make a difference in all of the children's lives! 

NEED: When we approached one of the children’s homes  - it’s actually for 2 small girls.  They live with an older brother who is an alcoholic.  We wish to build the girls their own one room home away from the brother and his wife where they are currently staying.  $3500 will build the entire home.  Right now their home is stick and mud – that they share with the older brother and his wife - and has holes the size of sheets of paper leaving them exposed to animals and rain.

Our “village” is amazing.  I have never once doubted that a need will be fulfilled because we have YOU.  Many years Kait and I (Annie) wondered how we’d keep this tiny organization alive since no one knows about eSwatini and so many other organizations have budgets for marketing, websites, and fancy galas.  We should have never doubted you.  GHFP Village is FIERCE.  And we appreciate every penny you trust in us.  Every penny helps the kids.  You’ll never see Annie or Kait in fancy evening gowns somewhere pretending to represent the orphans who are barefooted in a torn t-shirt. We love these kids like family and are grateful for you for changing the path of their lives!Siyabonga from eSwatini!! Siyabonga for your trust and support.  www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html

Wednesday

Thank you - a great day of action with your donations!

First of all, a HUGE thank you to all of you who donated! We were able to do so much today to change the path of lives because of your help...

We started at the furniture store where Kait laid on the beds like Goldilocks until we found the perfect pair of beds for our new child-headed family.  We bought the beds (and pillows and blankets) and strapped them to the roof of our car.  Then headed to Malindza to the children's home.

But on our commute, we came across a primary school where a lot of our kiddos attend.  They were just being released for the day.  One of the boys (standing in a group of 3) motioned the Swazi sign for hitchhiking.  Some of the kids walk a LONG way to and from school (10km!) and so just as Kait was saying "Are we pulling over to get them...?" with a skeptical look on her face as our car was already filled, I yelled "YEP!" and opened the trunk.  I was expecting the 3 boys to jump in... but as they jumped in, other children noticed what was going on and they rushed to the car and climbed inside.  They were packed in like sardines before I finally told the others that we did not have room for more.  Off we went to their homes (which indeed was forever far away).  When we made it to their neighborhood, I opened the trunk and counted as they popped out.  16.  16 kids, two adults, food, pillows, two suitcases, blankets and two mattresses in the car today. When in Rome... but this is a new record, even for us!

We reached Mathanda's homestead and delivered the beds.  The old man next door who checks on the little one when the older children are at school was shocked.  He kept saying that the children would have wonderful dreams tonight and that they've never had a pillow before.  The oldest, Mathanda, has never even had a bed (3 middle ones were sleeping on an icky piece of flimsy foam and the 4 little ones were on a grassmat).  We also took Owen (the 4 year old) to a nearby preschool and got him registered for January (when the new school year starts).  We also went to the store and bought him his very first school uniform!  The builders will be finished fixing their home and affixing the rain catchment by tomorrow.  We also delivered chairs to sit on, a pitchfork to help with their garden, backpacks, and some clothes.  THANK YOU FOR MAKING IT POSSIBLE. We will keep a close eye on these kids and see how we can continue assisting. They are all now part of the GHFP family! And they will thrive like all of our children have and continue to do.  Can't wait to see them again in December!

Tuesday

Sucker punch straight to the heart.

If you guys have been following this blog for the last decade-plus-years, you'd vouch for me that I try to keep the stories light and hopeful.  Today it's impossible to spin a happy tale.  I type this with tears piling up making it hard to see the keyboard.

We were alerted by one of our partners Nomfundo that there was a family in dire need of help.  We didn't know much at the time and Nomfundo NEVER asks for specific things - feeling like that is overstepping some boundary.  She just introduces us to families who need help and asks us to help "in any way we can".  Sometimes we end up finding a child who has had to drop out of school for many years because although they are now living with a grandmother who loves them, there is no money for school fees. So we pay their tuition and uniform fees with your donations.  Other times we find a child who has food scarcity or lack of water access and we use your donations to address those needs. The needs are usually great, sometimes expensive, but almost always possible to overcome. Today we found a complete and utter tragedy.

We arrived at the homestead to find that every single adult has died.  No grandparents.  No parents.  No aunts or uncles.  Poof. Gone.  But, what remains in the home are EIGHT small children.  The eldest, 16 but still doing grade 7 (elementary school), is now in charge of raising the seven little ones...which means he is in charge of feeding them, clothing them, providing psychosocial support, and teaching them everything your parents taught you.  Who is there for him?  How does he do this without money or a job... still only a child himself?

The youngest is only 4 - my daughter's age.  Since the oldest 7 kids go to elementary school all day, the 4 year old stays home alone.  STAYS HOME ALONE.  What in the actual eff?! Seeing him sitting in front of his stick and mud hut playing with an old plastic measuring spoon with dirty knees and the absolute emptiest saddest expression on his face shredded my heart.  My daughter can't even poop without an audience and a fairytale story where she is the hero.  And this child - factoring in the siblings' walk to and from school - is absolutely alone fending for himself every day for 8 hours.  No stories.  No hugs.  No guidance.  No love.  Alone.  With a broken measuring spoon and a large cup of water (hopefully clean/potable?!) left for him in case he gets thirsty while EVERYONE is gone.

It took a while to process the situation.  To triage the needs.
- Immediately we saw that we could fill their need of water with a rain catchment system.  Kait and I rushed around Malindza ordering and hauling building materials while Raymond and a crewmate Ben repaired the roof, built the stand, tank and gutter system that will harvest the rain water from their roof offering them a means to irrigate the vegetable garden they were trying to prepare.  Done!  

- The grandmother was trying to build them a home but failed to finish it before she died earlier this year such that when it rains outside, it's wet inside.  Tomorrow Raymond and Ben will seal the home with plaster sand both inside and outside. The kids will stay dry despite any inclement weather. Tomorrow! 

- We will be searching for a preschool that will accept the 4 year old mid-year so that he is no longer home alone all day.  We will need to pay for his tuition (usually $150 a year but I won't know for sure until we find the school) and school shoes/uniform (usually $50) hopefully soon 

- The 8 kids sleep on one icky dilapidated foam mattress pad.  We'd love to buy them a new mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets for $225 hopefully soon 

- A chicken coop  could give could give the kids a means of protein (nutrition with the eggs) and income (with the sale of the chickens).  It's about $800 for the coop and the chickens and a starter set of feed hopefully soon. 

