Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Health Clinics" at the schools

Last week I took two retired Swazi nurses to do a mini health clinic at five of the Methodist schools in the Central Circuit. Thanks to Dennis Little, a Volunteer in Mission who resides in the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist church in the United States, a grant from the National Childrens Home out of the United Kingdom has been given to the schools of the Methodist Church in the Central Circuit. The grant provides funds to allow the Central Circuit to help the schools identify children that are likely to be HIV+ because of their situation or health concerns. The ultimate goal is early detection of the disease, to get the children on ARVs as soon as possible and assist in other areas related to the care of the HIV+ children, especially those who are orphaned or who come from destitute families.

In order to get a better idea of what we would find in the schools, and what approach should be taken to implement the grant, we determined that we should visit the schools and see the children. We didn’t want to go to the schools, ask who was sick with what and not have anything to help the situation, so we went to perform a “health clinic.” The OVCs (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children) that were “sick” on the day we visited the school lined up to see the nurse. After a short interview with the child, basic over-the-counter medications were provided to the child if appropriate. The nurses saw a total of 253 students; 116 were at one school! Most of the children had abdominal pains which could have been attributed to the flu but the cause was most likely worms. Other conditions included ring worms, chest pain/coughing, Flu and a condition called Bilharzia which is a parasite that comes swimming, bathing, urinating or even coming in contact with water from infected rivers. Bilharzia is also known as snail’s disease. Basically the parasite enters the bloodstream and grows in the blood in the liver. Next to Malaria, Bilharzia is the second most dangerous and preventable parasitic disease found in Africa and other tropical countries. Bilharzia causes poor growth, cognitive dysfunction, anemia, bladder and liver disease and premature death. Bilharzia is preventable and symptoms can be reversed with an annual dose of a pill that now costs about 18 cents apiece. We did not have this medication. There were various other suspected conditions such as severe asthma, mumps, chicken pox, TB as well as the lesser complaints such as ear aches, toothaches, allergies, etc. We saw many children that were very small for their age and we saw 6 or 7 children that had already been diagnosed to be HIV+ and were on ARV medication.

These visits also gave me a chance to visit the schools and learn more about the educational needs of the school. The remaining schools will be visited over the next couple of weeks. As time goes on, I will introduce you to the schools that I have not already written about.

These visits were no different from everything else here in Swaziland. There were very hard parts and there were bright spots. It was hard to see the children and know that they were really not going to be treated for their illnesses, but they would receive a “band aide” for their condition. The condition of the schools would be unacceptable in the US. However, the smiles of the children were precious and I met some teachers who had dreams of making a difference at their school. One teacher has dreams of starting a library complete which a reading corner for small ones (because “little ones like to lay down as they read”) and tables so older children could do small research papers. I don’t know how that would be possible, but the enthusiasm and dream was certainly a highlight of the day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The highs and lows of Swaziland

The last 9 days have been a time of inner struggle for me and as a result, I haven’t kept up with my blog. I feel I must apologize, but I just didn’t know what to say or how to express my thoughts and feelings. As I reflect on the last week or so and read my journal I realize that there have been some very good moments and some very low or perplexing moments. Many things have been very frustrating as I am faced with some of the idiosyncrasies of life in Swaziland.

Some of the high points:
I have joined a bible study of other Christian women, all of whom speak English. Most are from various countries, other than Swaziland. Several are from the US. What a blessing it is to share the love of Christ and celebrate friendship with other women in a language you can understand. I had no idea what a precious gift that was until I came here. The women have let me know that they have all gone through what I am going through. This is a very supportive group of women. I have missed my friends, UMW, Stephen Ministry and understanding the prayers, songs and, yes, even sermons during worship so much. This group of women have been God’s gift to me, an answer to my prayers and a way for me to refill my cup.

I spent some serious quiet time in communication with my heavenly Father and felt his presence and love in every breath I took. There is no doubt in my heart or mind that he loves me and is with me every step of my journey. I know I am not alone.

