Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Volunteer in Mission in Swaziland...

It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve entered a comment on my blog. The last three weeks have been a mix of long days of frustration (per my last blog entries), long, busy days that have left me overwhelmed and tired or days that were filled with the stress of trying to get projects finished up before I leave to come back to the States for the holidays (forgetting to fully rely on God), followed by days full of blessings as God reminds me that he is always with me and hears my cries. This week Thoko and I spent Tuesday and today visiting schools to deliver the shoes that weren’t given out when Global Soles was here in August because we didn’t have the child’s correct size or the child wasn’t able to travel to St. Paul’s to receive the shoes. We also measured six children from each school who need school uniforms so we can finish up the Christmas Campaign which provided funds to provide school uniforms for OVC’s (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children). On Tuesday we went to three of the farthest schools which are in the low veld. The weather was very hot. We came home worn out and exhausted. Then today (Thursday), we went to more three schools. Today was cooler and therefore not as hard on us physically. However, it is always a combination of good times seeing the teachers and children and overwhelming times as we are faced with the need of some of the children. To give you an example, the following is what we encountered today.

We started the day early. I picked up Thoko at the bus rank in town around 7:45 am. She had to leave her house about 6:000 in the morning to get to the bus rank by 7:45ish. We drove to Mpofu Methodist Primary which is the schools that is the farthest from St. Paul’s. It is almost 100 km from St. Paul’s. The deputy and head teacher were very happy to see us. The head teacher insisted on showing us around, which was good because Thoko had never been to Mpofu before. This head teacher has a great vision for what he would like to see happen at his school. His deputy is also a very hard working, energetic teacher. He showed us the kitchen that was just finished about 9 months ago and yet the chimney is already cracking. Then he showed us the school garden he has started even though they are continuing to have water issues. He talked about his plans to get water to the school from two sources. Then we gave the shoes to two of the children who weren’t able to go to the shoe giveaway in August. Seeing their smiles is so wonderful. He then told us about a family whose homestead burned down last week. And then he brought in the children he had chosen to receive the 6 school uniforms. I have no idea how he could have chosen six out of the almost 700 children that needed the uniforms the most. We saw many, many children who were wearing torn uniforms that were too small. He and his teachers were smart though, they picked all boys to receive the uniforms. The boy’s uniforms are more difficult to sew and more expensive to purchase than the girl’s uniforms. He said the home economics teacher said she was trying to organize a way to sew uniforms for the neediest girls. We stayed at this school over an hour and a half which is about an hour longer than we intended, but it is hard to leave when they were so excited to have us visit. They gave Thoko and I each a big plastic bag full of greenish tomatoes and spinach from the school garden. I really hated taking them. They weigh so much there must be a fortune in tomatoes in each bag. But I know that not to take them would be a severe insult.

From there we went to Black Mbulzi Methodist Primary. Once again, how the teacher could pick out just six children is beyond me. Thoko and I work very well as a team. She gets most of the information from the children and teachers in Siswati and interprets for me. She also writes down the information about the children because she can understand what they are saying. I would then measure the children for the uniforms and give Thoko the measurements. The children are always very shy coming to me, but measuring them was a good reason to smile and joke with them as I measured them, even though I don’t think most understood what I was saying. Their smiles, no matter how filthy their feet or uniforms are, were the most precious gift one could receive. While at Black Mbulzi, we noticed the children weren’t in preschool. Our team from First United Methodist Church in Round Rock had painted the preschool building in July. When we asked the head teacher about it she told us that the teacher had been admitted to the mental hospital. We have no idea what that means. It was sad news because she seemed like such a sweet person. She was a widow. Her husband passed away from HIV related causes a few years ago. From what I saw she is the best preschool teacher the circuit has. But it was also disheartening that we had just painted the preschool building for her, and then she had to go on some sort of leave so the building is not being used. Life in Swaziland. Once again it seems like we took one step forward and two back.