I hope I didn't scare you with our needs! Thanks to Cindy Kaser for her recent donation before this post... we will be putting your money toward this family.  If anyone else donates, we'll do the same.  These kids need our support to be self-sufficient.  These kids need a tiny miracle.  Will you be a part of the miracle? I know we can do it if we join together!
www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html
mail a check made out to GHFP to 2436 N Alabama St Indy IN 46205

SIYABONGA KAKHULU for making things happen!!

Monday

Kait's here now!!

This morning, I went back to Malindza.  There was an unfortunate occurrence where too many cooks tried to be in the kitchen (perhaps also an issue of Swazi male dominance? It’s tough being a girl here…and I only have to tolerate it a handful of times a year) and my builder was let go and another was hired without my knowledge or consent.  That’s a problem. For many reasons, but mainly because we’ve had poor builders in the past where we spent donor dollars to build and then spent double the money to fix the problems when we were given the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Lo and behold, Raymond (one of my favorite Swazis) to save the day! Not only will he be building what we originally hired him for (3 rain catchments and 2 chicken coops at child-headed homes) but also now the home for our homeless high school boy in Malindza.  Phew! It will be a permanent and beautiful structure!

I picked up Kait from the shuttle bus stop today and we headed straight back to Malindza for more building.  When we reached Mthokozisi’s future homestead, the building store we purchased supplies arrived simultaneously with our delivery.  Mthokozisi’s grandfather was there as it pulled up.  He immediately started shaking and reiterating that Jesus is coming, and that he sees Jesus.  He tried then to tell me how “strong” I was.  He kept pointing at me saying, “You are so strong.”  I immediately thought he failed to find the proper English word as I made a muscle and winked/laughed.  Strength has never been a strong suit – emotional or physical.  I knelt and shook his hand and in my mind yelled THANK YOU to all of our donors who gave this old man the thing he was hoping most for in his life – a safe home for his homeless grandson he was unable to personally provide. 

Before this, his grandson was buying cell phone airtime from town and selling it at a higher amount in the rural areas.  Some days he would come home with some coins.  Other times, he would come home empty handed.  He had a 6th grade education and he was almost entirely alone as his immediate family all passed.  Now he is thriving in school and almost a home owner (and egg-laying hen owner) in a couple of weeks.  It’s amazing how thoroughly and how quickly our donors change children’s lives.  Kait and I are forever grateful!!

Early morning back in Malindza.  Goodnight from Kait and Annie in eSwatini! Thank you for supporting our endeavors to help the kiddos – despite the hurdles! 

Sunday

I'm alone in eSwatini!


I was keeping this trip to eSwatini a secret because some of our Swazi kids have FB and I didn’t want them telling Mazwi I was coming for his surprise birthday party.  But now that the party is over, I can tell you what I’ve been up to so far!

1.       Mazwi’s birthday! His actual birthday isn’t until the 26th, but I wanted to throw it early to add more surprise. He had 40 family and friends there to celebrate.  Bongani helped a couple of my friends cook the meat (TONS of it – pork, brats, and chicken) and there was a big cake and lots of music!  My favorite part of the day was when Mphilo (his sister) would only give out candy to those who were dancing in order to liven the party up.  Mazwi made me giggle because he conned a 5 year old into dancing and made him bring back the candy! Ha! Everyone left with full bellies and big smiles. Happy 16th to the beautiful young man who holds my heart.



2.      Delivered aid! I drove all over Malindza Village with our partner Nomfundo to deliver school shoes, solar kits (solar lights with a Bluetooth enabled speaker and a USB port to charge a phone), and emergency food aid to all 19 of our sponsored high school children there.   



3.      Building chicken coops and rain catchment systems at child-headed homes!  One major problem in Malindza is the lack of water.  There aren’t streams or ponds like near eLangeni.  Our solution is to harvest the rainwater by affixing gutters to their homes which drain into a very large tank.  The children also have no one to take care of them and no money to buy things they need.  So, we have been providing them with a chicken coop in order to raise hens and sell the eggs. All of the materials for these 5 projects (2 coops and 3 rain catchments) will be delivered tomorrow and building will start immediately after.



4.       House building! One of our boys was out of school for many years after his mother died.  When he started school again with your scholarship, his uneducated uncles became jealous and kicked him out of their home.  Luckily, his grandfather gave him a piece of his land so we’re able to build him his very own house registered to his name that no one will be able to kick him out of!  He’s in form 3 (Sophomore year), loves volleyball (he even volunteers teaching young kids how to play at the neighborhood carepoint) and is excited to have his own place equipped with a rain catchment system and a chicken coop! Can’t wait to watch him continue to thrive without the family challenges & homelessness he was facing previously… Go Mthokozisi, go!




Kait arrives in the country tomorrow! Can’t wait to pick her up from the shuttle station.  Until then, I have a couple of requests.

WE NEED WATCHES: our high school children like to have watches to time themselves during their national exams.  Any kind and any colors, they just need to keep time.  Lots of the kids are requesting analog, but I am sure digital would be fine too. 



WE NEED COMPUTER MICE: We have 10 laptops to start a computer lab at Phonjwane Primary school.  But they have a “pointing stick” to use as a mouse and those are very challenging for small children to operate.  We’d love to offer them external computer mice instead.  Any kind will be great!



The things above can be mailed to 9 West Hazel Dell Lane Springfield IL 62703.  Or if you’d like to send money to buy these items locally in eSwatini, you can donate online (www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html) or mail a check made out to GHFP to the address above. We will send you an IRS receipt for your taxes. 
Siyabonga kakhulu THANK YOU SO MUCH for helping us help the kids!

Wednesday

Last day with U Iowa


Sorry for the lack of a blog last night.  The internet was down.  And now, the electricity is out… so I’m not sure when I will be able to post this.  But hopefully by the time I’m done writing, the electric will be back. 