I finally got my laptop to communicate over the Internet AND I have a phone line to my cottage. THANK YOU LORD! This entire endeavour has been very humbling for me and has put me in the position to truly believe in the faith I say I have. I have had to rely on God to keep me safe, in touch with my loved ones and to bring me the help needed to solve problems and do just about everything since coming to Swaziland.

My time “talking” via google talk to Karah, Kimber and Laura have got me through some tough moments and have kept me in touch with what is going on back home. I am so grateful for these times. In addition, Laura and I now have a schedule where she calls me each week.

Laughing at the cows that just won’t move off of the paved road and coming to love that bit of Swaziland. I pray that never becomes common place in my mind.

Watching 9 little boys laugh and tease each other as they performed a bit of manual labor to prepare their new boarding rooms for inhabitation in the near future (I hope). They had such fun trying to understand what I was saying and bragging to each other when one understood and the other one didn’t. I heard Jesus whisper in my ear that this was why I was here…”one heart at a time, one child at a time.”

Some of the low points:
Missing my dear friends and family - especially my sons and father.

Waiting. Waiting for people to show up - Swazi time is always late. Waiting for things to get done. Waiting to find out, no, you need to do one more thing at a different place. Waiting for the schools to open. Waiting for the day to end; waiting for the night to end. Waiting to use a phone, waiting to use the computer.

Trying to call someone to get something done or get a piece of information, but not knowing who to call or if they will speak enough English so that we can communicate with each other. I generally understand about 1/3 of what they are saying if I am lucky. I’m sure the understanding is mutual. This is one of my biggest obstacles and the hardest task for me to do. I ask for prayers to help me overcome my fear of this.

Realizing that most Swazi’s don’t have a sense of urgency or planning. It is not what they have been taught and not part of their culture. I must respect that and work within those boundaries.

Realizing that many children have no health care, food, or water, and there is little I can do about it especially in the short term.

Being handed a list of 103 children’s names that had medical complaints at the end of the school term. And then going to the school the following week with a nurse (a miracle in and of itself!) after the start of the new term, seeing 116 children in 4 hours and providing little care for them other than vitamins, the equivalent to Tylenol and cough syrup. We had to turn away probably 50 or so children.

Being informed on Thursday night and Friday morning that although the schools were back in session on Tuesday, at least two schools didn’t have either a cook and/or enough food to feed the children so the children came to school expecting a meal and received nothing. Some of the children at one of the poorest schools cried. All were sent home hungrier than when they arrived. Not knowing how to solve that problem or what to do to make things better.

However, I hold firm to Philippians 4:21 “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” And to the advice in 1Chronicles 28:20: “Be strong and courageous and do the work.” For as Jeremiah reminds us, God knows the plans he has for us. He knew them before we were born. He has plans for us to prosper and to not bring us harm. Plans to give us hope and a future. Yes, there will be good times and not so good times. Please hold me in your prayers as I go through both. I appreciate all the e-mails and prayers. They have helped me though the not so good times and turned the bad to good.

This week I will be visiting 6 schools/carepoints in 5 days. That is a lot of travelling on Swaziland roads. To give you a bit of insight into the conditions of some of the roads, it took me 40 minutes to drive to one school that was 2 kilometers away. In contrast, if I am able to stay on the main roads, I can be to any point in Swaziland in 1 ½ hours or less. TIA = This is Africa

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Zondle Orphanage

Today a wonderful woman in her 80’s called Gogo (Grandma) Simelane took Rev. Ngema and I to a girls and then a boys home/orphanage. The girls’ orphanage was opened circa 1967 by Zondle Mother’s Organization. Roughly translated, Zondle means to teach one to be responsible for them self.

Zondle Mother’s Organization started with a feeding scheme called Save the Children to feed children in the communities who couldn’t afford to pay for lunch during school. The need was very great. Then the communities started identifying children who were orphans or were in very abusive situations. Some of the children were victims of child labor abuse at an early age. At first the women in the organization took the children into their homes to care for them as one of their own. But as Gogo tells it, when it came time for the women to take in the second child, their husbands wouldn’t allow it. So, they bought land and started an orphanage just outside the city limits of Hlatikulu, about an hour’s drive South of Manzini. Gogo also said that back then, it took the entire day to travel from Manzini to Hlatikulu.