Our last school was Luftojia Methodist Primary. We launched our NCH project for children that are infected or affected by HIV/AIDs at Luftojia so we have been there quite a lot over the last couple of months. We picked four families and have visited each homestead at least twice in the last month. When three of the children saw my car driving up to the school they ran to the car to greet us when we got out. I wish I had a camera of their happy faces. One little boy, who looks about 5 years old but in reality is 9 years old, is HIV positive, on treatment and is also recovering from an automobile accident about 5 months ago where his leg was fractured in two places. When we first saw him he looked very sickly and was barely walking on the crutches his father had made him. As the children always are, he was very shy around me and just stared at me. Today he ran up to us in his new school shoes without the aid of crutches, with the biggest smile on his face greeting both of us…not just Thoko. He clearly wasn’t afraid of me any longer either. I wanted to cry and had shivers going up and down my arms and back at his wonderful greeting. One of the things we had taken this family was some fencing so they could grow a garden to feed the children. We just delivered the chain link fencing last week and it is already up and the ground prepared and planted! The head teacher and counselor was so grateful and thrilled because the children had told them about our visits and what we had provided them over the holidays. We measured more children, and had to tell the teacher that we couldn’t buy more shoes or uniforms because that was all the money we had – I hate this part of all of the visits. They were understanding though and hopeful that more children would be helped next year. Before they went on school holiday in August I talked with the agriculture teacher about providing them fencing so they could grow a school vegetable garden, but they had to provide all the labor. I was told the holes for the fence posts were dug and the school is ready to receive the fencing. The holes were dug over the holidays. I was so impressed with their willingness and eagerness to help themselves. But then the not so fun part came. They kept wanting us to help with “just one more child.” The child they wanted us to help is on the list of children we will help next, but they wouldn’t wait. They wanted us to see him today. I don’t know the child’s age. He appeared to be about 6 or 7 which probably means he was at least 9 or 10 years old. When this child came in, it was clear that he wasn’t feeling well and was in some sort of pain. All of his joints are quite swollen. This child is HIV positive and was taking ARV’s, but his father decided to take him off of the medication and take him to an herbalist instead. The child’s mother has passed away. He has two sisters. The father works at a prison in Piggs Peak which is quite a long distance from where they live. The father only comes home occasionally when he is not working. The three children live in a house on a homestead with another family that has also lost their mother. Their father also works far away and only comes home occasionally. This child broke my heart and the teachers are very concerned and frustrated. Unfortunately, I had to tell them that if the father is alive and won’t consent to treatment, there is nothing we can do about it other than try to get someone to talk to the father and change his mind. We can’t even take the child to the clinic for immediate medical treatment without the father’s presence and consent. Even in Swaziland there are laws meant to protect the children, but unfortunately, sometimes those same laws prevent children from receiving treatment. The head teacher said the child is so sick and is in such pain that they told him not to come to school because he lives so far away. The child came anyway saying he didn’t want to stay home alone and he liked coming to school. He probably also wanted to come to school to get the only food he would eat that day. Thoko loaded him into my car and I drove him home, no questions asked. It was the very least and unfortunately the only thing we could do. We both had heavy hearts for most of the drive home, but we both reminded each other that God had given us such gifts in the smiles of those children that we had to hang on to those to cut the pain and grief for this child. And then we started planning the visits we would make next week.

So there you have a day in my life in Swaziland; a day full of blessings and joy and full of heartache and helplessness. A day when I hear the voice whisper in my ear: “one heart at a time, one child at a time.” I apologize for not keeping you more informed of my daily activities the last couple of weeks, but sometimes there is just more than I know how to put into words.

Tomorrow morning Bethuel and I are driving up to Lomngeletjane to take a look at the progress on the first block of classrooms. The builder, John, called last Sunday evening and told me that he had finished all of the work. We’ll see! After that I will be heading to Nelsprit, South Africa for a women’s retreat with other American missionaries in Swaziland. It will be a joy to get away and fellowship with these women.

Blessings to you all and please keep these very vulnerable children in your hearts and prayers.


  1. Children from Luftojia with new shoes on. These children are also going to receive new uniforms. Unfortunately, the picture makes their uniforms look much better than they really were.
  2. Measuring children for uniforms at Luftojia.
  3. Proud child with new shoes.
  4. The children from Black Mbulzi who will receive new uniforms.

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