This morning is our last morning in eSwatini.  After we pack, we’ll head to the airport.  It’s an odd feeling.  I’m excited to go home to see my daughter and I miss her so much…and my husband.  But a part of me never wants to leave.  I was glancing down in the shower this morning and saw the water coming off my body was a deep red-brown.  Yesterday we walked all over the mountain delivering solar panels to child-headed homes and I was wearing flip flops since I had given all of my shoes away.  With each step, the shoes must have flipped a tiny bit of the beautiful soil onto my legs. I didn’t notice.  This morning, as it is washing down the drain, as crazy as it sounds, I am sad to see it go. 

Yesterday we woke up and drove to the refugee camp. The camp has 205 children – a number of them unaccompanied minors.  They literally have nothing.  And the country struggles so much to support their own people, they are unable to truly help the refugees.  They offer breakfast and lunch (but no dinner) to the children. They don’t offer any preschool support (preschool is $10/mo), the high school fees are very expensive - $500-900 a year.  They only offer adult refugees food (breakfast and lunch) for the first 3 months.  Then, somehow, they are expected to fend for themselves.  Life is hard everywhere in eSwatini… especially the refugee camp.  We delivered materials for the children: teaching supplies, sanitary pads, reusable sanitary pads (thanks Kristen), soap, stuffed animals, soccer balls, books, games, and medical supplies.

Afterward, we went to deliver two more solar panels with Mphilo’s help.  (and now you’re back to the beginning of the story with the dirty legs and the sadness in the shower…) Good news is, the electricity is back on so I can post this…bad news is, it’s time to head to  the airport so I must go and cut the blog short. 

Our next team doesn’t return until December, so there won’t be any new posts until then.  Siyabonga kakhulu (thanks so much) for all of your support!  We couldn’t do any of this without you.  www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html

Sunday

U of Iowa day 4


If you know me, you know that “Dancing Gogo” (gogo – grandmother) is my hero. This woman lost all of her children, is burdened with raising her grandchildren (3 young elementary school kids), had a stroke and barely made it alive. Our amazing nurse partner Kandas sent us pictures from her hospital bed.  She couldn’t move one half of her body, but the other half was smiling…and dancing.  She recovered, miraculously – without proper medication or rehab, and is now even walking without a cane! We dropped off a solar panel system for her home today. She will place a panel on her roof and drag the battery through a window pane.  It will light 2 LED lights (enough for her small one room home we built for her) and recharge a phone battery through the USB port.  She was so excited!  And it was awesome to see her baby and her twins (Xolile and Thobile) who are SO grown up now in grade 5.  They translated her siSwati for us. So proud of them.  And now, for the first time in Gogo’s entire life, she’ll be able to have light in the dark night. 

Afterward we played at Nothando’s house.  The group played keep-away, hide and seek, and soccer.  We checked out the new chicken coop Kait’s team built for her (There are 3 egg laying hens incubating babies right now in the “upstairs” section – super exciting!!). We also dropped off the clothes we’ve worn so far this trip for them to sell in the rural area.  It’s crazy that the old clothes we wear during the trip enable the girls to create a door to door business that makes them $120 per load (we drop with 3 girls, so $360 per trip – just from our old clothes!!)

After leaving Nothando’s house, we went to the Malindza Refugee Camp.  It is a tough pill to swallow walking in and realizing that the hundreds of children living there (mostly escaping war in Central African countries) now have to live with no water, minimal food, and no resources.  They will now experience peace but famine, dehydration, and cholera/fecal-oral diseases from the lack of sanitation and hygiene.   So sad.  We distributed toothbrushes, hair combs, soap, and stuffed animals (Thanks Mellissa Taft!!).  Kait’s team from last month sanitized the used hotel soaps from the local hotels.  They’re small.  And used.  But the kids at the refugee camp tried to come back through the line for seconds… and begged for thirds.  After receiving the soap, the all smelled it, and smiled.  It’s just soap.  No scent.  No fancy things.  A simple tiny used bar of soap.  Privilege...I feel it every single day. 

After we left the hundreds of kids at the refugee camp, we went to teach/play with orphaned kids in rural Malindza Village.  They showed us their handmade volleyball court and begged for balls (thanks Megan Kaser for old soccer balls you donated, that was the best we could do).  They also practiced English with us.  I played a flashcard “guess the English word as fast as you can and you win the flashcard” game.  The boys ate it up.  They frantically yelled the English word “Fox, elephant, lion, rabbit, dog, bird, cat…” and then we got to “skunk” and they all stopped dead in their tracks and looked at each other stunned.  They mumbled the siSwati word.  I asked them to repeat it, and then after hearing it, I prayed that I would never be required to repeat it in siSwati again! TWO CLICKS.  Wow.  Will practiced the whole ride home and got it as close as anyone would ever get it in our car…. But I still think he might make the locals giggle if he said it.  After over a decade of trying to learn siSwati, I have given up. I feel like I have already learned the only thing I really need to know when working with these kids… Ngiya ku tsandza.  “I love you.” And I sure do love them all!  www.ifightpoverty.org 

Saturday

U of Iowa blog from Professor Will


If you had asked me what eSwatini would be like, and what kinds of experiences our students from the College of Education at the University of Iowa would have, I would have given you a well-rehearsed and planned itinerary using words like orphans, child-headed home, children’s long term care facility, schools, and the like. And all of those things would be true. But I would have no way of truly being able to describe the magnitude and complexity of what those terms would bear out in real life here in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). Indeed Annie and I developed a well-planned visit to this country, well, I told Annie what kind of experience I was hoping to plan for our students and she was the genius and the on-the-ground person here who has masterfully coordinated a visit that has been beyond meaningful for our students.

Today began by loading the small SUV with a 120lb bag of beans and another 120lb bag of rice to take as a symbol of gratitude for allowing our teachers to visit and work with the students in the rural care point. The call that went out to the community was that University students would be there on Saturday to conduct a few lessons and games in English. We were told that the primary group of students who were invited were the villages drop-outs – a mislabeling of these kids whose only reason for not attending school is their inability to pay. When we arrived, it was clear that word had quickly spread as there were many, many more on the preschool grounds than just school “dropouts”. We quickly divided into three groups. Rachel took the 10-13 year-olds, Jordan took the preschoolers with our colleague Katy – an elementary teacher in Austin – and I took the older kids.