The girl’s orphanage has 30 children. Most are girls, but they also take in boys as young as two and keep them at the girls’ orphanage (“because girls like to mother the little ones”) until they are 6 years old and then they are moved to the boy’s orphanage in Manzini. It is a lovely, home environment, very warm, neat and clean. The girls also raise chickens for the eggs and have a small vegetable garden. The children are sent to primary and then secondary school. The girls were most gracious, beautiful and were typical girls. One definitely knew you were at a home full of girls, although they were very quiet with small giggles any time you glanced their way.

After visiting the girls’ orphanage we drove to the boys’ orphanage outside of Manzini. It is more like a working farm and is quite the opposite of the girl’s home. It also houses 30 children; all boys. The boy’s home raises the Maize and majority of the vegetables for the girl’s home as well as their own. They also raise chickens (for eggs and eating) and pigs. It too is a wonderful home environment. The boys were much quieter than the girls; we didn’t get singing or near as many giggles and smiles, but ask one to open a gate and they ran like the wind!

After high school, most of the children go on to some sort of training. Some have gone on to be teachers or nurses, and one even went to a University in the UK. The orphanages are funded solely by donations. I saw a financial sheet for 2005, and the years operating costs were approximately E120,000 or approximately $17,145.

This is one more organization in Swaziland that is in need of prayers and support. It was started by a group of dedicated, caring Christian women who were in their 20’s. Now those women are passing on. I couldn’t help wonder what is going to happen to these children when the Gogos are gone. I hope there are other young, energetic, compassionate women ready to take their place, but I’m suspecting that the needs are now so great, that a small organization such as this may fall by the wayside. I pray that won’t happen because it has certainly made a difference in many children’s lives.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Just one of God's Blessings

This afternoon I met a woman named Patricia Dlamini. She is the mother of 5 children, 4 of which are still living. Her youngest child is starting 7th grade. Her husband passed away in 1995. Both Patricia and her husband were correctional officers in Swaziland. Patricia had to leave her job when a growth was discovered in her throat and she could no longer talk. She had been a correctional officer for 30 years when she had to leave her job. She received the equivalent of $13,000 when she left. By the way, Patricia’s voice returned even though Doctors said she would never talk again after the growth was removed from her throat!
Patricia feels that she can’t sit home and do nothing. Therefore she has undertaken several projects on her land. She has built a concrete pig pen and is raising pigs, she has numerous chickens, has many different fruit trees, is starting to keep bees and has visions of creating a fish pond on her land so they will have fish to eat. Her house is modest, and very pleasant, clean, and comfortable.
I met Patricia because she had donated a pig to Mrs. Ngema as a gift of thanks for her service as the Women’s Manyano President for the last three years. The pig had been slaughtered and someone had to get the pig and deliver it to Mrs. Ngema. Patricia lives about 45 minutes away from St. Paul’s on a homestead which is part of an area or town called Kabhudla. The shortest way is via a long dirt road. Patricia brought me to her home to fetch the pig for Mrs. Ngema and to show me her farm and the other live pigs. (She didn’t think someone from the US had ever seen a real live pig before. It was hard to disappoint her.)

It was one of those many situations where I wasn’t sure what I had been volunteered for but I knew it wasn’t going exactly as planned. Eleanor, the church secretary who got me into this, and who is so dear I can’t say no to her, was supposed to go with me. However, there was a death of a church member and she had to stay behind. So I was leaving with a woman I had never met, to a place I had never been and had no idea where it was, with a woman whose level of English was unknown. It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. I could understand Patricia’s English much better than she could understand mine. I am guessing that we were close to the same age. She said she wasn’t ready to lay down and die after she had to quit working. Working is what keeps her growing. Her dream is to have a self-reliant farm to pass on to her children. She hopes her children learn from her efforts and keep it growing after she is too old. She is striving to pass down the work ethic to her children so “they won’t become lazy and expect others to feed and take care of them.”

