This blog so far has been used to tell our story, to give you a glimpse into what we are doing, when really we came to share their stories. To be honest, it has been too hard to write as everything inside is still too raw. Each time I have tried in my head to formulate what we see I stop, because to think too deeply opens up a barrage of emotions I am not ready to deal with (or choose not to deal with). In fact most nights we are in bed by 8.30pm and Chris and I just lie there knowing that the other is thinking the same things but both not ready to share.
You see we have been visiting many families in their homesteads and I have learnt during this time to put my emotions in a box because these people deserve my joy, kindness and love, not my pity. Besides, it has been a time of celebration and party not tears. Yesterday was our last party, so I will now attempt to share over the next few blog posts some of what we see and think.
Many times I have talked about the statistics of Swaziland. Statistics like:
• Over 75% of Swazis live below the poverty line and over 60% lives on less than $1.25 a day
• Of a population of 1.1 million, 100,000 are orphans with this number rising
• Over 42% of the population are infected with HIV/AIDS
• Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy at 39
•The ratio of doctors in Australia is 1 to 500; in Swaziland it is 1 to 30,000
With no action the UN projects that the Swazi people will cease to exist by the year 2050.
But these statistics represent individual people. Over the last couple of weeks we have been privileged to meet some of these amazing people and I will introduce you to them in coming blogs.
For now I want to give you a glimpse of what we have been seeing.
Every homestead we visited has been touched by death through HIV/Aids or TB, some as recently as last month. Almost every homestead we visited has someone currently living with HIV or TB or both. Those who haven’t contracted these illnesses are most likely malnourished and at risk anyway.
Food is required to take their medication… however most are lucky to eat a meal a day.
Most families we visited are run by an ageing gogo (grandmother) who cares for many children. In many cases the gogo’s own children are dead and they take on the care of their grandchildren and any other orphaned in the area. In some homes there are as many as 17 children.
Most families live with leaky roofs, broken walls and sleep on mud floors. It is the rainy season so you can imagine what the homesteads look like.
By the sides of the road is advertised ‘boxes’ – another word for coffins. This, unfortunately, is a thriving business. How sad is that? Up until a few years ago funerals were grouped together and there was no private ceremony.
These are general facts. Let me tell you some individual stories…
This mother or ‘make’ (pronounced mar-geh ) has been married twice but both husbands have died. She has 7 children, however most are grown and have gone to work in the towns. Her children send their children to her to look after them… but does not send any money to support them. The mother goes to neighbouring homes to wash clothes and weed gardens but that doesn’t make ends meet. As a result one of her sons has had to drop out of school to look after the neighbour’s cows to earn some extra money. He wants to go to school but circumstances means he can’t.
She makes mats for her family.
Then there’s a small boy of 8. He came to the homestead we visited with his mother and 2 siblings from another father. They are not related to anyone living on the homestead. His mother was an alcoholic and would leave the children to go and drink homebrew (which we are told is very potent). One night she was stabbed and died. The father came and took his own 2 boys but left this small boy as he was not his own. He is now a double orphan, left with a man and gogo who also leave him and go drinking. When we saw him he had not eaten all day and was in rags. He is desperate to go to school with his friends.
When we arrived at this particular homestead we found this old and frail gogo on the dusty ground surrounded by cows. We scared them away and then to our horror watched as she crawled on her hands and feet on the dusty ground to a mat. This gogo cannot walk. She lives on her sister’s land so a house can’t be built for her. All her children have died from AIDS except for one daughter who occasionally visits and brings her food. She most likely has Parkinson’s disease as she shakes uncontrollably but this kind if illness will remain undiagnosed. Her gratefulness for the small gifts we gave her was overwhelming.
Finally there is a boy who’s name means “good gift’, a small severely disabled boy of 8 who looks more like 4.
When we visited him we found him lying on a bed in a hot smelly room. His mother goes to work each day and so he is left all alone, often locked in his hut with no food or water, wearing only a nappy. Apparently during school his little sister (aged 6) feeds him when she comes back from school. However it’s school holidays now and she was nowhere to be seen. We gave him some water which he drank like he had never had a drink. Chris sponged him down. A child in Swaziland seems to be valued so long as they are able to work. Children fetch water, wood and care for younger siblings.
This boy would be considered useless by some homesteads (not all) and children like these are often left to die.
This was just one afternoon and it was like we had entered hell. I still struggle to cope with all this let alone to know what to do. I know it is one life at a time. But the biggest dilemma here is which life? How do you prioritise amidst such poverty, illness and degradation? Every person has value, deserves respect and dignity.
These are some of the many sad stories that need to be told so people understand the daily realities here, however in amongst this are green shoots of hope and I will bring you these stories too.
We have sung many a time to God a line in the song ‘Hosanna’ (by Brooke Fraser) which says ‘break my heart for what breaks Yours, everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause’ and have meant it.
But I have to admit today I would take that back.
Our hearts are broken… we will never be the same again.