My group started with a funny game of charades. All of the kids took turns picking words and acting them out and then passing the duty onto someone else. Some of the charades that got the biggest laughs were “drinking straw,” “goat,” and my rendition of “body builder” which apparently looked more like a gorilla than a body builder. True story, the kids asked me if American body builders act like gorillas and I may have answered, “kind of.” We moved on from charades to a few other language learning games, one which reminded them of a Swazi game that they taught me. We then played a game that involved chanting and singing and tug of rope, except no rope, only grabbing an opponent and pulling them over the line. Jordan and Rachel were so adeptly teaching the other children through play. I was so proud of them.

I then got a tour of the classroom from Make Dlanini – the head of the preschool. While the school was well-outfitted, thanks to Annie’s organization, I couldn’t help but notice a single poster on the wall – The Contamination Cycle – a pictorial guide to child outdoor defecation. I later debriefed with Annie and learned that outdoor defecation is a leading cause of death among children. How wild that we in the States create bulletin boards about math, science, English, student birthdays, this classroom is adorned with life-saving imagery about poop.

This incredible juxtaposition is my shadow on this trip. How incredibly similar are the needs of the children of this planet, yet due to a variety of circumstances, their life-experiences, realities, threats to safety, and well-being are so incredibly different. This morning was powerful. We left the village preschool realizing all the incredible needs of the community, just to provide basic schooling and food, not to mention the complete lack of water, and a need to use donkeys to fetch water from the river a half a kilometer away. That’s right, no clean water available at this preschool. Our hearts ached as we pulled away and said goodbye to the kids.  

Our afternoon took us to the Mantegna Cultural Village where we toured a traditional historic Swazi village, and watched some amazing traditional dancing and singing. Afterwards, the Iowa team hiked to the Mantegna waterfall for some pictures. The entire walk was a conversation about our Swazi experience – about the contradictions, juxtapositions and challenges in this country. And we talked about everything about this place that is beautiful – the resiliency of the children and families, the incredible bonds of community that put some of our best efforts in the States to shame, and the wonderment and hope that an education can provide. Everyday we’ve been here, we’ve seen some hard things, had to hold back a tear or two, or slowly swallow in silence as we’ve seen tough things that no child should have to experience. Today, however was a little different for me. As I talked to the “dropouts” it was clear the one thing they wanted more than anything was to be back in school. To know that may not be a reality for many Swazi children is a bitter pill to swallow. Educational access and equity is an issue that persists in the US, but I can’t shake this heartache seeing how this issue manifests here. This is why we are doing this work. I hope our students leave here with a sense of purpose and conviction to change this issue not only in their own communities, but also right here in Swaziland. I know I’ll be scheming once I return to the States on how I can help some of these kids get back to school.  
www.ifightpoverty.org

Friday

University of Iowa Day two...


Growing up, if you asked, I wanted to be a doctor – particularly Patch Adams, the happy doctor who always cured my patients and made them laugh.  Today, we went to the long term children’s ward at the Mbabane Government hospital to help the play coordinators (teachers) teach through play and I remembered why I was never fit to be a doctor.  During the short time we were there, one of the little angels went into surgery (surgery in eSwatini government hospital, yikes!).  The kids all had IV drips and one was so active, the IV almost yanked off of the wall (or out of her tiny hand).  We read them books, practiced animals/colors/shapes, and practiced with writing with the older ones.  We learned what the needs were for the play coordinator who does this full time (Please!! If anyone has megabloks type blocks, decently new-ish crayons, dry erase markers or dry erase sleeves…).

While the University of Iowa group worked more with the bedridden kids, Katy and I chatted with the program manager Raquel who is an uber sweetie! We talked about her new role with our partner, the Rocking Horse, the needs of the organization and the overall needs of the children’s ward.  I told her that my best Swazi friend died in this hospital two years ago without adult diapers even though he lost the use of his legs and had no blankets to keep him warm in the drafty winter air or adequate food for his mother who was acting as his bedside nurse (there aren’t exactly nurses for the patients) – even medications required to keep him comfortable as he died were a shortage at the hospital.  Raquel confirmed that this happens often in the children’s ward as well.  She told me that there was an influx of newborns/NICU babies who needed intravenous nutrition, but the hospital lacked the IV drips small enough for their tiny veins.  After doing research, these cost only $0.10 USD each.   

As we chatted more about needs and how we could fulfill them, a stretcher was pushed down the hallway completely covered by a sheet moving toward the morgue.  Raquel gasped.  My mind immediately went to my friend Sifiso.  He couldn’t be under there, as he died 2 years ago.  But somehow he was.  Katy and Raquel resumed talking.  I only knew this because I could see their lips moving, but it was as if no audible words were coming out.  Today I was reminded that life is so fragile, and I was not built to be a doctor. 

I returned to the ward.  I went straight to the little baby Katy and I were working with.  I picked up the book I was using with her and pointed to an animal.  In the sweetest voice, she raised her tiny hand with the IV, pointed to the animal with me and shouted “CHICKEN” with a huge grin.  It was a pig, but I cheered.  I cheered because she had a grandma there who smiled when she answered wrong, exposing a mouth with no top teeth, who laughed while she said slowly “P I G…P I G… PIG!” and the baby parroted “PIG”.  I cheered because she was getting discharged this week.  I cheered because there was no stretcher and sheet with her name on it.  I looked around the room at my amazing friend Katy and the awesome team from University of Iowa (Jordan, Professor Will, and Rachel) who were smiling and laughing with other bedridden kids and felt so blessed to be a tiny bright light in someone else’s murky world today.  Thank you for your support making all of this possible!

www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html

Thursday

May: Final Day

The "winter" breeze is blowing... rustling the beautiful flowering tree outside my bedroom window. A dog is barking in the distance. The guest house manager Futhi is belly laughing in the other room and My. Heart. Is. So. Full. I don't know why it is this way, but I just FEEL more here.  It isn't always a good thing, I feel more pain and sadness as well.  But today, after waking up early to drive across the country during the most beautiful colorful sunrise peeking out over the endless rolling mountains to the most destitute area to deliver food to some of the most hard working and deserving high school children, we spent the day with our eLangeni kids laughing and smiling until our cheeks hurt. Full, full, full… so full my heart can barely stand it.  

