MALINDZA DAY! I have been so excited for this day to come. It was promising to be filled with action and hard work…two of my favorite things. We arrived in Malindza early to meet with the Chief and village elders. The GHFP girls were nervous. How should I sit? Should I look them in their eyes? What if I get the “handshake” wrong? I told them not to worry, everything would be fine. As we sat on the ground under the tree below the men (culture) and tried to maintain composure regardless of the (venomous?!) spiders crawling all over us, the men thanked us for building them a school and were thrilled that we were continuing to support their ever-growing orphaned community. The Chief’s right hand man is too old and crippled to actually make any of the meetings. Maseko explained to us that extensive notes are taken at each meeting and relayed to this man at a later time. But soon the eldest Swazi man I have ever seen is slowly making his way toward us. Barely audible and only with the aid of a bottom row of teeth, this man said that our arrival to his homestead was too important for him to remain in bed. He wanted to thank us in person for all of our support and said that when he soon reached God, he would plead for him to bless us abundantly. When the meeting was over, we drove deep into the bush to one of their only water sources (Malindza is a desert) to buy vegetables to support the rural gardeners. We bought hundreds of dollars of green beans, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, beet root, and onion for our eLangeni Primary School (Thank you Mitali, FOODOM). As we were “shopping” in the enormous farm, Andee was sinking into the mud… today was not the day to wear flip flops but she had already donated all of her other shoes to orphaned kiddos! Whoops.
Then it was time to check on the progress of our Give Hope, Fight Poverty primary school. I get butterflies and giddy on our long journey down a dirt path. Finally I see our fence, and behind it - all of the community gogos (grandmothers) and elderly men who volunteer every day to clear the bush and to help lay the bricks. They are dancing, singing and rushing to greet us. I glance past our pit latrines (the only standing structure last week) to see the grade one foundation almost built! Between that and the excitement from the gogos – tears rushed to my eyes. I spun in a circle in my traditional Swazi wrap (skirt) and imagined amazing little orphaned children running around smiling in their school uniforms finally able to receive a formal education for the very first time. All because of the generosity of our donors in the States (Thank you Aunt Boss and Sube). Powerful! I was eager to get inside of the classroom and pictured the tiny desks, Nomfundo (our grade 1 teacher), and eager 6 year old pupils holding new pencils and an exercise book chanting “A, B, C, D…” in their adorable Swazi accents. I simply cannot express my gratitude enough. It seems unfair that I dream things and somehow they happen. I only wish I could dream AIDS to vanish and orphans to have their parents back.
We are now late to pick up our sponsored child-headed household orphans from their school. I pull up to school and I see our gorgeous Sharon. She tells me she will be right back and runs inside the school. Soon she returns with her teacher. The teacher greets me and says that Sharon has been talking all day about how her “new mom” was going to pick her up today and how she wanted her to meet me. My heart broke. This HIV positive 16 year old should be talking about her real mom. Her birth mom. I am only able to help because of the generosity of YOU all. Please don’t praise the messenger. I tear up and tell her that I too am a teacher and it is beautiful how much teachers worldwide love their students.
We drop Nomalungelo off at her homestead. When we reach Nomalungelo’s we learn that her GHFP sponsored sister Nothando had her baby last Friday…a little girl named Luyanda. The father is apparently present but not working. And now the mother – our Nothando – is a second-time high school dropout. With the parents not working and having no access to any resources how will this baby thrive? I say my prayers and promise Nomalungelo that we will see her in November. She says it’s too far away and resists letting go of my hand. Every time I peel a child’s hand from mine and promise some distant future reunion a piece of my heart breaks.
Then it’s Sharon’s turn. We drive her to her homestead where her gogo (grandmother c
aregiver) is waiting for us with a smile on her face and a dance in her step. I LOVE Sharon’s Gogo so much. We learn today that she is only 55 years old but looks almost double that. She said that hard work and stress has aged her and she will soon die. The stress of all of her 7 children dying of AIDS and leaving her with 4 grandchildren (2 of which have AIDS) may have caused wrinkles in her face but not her amazing heart. I tell her she has at least another 55 years to go and besides…Sharon needs her. But I think about what she says. Hard work and Swaziland ages you. Children are forced to be adults. Adults are worked to the bone and sent to an early grave. Even the animals are struggling. If I had to see ONE more starving dog today, I was sure I was going to pack them all in my suitcase and take them home. On our drive home with a heavy heart I see a truck slam into a hungry puppy racing into the highway. I couldn’t help but wonder if the homeless hungry puppy ran into the oncoming traffic on purpose. A life without food, shelter, and love is no life at all. The GHFP girls are now all in the backseat crying. They are wondering how I am holding it together. Honestly I do not know, I think I am just numb…but I tell them that I try to turn my sadness into motivation. As we barrel on down the MR3 we see countless children in school uniforms playing with trash along the highway. As they see our kombi, smiles erupt and they are soon waving at our passing car. The GHFP girls cannot even muster a fake smile through their tears and I am forced to shout “Sawubonas” and “un jani’s” out the car window for us all… God bless the Swazi children and then bless them some more.
Grade One classroom foundation almost complete!! I cannot believe my eyes...