Days 8 & 9:
Quote of the day: Little Mazwi stared at a plate of chicken and asked “Is that for ME????” Thanks to Mitali’s generous donation the kids have been eating like royalty and will continue to do so for at least the next year. We have been purchasing meats, vegetables, and cooking oil directly from the wholesalers, butchers, and farmers to feed our sponsored children in addition to the 630 children at the secondary school and the 1,000 at the primary school. It is particularly important for our children who are HIV positive and taking ARVs. The kids will become quite sick if they are not receiving enough protein and calories throughout the day. What a blessing this donation has been reaching around 1,650 children.
We made sure our kids had access to a cell phone this month and were told to contact us anytime. Incoming calls are free, so they knew they could always buzz or text us and we would call them right back. This morning I awoke before 6am to a text saying “please call” from our Sizo. I nervously rushed to call back wondering why he would be texting so early in the morning. No worries, he was simply asking permission to go on a school field trip the next day. When he hung up he said “See you tomorrow, love you”. Best wake up call ever.
This morning we met with Maseko – a village facilitator introduced to me by someone who runs a water NGO in the US. He works in Malindza community and wanted us to learn about the child-headed households there. It was just Katy and myself as the Kait and Amber didnt arrive until the late afternoon.
It was definitely a day full of emotion. First emotion – fear. We rode the bus to Manzini and was told by the bus driver that since the teachers are protesting in the kombi park he had to drop us off around the corner. We thought to ourselves – No problem. The police were already stationed to ensure that the protest remained peaceful but they were less concerned about that and more concerned about the white people that stepped off of the bus. We hear “Hey – Stop!” and of course I pull my usual maneuver and pretend I don’t hear them and keep moving. Katy; however, did not follow suit and stopped to talk to the scary policeman. Another stopped me and made me come back and apologize to the scary policeman for ignoring him. We were in big trouble. The policeman said that it is illegal to get off of a bus anyplace other than a bus stop and we were going to be taken to the police station immediately. Katy gave the slightly nicer looking cop some serious puppy-dog eyes and BINGO, he told meanie to let us go. Phew. Who knows what happens at Swazi police stations. Fortunately, our new friend Maseko is a Manzini police officer and told us that if that ever happens to us again to give him a call and he would fix everything for us. Double phew.
Second emotion – unbelievable sadness. Maseko’s community, Malindza, is extremely impoverished…even more so than eLangeni. Maseko had all of the orphans of child-headed families meet with us at the town hall. When we got there, they were already waiting for us singing gospel songs with the most beautiful voices. There were at least 150 children packed into this hall – many without shoes, torn clothes, and rotten teeth. After the singing, they were told to line up in families and come tell us their stories: what school they go to, who takes care of them, what grade they’re in, if they have siblings, etc. Family after family came to us with hope in their eyes and a passion to live better lives in their hearts and Katy and I sat there helpless and listened to the most painful stories: children who do not know who their parents are because they were abandoned in fields at young ages, children who have had their mothers and fathers stolen by AIDS, children who are raised by a neighbor or grandmother without even enough food or money to take care of themselves… We saw some children who were vulnerable (currently have one parent but that parent is dying). One father was extremely sick with AIDS – terribly thin and could barely move. He had walked a very far distance with his young son in 7th grade just to see if we could take over his son’s school fees as he would not be alive long enough to ensure that he graduated from high school. We had one young girl who was 11 years old and had never been to school because her father did not have money to pay for her. The stories were endless and unbelievably sad. Katy was constantly trying with all of her might to hold back her tears. Every time I glanced at her I almost lost it myself. It was awful to be in a position where all of these people were hoping and praying that we could help them out of their horrible situations. It was awful to listen to story after story and feel so inadequate and helpless. I praised God for the comic relief I received when we were getting back to the car. The red dust was all over the white car and some of the kids who were waiting for their turn to tell their story must have used the time to draw comically profane body parts on the car windows. When I pointed it out to Katy, she strategically placed a small cute child in front of the window so she could get pictures while remaining discrete. Genius. Sometimes you have to laugh so that you don’t cry.
Last emotion – unconditional love. When we got back to the guest house, it was perfect timing. The girls had finally arrived!! I wanted to be sure to have Amber dive right in as she had already missed so much time due to delayed planes so we took her immediately to meet the Msibi child-headed household. We sat on the floor of their dung hut and played cards, sang songs, told stories, and laughed and laughed and laughed. When I was feeling inadequate and awful, Katy reminded me of the story that I had once told her about the starfish. An old man saw a young kid rushing up and down the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean and the old man said, “Son, you cant possibly save all of those starfish. The ocean is so huge, you cant possibly make a difference”. And the young boy looked back at him and said, “Well I made a difference to that one”. I have to constantly remind myself of that story while I am here. The need here, and in the world, is too great for one person – but collectively we can make a difference. And regardless of whether or not Give Hope, Fight Poverty ever grows to be able to make a difference across Swaziland or across the world… we can at least be 100% certain that we have made a difference in our eLangeni children’s lives, and they have absolutely made a difference in mine.