You see, after we delivered food (so grateful for our donors that insure the kids in food scarce environments will eat), we took Bongani and Njabuliso hiking with us.  They are the sweetest best boys you will ever meet.  It was so fun to hike and laugh and joke and be able to show them a part of their country they haven't seen before - since they are always the ones showing me around.  At the top of the mountain, Bongani rapped about life and how we must search for God even in the good times, not just going to Him when times are bad.  It's a good reminder for me... to be more like Bongani that way. Njabuliso has a big exam next month and after passing, he will be eligible for a large promotion in his job as an automotive engineer (he's one of our hardworking college graduates!)  So proud of all of our kids and love love love the young men and women they are growing into!
Jump, Bongani! I will catch you ;) 

As this trip sadly approaches its end, I will remind everyone reading about our win a trip to eSwatini program.  If you raise $250 before August 10th, you'll be eligible to win a free trip to eSwatini (by random drawing https://mailchi.mp/6c2eae4818cb/win-a-trip-to-the-kingdom-of-eswatini).  We'd love to have you participate and potentially come with us! 

Additionally, we'd love, of course, to receive your donations.  With smaller organizations like ours, no monetary denomination is too small.  (http://www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html). 

And you can always contact me directly with any questions or comments you have! anniefightspoverty@gmail.com 
Until we return to eSwatini in July...……. Siyabonga (thank you) and goodnight! 

May: Day 5

Day 5... In a nutshell:

1. An anonymous good friend donated money in January for the Malindza refugee camp borehole to be fixed.  They hadn't had water in over a year and the refugees arrive from central Africa with cholera, malaria, dysentery and other diseases where sanitation and hygiene are extremely important. We bought the new pump and there was water flowing.  But then a bit storm hit.  The tanks shifted since they weren't completely full yet and the wind was fierce.  They dislodged from their pipelines and now there are leakages everywhere.  I panicked.  The amount of money to properly replace the pipelines was a LOT.  I did a hail Mary and reached out to an amazing friend who works here in Swaziland on the water crisis.  Seth agreed to take over the entire refugee camp crisis and promised not to leave the site until it was up to his organization's standards.  I met Seth because of a beautiful amazing friend of mine, Katie, who was his photographer and who has since died of cancer.  It's amazing the connections the world spins for all of the right things to fall in place at the right time.  GRATEFUL FOR SETH and his organization - The Thirst Project! Heart full.
Tanks that cannot fill due to leakages

Leaks in all of the pipework do to being dislodged during a storm

The water the children will drink from a creek during the meantime until Thirst Project is able to save the day.

2. Super thankful for our donors enabling us to provide free popup clinics. We had kids faking coughs and fighting over our DPH (Nyquil).  We had people with "headaches" who just wanted Tylenol.  I don't blame them.  You likely have a cabinet full of first aid stuff.  What happens when you experience stomach problems, severe headaches, eczema, cold/cough/flu and you have no medicine to help your symptoms.  It's not lost on me that the 500 people we saw did not indeed currently have a headache or a cough, but I am happy we could provide them with relief when inevitably they did.  I kept giggling about my husband's "man-colds" that basically knock him unconscious and require surgery/medication/lobotomy to heal... for all of the man-cold people in line, and everyone else, you're welcome for your Tylenol. ;)




3. But we also had people at our clinics with severe situations.  For instance we had a 3 year old girl who had a wound in her leg (we still don't know how - playing?) and a worm entered and started to live/grow there.  Nothing disgusts me.  During my PhD program I worked with human feces for 6 years.  Vomit, no problem. A visible worm growing and moving just under the skin of a 3 year old? I tried to channel my husband and keep the best poker face I could while I secretly shuddered inside.  

4. We also had a 12 year girl who was HIV positive and was rejecting the 2nd line of drugs.  In America this wouldn't be a big deal because we have over 20 lines of drugs, but in Swaziland there are only two.  So now this sweet angel will slowly die an icky death and the reason she rejected her drugs so soon? She lacked food to take the medication properly.  I know it is putting a bandaid on cancer, but after the clinic (so others wouldn't see) we drove around the area in search of her house (it turns out it was "just past the tree and the rock on the other side") to offer her the leftover beans and soup that were in our trunk.  

5. We had a couple more highlights like one of my best friends Kristen Lee and her friends make Days for Girls reusable sanitary pads that were a highlight at the clinic.  50 pad kits (all we had room for this trip in our suitcases) were gone within minutes.  Similarly with our sanitized and recycled used hotel soaps.  Poof.  Gone. And the kids were sniffing the soaps and commenting on how "fresh and clean" they would smell after bathing.  Tiny used hotel soaps.





Little things go a long way here and we are ever so grateful for the support we're offered to offer those little things that mean a lot in our kids' daily lives!!

Saturday

May: Day 4

Day 4 -
The group went on safari today and saw tons of animals! Hannah had a plan to sit in the middle seat and use the other volunteers as lion food if any got too close to the Jeep.  I am happy to report to you that we lost no one in this adventure ;)

But before the safari, we had the much anticipated meeting with one of the Malindza Chief's men.  The story starts years ago.  We had a brilliant high school boy, Sethu, who was living with an ailing grandmother.  He's orphaned and alone.  Things happened and he had no where to live.  The Chief allocated land for him, we were able to raise some money (forever grateful for our amazing donors), and we built him a permanent cement structure on his brand new yard.  For a few years, everything went well.  Don't get me wrong, he lives alone.  He faces food scarcity.  He has minimal water access.  He has no electricity.  But, he had a safe place to sleep at night and a roof over his head.

Now fast forward to today. We found out yesterday that Sethu's uncles were trying to steal his home and land.  Typically in Swazi culture, the elders have rights to family lands.  And Sethu had not yet even informed the chief of what was going on to see what his side of it was.  I went to bed nervous.  But, it was all for nothing. The Chief was upset to hear of the uncles trying to take Sethu's home.  He sent his men to remove to uncles and make sure Sethu was okay.  They noticed that the neighbors were also taking advantage of Sethu by slowly encroaching on his land (which is very valuable in rural eSwatini because everyone needs it for their subsistence farms).  They suggested we invest $100 to buy a roll of barbed wire and fence Sethu's place to prevent any more thievery from taking place.  SETHU GETS TO KEEP HIS HOME!! Off to bed, goodnight!
 