Patricia is the type of person who instead of going to the local church which is probably a 2 mile walk from her home, is now attending St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Manzini, where she has to take a Kombi to attend. She goes to St. Paul’s because she says it does more work than the local church and she wants to work and give back. Patricia is an example of a strong, hard working Christian Swazi mother. She has done well. One of her daughters is a nurse, the other a teacher. Patricia believes you have to have a vision in life; a vision so that others don’t have to take care of you.

As we walked around her land, laughing and talking with ease and as I drove home alone through the Swaziland countryside waving at most everyone I passed, I was so aware and grateful of Gods many blessings. God wanted me to see and understand that not everything in Swaziland is hopeless. There is a lot of beauty and a lot of mother’s (and father’s) who are working hard to raise their families with the best values they can in the best way they know how. Women like you and me.

I drove home, following Patricia’s directions, through the small, well kept farms, cows grazing by the road, with the sun starting to go down in the sky, feeling very comfortable and knowing that all is not hopeless. I felt I had received a beautiful gift that afternoon: the gift of friendship and the sharing of two people’s lives.
I ask you to pray for Patricia and her family. Please pray that she is able to continue to work towards her dreams. Please pray for all of the other Swazi families that are working hard to create a better world and a better set of work ethics in their children.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Support for Swaziland - One Dinner at a time at El Arroyo and Applebee's!

This is a great way help the children in Swaziland, support local restaurants, AND have a great time in the good Methodist tradition of sharing a meal with families and/or friends. I hope you will take these opportunities to do this and "One heart at a Time, One Child at a Time."

The form can be downloaded and printed from the FUMC-RR's website at: . You must have the form. Also, mark your calendars because starting in October, every second Thursday will be Dinner with Chris day at Applebee's. But you will need to bring the coupon.

Please share this with all your friends, collegues, neighbors, etc. Take an extra coupon or two and pass them out to people sitting around you! I'll be thinking of you on these nights! What a great way to witness to others about Jesus Christ and to inform them about the very great needs in this very tiny country.

Thank you in advance for your support, and May God Bless you! I'll be with you in spirit so have a great meal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sod Turning at Lomngeletjane, 9-3-07

Today was another big event. The sod was turned (or as we would say, ground breaking) for the start of the primary school at Lomngeletjane. As you will recall from an earlier post, Lomngeletjane is the site of a carepoint/preschool that is currently being held in the Methodist church. A new primary school teacher was hired in August to start teaching first grade. The carepoint/preschool and grade one class is being held in wooden plank structures that have lots of gaps between the wooden planks. One of these structures is the Lomngeletjane Methodist Church. The chief of Lomngeletjane is a Methodist, and wanted to have a Methodist primary school in the area. Both the Chief and the church wanted a school to support the large numbers of orphans in the area so he donated the land to the Methodist church. With funds raised by Dennis Little, also from Central Texas Conference, a bore-hole has been dug, two new eco stoves are almost complete, and now construction will be started to build four classrooms as the start for the primary school. The classrooms are to be completed by January when the new school year starts.

The initial ceremony was held inside the church. There were speeches, prayers, singing, a brief talk by the bishop, the naming of the school and more speeches. Members of the local church and St. Paul’s, members of the community, the Chief and his family as well as members of Prince Lomngeletjane II were in attendance. As I sat there listening to the speeches while the wind was howling very loudly through the wooden planks and rattling the corrugated sheet metal roof, watching the dust particles swirl inside the building as they danced in the sun, watched the cows graze outside the window, I was in awe of what an auspicious occasion this was. This community was about to be changed for the better forever. This community was receiving the gift of love and hope for future generations. It was another experience that goes beyond what few words I have in my vocabulary.

As a side note, Lomngeletjane means long (tall), young man named Charlie. This man named Charlie was a ship builder who built ships in Mozambique and settled this area many years ago.

When the speeches ended, we all moved outside. First to the bore hole so the Bishop could bless that, then over to the stoves before walking down the hill just a bit to where the primary school will be. After turning the sod, the Bishop planted two trees. The first one was from the Manyano and church community and the other from the Chief. Both were to be visible signs and reminder of the occasion for years to come.