Wednesday

May: Day 3

If you guys know me, you know that Dancing Gogo is my hero, and when my hero fell (from a stroke) early this year, I did not do well.  (Although as you can see from the photo of her in her hospital bed, even a nearly fatal stroke cannot knock that smile off of her face!! Be like Dancing Gogo)

She is the most strong, loving, and courageous person I've ever met.  On our honeymoon when my husband (who is buff...and hot, okay that's off subject) and I dug and dug and hit solid rock when trying to build her a toilet, we gave up after about a foot (and hours) of digging.  We went home and decided to try again the next day after re-hydrating and getting some sleep.  The digging was impossibly hard and the sun was impossibly hot.  When we got to her house the next day, she had single-handedly finished digging the 6.5 foot deep hole and somehow climbed out of it.
That was years ago, years before the stroke that took her down and took my heart down in the process.  In March when I visited her, she was unable to use half of her body.  She was unable to talk, unable to move her arm, and unable to walk....dragging her right foot as she mumbled and hobbled along.  Dancing wasn't even a figment of her imagination. 
This time, as we approached her house, I heard her yelling in clear siSwati "MY FRIEND" (as she does) and dancing with the mere help of a thin cane (as she did).  My heart melted.  Dancing Gogo dances again.  It is a miracle.  I am crying of happiness typing this and I am so so so so grateful for everyone's thoughts and prayers.  She has had no medication and no rehabilitation.  It's truly a miracle. And one that is SO needed as she cares for 3 orphans at her homestead including our twins.

We hung out with Lungelo today.  He talked about his excitement that he's finishing his 5th year and entering his final year of his accounting university program.  He has indicated a desire to move to campus dormitory housing this year (instead of living far away with his great aunt and commuting) because he will have better access to the computer lab, library and study groups.  It will be an extra $520 but it is definitely needed.  Would anyone like to contribute? He's an incredible person who has been with us for over a decade.  He is excited to graduate and give back to the other orphans of his community. Even $20 would help!! Here's his story in his own words: https://us2.campaign-archive.com/?u=99427110133c5667a9eaea056&id=743d5705f3

We rushed to the school today where we picked up Mphilo and Bongani (our helpers and navigators) to help us deliver beds and food to Bonginkhosi and Nomcebo.  HUGE thanks to Susan MacNeil and Carole Juranek for making this possible.  The kids were sleeping in mud homes on a mud floor on top of only a grass mat.  Now they have mattresses and pillows, sheets and blankets! I am going to bed with a smile on my face thinking of them cozying up on a bed for the first time as high school students.  THANK YOU for making their daily life a little bit better.



After it all, we drove Bongani home.  I listened to him talk about his new love for Biology class and his recent participation in the choral music program at school (although he thinks the current song selection is boring haha).  I heard him talk about his excitement for his final year of high school and heard an eagerness for his future.  I feel so much gratitude to YOU when I hear hope from them.  You are giving them hopes and dreams.  I am blessed to be the middle(wo)man.  But you are changing their lives.  Thank you thank you thank you.

Tuesday

May: Day 2

It's actually now the morning of day 3. Sorry for the blog's delay... I went to bed as soon as we got home last night at 8pm and just woke up (7am)! I feel like a bear coming out of hibernation! :)
Yesterday was a great but super long day! We started bright and early at eLangeni Primary School where we helped Suzi cook and serve food for 634 kids. One of the "cauldrons" is now unable to be used (the area supposed to keep the fire contained has been damaged which also resulted in fire burning the roof of the entire structure) so Suzi has to use a "portable" cookpot that weighs hundreds of pounds empty and she must carry it herself. You can see volunteer Allison stirring some of the the beans below.

After feeding the children, we went across the street to the eLangeni Preschool.  There were almost 50 kids waiting to pounce as soon as we entered the room. They yelled "take me" which apparently means pick me up and never put me down.  They were the cutest and it made me miss my little one.  (Give Tinlie a big hug and tell her that mommy has her "Africa candy" (as she calls it)).

We later delivered food to some of the most destitute child-headed and granny headed homes in Malindza - we also identified homes/locations for the 3 rain catchment systems we will be building thanks to the Power of One foundation grant we received. We decided on the following:
1. We approached a home where it appeared as if no one was home.  As we were leaving, we heard a weak voice off to the side of the home.  An elderly lady was laying under a blanket.  She was the grandmother of the 12 year old orphan we were trying to find.  The 12 year old was at school and the grandmother is paralyzed, laying under the blanket, unable to move, until the grandchild comes home to care for her.  They will receive the first rain catchment system.
2. We met a lady raising 3 small children.  She is actually the sister of the children's grandmother.  The grandmother passed last year.  She moved in to help the kids.  They will get the second rain catchment.
3. We walked into a yard of a woman named Happy.  We noticed that her stick and mud home (see below) was not sturdy enough to accommodate a rain catchment gutter system, so we will build her and her orphaned grandchildren a home before installing the rain catchment system.  She is the mother to two grown boys and now is raising her sister's grandchildren.  Her sister died when her youngest child was only 8 months old.  Now she is 14 months.  She was thrilled to get food as she spent the entire day going door to door asking for food to feed the baby to no avail. As she was expressing her gratitude for the home and rain catchment, she said - "I have asked God to provide for these babies, to give me what I need to care for them.  And He brought me you." What He did was bring the lady YOU! So grateful for our donors who change lives in rural eSwatini.  I cannot imagine trying to raise my daughter (or my sister's kids) in a stick and mud hut without food or water.  Thank you for giving her what she needs to give them a fighting chance!!


Excerpt from Sage:
Day 2 here in eSwatini and the busy days are in full swing! We started off the day by visiting eLangeni primary school to assist with making the lunches of over 600 students. Rice and beans mixed with some peanut butter and soup mix was on the menu for the day. All 7 of us realized just how weak we are when we learned that Suzi carries very large, heavy pots full of rice, beans, and water by herself every day whereas it took two and sometimes three of us to do the same tasks. After finishing up lunch and helping serve the students, we headed over to the preschool to play some games and entertain the kids for a bit (which I think their teacher appreciated). My workout for the day included picking up and swinging every kid who would yell “take me” while jumping up and down in my face because how do you say no to that? We finished out the day delivering food to several of the sponsored kids homes and preparing for the construction of rain catchment systems that will happen later this week. One of the highlights of the day was seeing dancing Gogo still dancing and smiling after suffering a severe stroke within the past year. Although this is my second trip to eSwatini, I’m still blown away by the gratitude of kids, families, and other individuals who receive support from Give Hope, Fight Poverty in one way or another. But more than that, I’m finding myself more and more inspired by the positive attitudes and resiliency of Swazi people, like dancing Gogo, and think we all have a lot to learn from them. 

Monday

May 2019: Day 1

Last trip to eSwatini, you didn't see any blog posts from me.  It's tough programming an entire day then coming home to log receipts and blog after everyone else in my group falls asleep.  So this trip, I'm going to put my team to work! Tonight's guest blog after my short excerpt is from Hannah Lindgren.  This is actually her second trip to eSwatini.  Her goal - both trips - is to film the kids thereby giving them a voice to tell their stories to the world.  Stay tuned for more on that.

Tonight, we delivered food and visited with two of our original child-headed homes (added to our program over a decade ago).  At the first home, we learned they have experienced food scarcity for 2 weeks.  They've been struggling but working hard to continue their pursuit of their college studies and their hopes of starting a rural grocery store.  Many of you recently donated your old clothes.  Some of these clothes we wear during the trip and leave behind with the girls who will eventually clean, mend (if needed) and sell them. Tonight we heard from one of the girls who sells our old clothes as a means to support her child-headed family.  She mentioned that from the sale of the clothes we left in March she was able to buy medication for her sister who has experienced chronic throat ulcers.  She also bought handigas to be able to cook indoors when it rains and bought some food as well. Thank you for your donations!

We then went to Mazwi and Mphilo's home to say hello.  When we asked Mphilo how her day at school was, she answered "marvelous".  If only I could remain as positive as Mphilo.  We talked to them about their new goats, their baby chickens (just born) and their excitement around their future.  Mazwi is interested in rapping now and even gave us a taste of his new lyrics.  I must admit that I am partial to everything Mazwi says and does... so I might have to start getting into rap now ;) He later texted me that he needs to repeat his video recording because he had not rehearsed enough and was not ready ;)

Here's an excerpt from Hannah:
We made it to eSwatini! As we watched the Indiana-like fields of South Africa turn into hilly, rocky eSwatini, I did some reflecting. It's been 14 months since my first trip with Give Hope and already so much has changed. This time around, the "newness" and raw differences of life here that I was flooded with the first time have been replaced with a sense of comfort and familiarity, allowing me to see things with a fresh perspective and new depth. This is a complicated, beautiful place, and I'm incredibly excited to have another opportunity to give these amazing kids a platform to tell their stories. Already on Day 1, we conducted four interviews! This week we're also going to gather a lot of new footage and photos of Give Hope programs that we haven't gotten before. The possibilities for how we can use this footage and the impacts the videos can have are endless. With an end-of-the-first-day perspective, the week ahead seems long, but I know it's going to end up flying by. Now time to get some sleep so I'm ready for it!

Wednesday

Final Day of Jan 2019 trip


“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” I think about how often I have been speechless when I sit down to write my blogs at night.  Any words I type don’t seem to adequately capture the inexplainable beauty and the underlying pain so abundant here in Swaziland, but I try.  I can’t wait until May when Hannah will return to capture the children’s stories in their own words…but until then, here I am, your storyteller. 

This morning we started early to fetch Raymond – our builder.  We drove to the hardware store where we purchased the materials for two more rain catchment systems, this time for granny headed homes in Malindza village.  As we followed the “for hire” truck carrying all of the building materials, I prepped the group to meet “dancing gogo”, my hero!  And, sure enough, she lived up to her nickname.  She even ran inside to tie traditional Swazi ankle bracelets on that sound like rain sticks when she moves. Dancing gogo dances to the beat of her own drum – with a nearly toothless smile on her face – despite the tough life she lives.  Almost all of her children are dead and she’s raising her grandchildren without a job or any income.  She works tirelessly while smiling and dancing.  Previously she had to walk very far pushing a wheel barrow full of tanks to fetch water.  Now, thanks to your generosity, her work will be a little easier because she will have access to water on her homestead through an enormous tank Raymond is installing tomorrow!  Thank you so much!


After getting Raymond set up to build the two tank systems, we went to our New Hope Centre where we met with Nurse Kandas to host our free pop-up clinic.  We saw around 100 orphans and elderly people from the village.  Sweet Banelile (you have read about her in past blogs this week) was the only one we couldn’t treat on site.  She needed an injection for her asthma.  So, we drove her with us to our next stop – the refugee camp - where Kandas was able to provide the injection at his clinic there.   

Pulling up to the camp, I didn’t know what to expect.  I only knew beforehand the very basics:  There are around 500 people living in the camp with almost 300 of them being children under the age of 17 – some even unaccompanied minors.  The refugees are escaping war and famine around Africa.  The camp is a severely underfunded.   When we asked the Director why they kept admitting new refugees when they could not properly accommodate the ones they currently have, he said Swaziland has a law that prevents them from turning anyone away.  But he also mentioned that when he pleads with government for funding, they tell him they are already stretched too thin.  There are many problems at the camp, but one is that there is not enough free food, so they only offer it to the children and disabled.  But they end up sharing it with those around them creating a culture of malnutrition.  Also, there is no water and hasn’t been for almost a year.  They built 16 pit latrine toilets at some point, but they are now all overflowing.  Since many of the refugees have cholera upon entry, sanitation is so crucial to prevent the spread of disease – particularly to the 65 children who make up the youngest and most vulnerable cohort: aged 0 - 4y. 