When everything was blessed, the sod turned, and the trees planted we all went back inside for tea. Food and water is such a precious resource in Swaziland and yet it is served generously at all of the special events. This was a day that marked a great beginning: a turning point for the community and coming together of the community and the church. It was another day filled with the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.

There are many challenges ahead for Lomngeletjane Memorial School – funds for furniture, teaching and student supplies, food, health care, etc. But those are all challenges that we will be working to resolve. One gift that has not been shared yet (so please keep it a secret!) is that a Christian childrens group in South Africa is looking to donate the money for uniforms for 25 children with the stipulation that they have to be sewn by a local person. The uniforms are to be given as a Christmas present. They gave me a call, and I told them I knew just the school, but it had 28 students. They think they can accommodate 28 uniforms. So it looks like God has provided once again. There are no small miracles in this world. God doesn’t think small.

Ngiyabonga Unkulunkulu! (I thank you God!)

Church Dedication on September 2nd

On Sunday, September 2, 2007 Dr. Brian Jennings, Bishop of the Highveld and Swaziland District of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa came to town to dedicate a church in the town of Malindza which is about 30 minutes away from Manzini in what is called the lowveld. What does “lowveld” mean? The low lands which translates to HOT and dry. There is very little water anywhere. It was probably in the mid 90’s in the afternoon. That doesn’t sound so bad right now to a Texan, however, one must remember that it is very early spring here. It isn’t supposed to really get hot until December and January.

The church dedication was awesome. It was a four hour service. It started with everyone outside. There was a tent set up where the special guests, which I’m learning that at least for now, I am a special guest wherever I go. A men’s choir came singing and dancing to get us from the tent and we all walked or danced to the church building. Once there the Bishop and Rev. Ngema said prayers of thanks and blessings, unveiled the stones, accepted the keys to the church, cut the ribbon to the door, and lead us all into the sanctuary. I was brought up to the front to sit next to Bishop Jennings wife, Lauren, which was great because we not only had a great view of the activities, but we were sitting in the breeze from an open door. The service lasted 4 hours.

The excitement, praising God, and stories about how the church was built filled my soul. Everything was translated into English because of the Bishop. Glory Hallelujah! The church started meeting in a building in town in 1994. They had to keep their business and worship to an hour so that others could also use the space. Keeping worship to one hour was just too hard, so in 1997 they finally obtained a piece of land and started worshiping under a tree. Then the traffic got to be too distracting so they built a small wooden structure. They have been saving and working to grow into the church that was being dedicated today. When Rev. Ngema first visited the church after becoming the Central Circuit Superintendent in 1997 or 1998, he asked all of the children to bring him a Christmas present of a brick so they could start saving to build a permanent structure. The children did that. So in essence, Bishop Jennings was dedicating Rev. Ngema’s Christmas present! What a story it was, and what material for the sermon.

Bishop Jennings gave a very humble, simple but powerful message. He spoke of the church being a Christmas present because God gave us Christ so we would know God. Christ told us to go out and be disciples; to share Christ with others. In essence the new Church is the way of sharing Christ with all who see it and see people from the church in their daily walks of life. He asked each person in the room to imagine that it was only the bishop and the individual person in the room. Then he asked “Will others see Jesus in you every moment of the day?” and “What does Jesus mean to you?” Of course, he also talked about the ultimate Christmas gift of Christ and the Christ gift the church is.

Bishops also get the honor of naming the churches they dedicate. He named the church “Emseni” Chapel. Emseni means “place of grace.” There were several times during his message that my eyes were filled with tears – tears of thanksgiving because of the blessing I was experiencing and of seeing Jesus Christ all around me.

I couldn’t help but think of Dan, Karah, Liz, Joe, Mary, Rick, Ingelore and the rest of the 2004 South Africa team during the ceremony. They would have loved this.

After the service, there was a huge meal. It had been prepared by the women of the church over open fires in huge cast iron pots. Everyone ate quickly and quietly, as I’ve learned they do in Swaziland, and then left. I know the women were totally exhausted, yet I’m sure very proud and happy by the time the day was over and everything was cleaned up and put away.
What a wonderful day! What a blessing to be witness to the love and dedication of these brothers and sisters in Christ.