Thanks to a dear friend of mine matching donations in a recent facebook campaign, and all of you donating to reach the goal, we were able to raise enough money to build toilets at the camp. However, the director told us that the lodging actually has flush toilets inside.  The only problem (and the reason why they built the pit toilets to begin with) is that there is no water to flush the toilets.  They have a borehole but the pump malfunctioned a year ago and they have been unable to fix it due to a lack of funds. Therefore, instead of building more pit latrine toilets, we went to a drilling business where we commissioned them to fix the borehole.  They said that the previous pump was much too weak to accommodate a 500-person community causing it to die before it was destined.  We bought a larger, more powerful pump that is supposed to last at least 10 years! I’m prayerful that the pump works perfectly and the refugees are able to have access to clean fresh water for the next decade!  Your donation is a blessing! Water is life!  

On our way out of the camp, a man came up with an excited grin!! He pulled out a stack of papers and said “Hello.  I need an American wife.  I have my paperwork!” I’m not exactly sure what paperwork he was referring to, but shucks…I’m already married. I let the other girls fend for themselves as I took pictures of the children playing barefoot in the rain.  I couldn’t help but think how awful their lives must have been back home that they would pack up their small children and flee to Swaziland’s refugee camp located in the middle of a desert without access to water, minimal access to food, and sanitation levels that are a recipe for a public health outbreak.  Thankfully, through the generosity of our donors, the water will solve many of these problems for the women and kids who make up a majority of the camp.  Siyabonga kakhulu for your support…

This is the last blog until our next group arrives on the ground the 1st of March.  Until then, thank you so much for your generosity! Nothing is possible without you.


Or visit our website: www.ifightpoverty.org

And if you have 4 minutes, watch this video: https://youtu.be/WzKft6AxGWs 

Tuesday

NYE and New Year's Day 2019!


New Year’s Eve: My daughter Tinlie Lihle always askes me “Mommy, will you rub my arm?” as I put her to bed. Tonight (after a much needed nap), we went to eLangeni to shoot off crickets (fireworks) with the Msibis and Mazwi & Mphilo – a tradition we started many years ago.  I don’t even like fireworks, but it is so beautiful here.  You see, there are no lights in the rural areas.  No street lights at all.  It’s complete darkness other than the glitter shooting up from the ground and exploding in the sky.  We were dancing and singing and playing games in the light of the fireworks and in the black darkness of the night.  But just before midnight, Junior (5 years old) woke up scared from the fireworks.  He came to the door crying.  I left the others to put him back to bed - on his blanket on the cement floor.  As I snuggled him back to sleep, I rubbed his arm the way I do with my 3 year old and sang “Jesus loves me, this I know” just like I do with her, into his sleepy ear.  Missing my baby girl tonight!! Can’t wait for her to be old enough to tag along with me in Swaziland…

But let’s back up!  This morning we paid the eLangeni high school fees for all 11 orphaned students (THANK YOU SO MUCH!!).  We pay these fees directly to the bank eliminating any chances of corruption.  We are very grateful that you are investing in these hardworking amazing children!! Siyabonga!! Watching what the children are able to accomplish with your support is one of the biggest blessings in my life!

Afterward we went to Malindza village where we hosted our annual NYE party.  We had over 100 children attend.  These are orphans from preK through primary.  We played games and the children ate the chicken we provided (meat is an extreme luxury here!).  We also spent the day getting Banelile prepared for her first year at the school for the Deaf.  It makes me so sad that there aren’t services here.  I couldn’t stop thinking about one of my best friends Lindsay who is a speech pathologist and how much I wish she could help.  Here I go getting ahead of myself again… Banelile is 6 years old and mute. But she is very sharp! She understands commands and can write.  She just can’t talk.  And because of this, in Swaziland, they will not accept her into the public schools paid for by the government.  Without our donor Anika paying her school fees at the school for the Deaf, she would sit at home every year while her speaking peers would learn and grow.  But the school for the deaf is a boarding school.  It may be a blessing in disguise that she has a place to live – as long as she learns to love it – because her mother is dead.  And her father abandoned her when he realized she “wasn’t perfect”.  She was being raised by her grandmother, but she had a stroke and is immobile.  Banelile is now alone.  Perhaps although in my Western mind, I’m cringing that she has to go to a deaf school although she hears perfectly, she will gain a new community of peers, friends and “family”.

Okay, we’re back to the fireworks part of my story… Someone brings out a radio. Suddenly dance music is playing loudly in the dark, under the glittering sky.  Mazwi hears the beat and starts swaying.   We form a circle around him cheering him on, and he starts dancing… SO BEAUTIFULLY!  (Although if you know me, I am biased.  Sweet 3 year old orphaned Mazwi, 12 years ago, is the main reason GHFP was formed – everything he does is beautiful to me!!  And I pray every day that a cure for HIV is found so he can live “forever”.)  As he was dancing, I couldn’t help but remember my friend Sifiso, who died of AIDS last November.  Sifiso was a professional dancer and 6 years ago, when Mazwi was 9 years old, he gave Mazwi his first unofficial “dance lesson”.  Sifiso would be so proud to see him now!! It is now 1am and I’m tired.  Sorry if this blog is scrambled thoughts.  But my main thought tonight is gratitude.  Endless thanks to all of our donors who make these children’s lives better.  When I see these kids now, smiling hopeful and happy, my mind always momentarily flashes back for a second to their previous life – before your sponsorship – scared and unsure… and I am giddy with endless abundant gratitude!! 

New Year’s Day: Today we drove to Hlane Royal National Park.  Elise was hopeful to see an elephant.  As we drove into the park, we saw giraffes along the highway eating leaves from tall trees.  During the safari, they also saw lions, rhinos, warthogs, impala, hippos bathing in the watering hole, and ELEPHANTS!  We dropped off our used clothes with Nomalungelo on our drive.  She will sell them and use the money to support herself (she is done with high-school but there are no jobs in her rural village, so we try to support her this way).  Once we arrived at home, the girls spent 2 hours sanitizing soaps.  We collect used soaps from local hotels and sanitize them in a bleach solution before distributing them to children in the rural communities.  Tomorrow we will distribute them to the refugee camp and at our rural pop-up pediatric clinic. 

Goodnight from eSwatini!! To the Dorsch, Kaur, Madhan and Andersen families – THANK YOU for sharing your family with us… the ladies have been AMAZING here and have been crucial in the implementation of our programming! I hope they have gained a fraction of what they have given back.  If anyone would like to support our programming, you can do so here: www.ifightpoverty.org/donate.html