Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update on the Nhlengetfwa family

The plan for yesterday (Wednesday) was for Thoko and I to go to Salukazi Methodist Primary School and talk to the head teacher about the children who were put on the list of children that needed to be included in Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu. After home visits we are concerned that although the children were extremely poor and many were single or double orphans, none appeared to be sickly and there wasn’t any mention of tablets or going to the Doctor, etc. (Most people don’t openly say HIV or AIDS, they say one is taking the tablets or has to go to the Doctor monthly and even less say that someone in the family died of complications due to AIDS.) The purpose of this project is to identify and help children with HIV or who are at risk of being HIV+. I called the head teacher on Monday to set the appointment for Wednesday, but surprise, the head teacher wasn’t at Salukazi when we got there. The Deputy Head teacher said the head teacher had been called to the REO (Regional Education Office). We chatted with the Deputy teacher about our findings, concerns and suspicion that the community does not know their HIV status and isn’t as educated on the importance of knowing that status. The Deputy agreed with us but nothing could be decided without the head teacher. So Thoko and I decided to go to La-Mawandla High School to see if we could talk to Mthokozisi. It has been a long time since Thoko and I have seen him and we both had that pressing feeling that mothers get that we needed to see him. In addition, we wanted to talk to him about the plan to move the children to his father’s parents homestead.

To refresh your memory, this is the family of four children who have basically been deserted by their mother and father. The mother left a couple of years ago because of the father’s violent nature. She is afraid to go back. The father lives and works around Swaziland and periodically comes home but does not do anything to support the children. In fact, it has been our suspicion that when he comes home he actually takes things that we have given the children including food. The neighbors also steal from the children in part because they are jealous of our help (especially mine as the white “rich American”.) Last December their father’s hut which the children slept in when the father was not at home collapsed because of the rain. This has been one of the most frustrating situations because I can’t solve the problem. Well I could, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do and the children would have probably been hurt more than helped. So I have tried to encourage the others to continue to work this issue and have tried to be patient because this process moves so SLOW. Thoko especially wants this issue resolved. She actually has done the most to resolve this situation even though she is a woman and it isn’t really her place. That’s a lot of where I come in. I encourage and advise her and then if necessary I speak up as the arrogant American that wants things done “now now.” (In Africa, now means when I get around to in sometime in the relatively near future. “Now, now” means right now. Well maybe not drop everything and do it now, but almost right now.) So the result of Thoko’s effort is that there have been discussions and meetings with the children’s father and mother. Even more important is the fact that there have also been meetings with the Chief’s inner council, members of the local Methodist society and members of the school committee where the three girls go to school (Lutfotja) about what would be best for the children. Last week a small delegation went to the father’s parents’ homestead to talk with them about the children going to live with them. The children indicated they would like this, the father said he would allow it and the word was the grandparents would like this as well. The meeting was set for last week. Mthokozisi did not show for the meeting which is very unusual for him not to keep an appointment. So they took Nozipho who is in 7th grade. She said she would like for them to move to the grandparents’ house. The grandmother was not home and had been away since the day before they went to visit. The grandfather who is partially blind was there and said he would like for the children to come and that they would be given land for a garden and to build a house of their own. This is VERY encouraging. But Thoko and I were concerned because Mthokozisi wasn’t involved in that meeting. We trust his judgment and know he would be truthful with Thoko.

When we saw Mthokozisi yesterday at school, he looked so good. He is such a nice looking, responsible and well behaved young man. He gave Thoko a hug and then came and gave me one. Thoko asked why he wasn’t available last week for the meeting and he said he had to take his father’s cows to the dip tank and one of the cows had been naughty and run off so he had to go round him up. By law, once a month on a certain day all cows have to be taken to their assigned dip tank which is basically a small pond that contains water mixed with pesticides to prevent parasites on the cows. Most of the time young boys who don’t go to school are sort of hired to do this job. Or one of the boys in the family who doesn’t go to school does this. In the Nhlengetfwa’s situation it means Mthokozisi usually has to miss school to take care of these cows for his father. Mthokozisi told us they would like to go live with their grandparents and though he wouldn’t be so bold to say it, I got the feeling that they would like to go sooner than later. He also told us that his father came home last weekend and bought them 20kgs of mealy meal but other than what was left of the mealy meal they had no food. No beans, soup mix, soap, candles, etc. In other words, the father came home there was no food so he bought a bag of mealy so the kids could cook for him. Plus he ate what was left of whatever food, tea and sugar they had. Thoko and I sent Mthokozisi back to class but told him to look for us on his lunch break. We then went to the little store in the community and bought the children some beans, peanut butter, bread, sugar, candles, soap, matches and I gave them a half a dozen oranges I had brought along. The little community stores are as expensive as our 7-11’s. We then went and gave the local CCS 5 rand so that on Saturday the children could come get one of the bags of maize that have been donated by the church and community and get it ground into mealy meal. We left saying to each other that we knew we had to go out to see the children for a reason.

We also drove to where the grandparent’s homestead is. It has two houses built out of blocks and then a smaller house for cooking. We couldn’t drive right up to the homestead because of the road and I didn’t want the grandparents to see me. The plan, if the father really agrees, is for the children to live in one of the two houses, which actually belongs to the father until the church can build a small house for the children. The children are going to have to walk maybe 2 or 3 kms to get to the highway and then take a bus for about 6-8 kms to the town of Luve and then walk another 2 or 3 kms to actually get to their schools. We are now in the process of determining the cost of the bus and working out a way get the cash to the kids in small amounts rather than by the month. Our rough estimate is that it will probably cost 3rand one way times that by 4 children. We could move the children to schools closer to where their grandparents live, but we want to keep the children in the schools they are in so that we can keep a closer eye on them and because there is now a support system for the children at school and with the Church. They know there are people who love them and care for them.

Our hearts soared and we praised God when Mthokozisi said he went to a retreat one Saturday with the “SU” (Scripture Union – a kind of bible club that meets at high school during lunch time.) He said he enjoyed it very much. He said they are also continuing to attend the local Methodist Church.

I came home exhausted, as usual. It’s not that we “did” much. All I did was drive and then sit and talk. But it is the emotional and mental stress of trying to look objectively at the situation, letting others deal with it in their way and mostly making choices. And they look to me for advice and the answers. Which child or family do we help? Do we spend the money for this situation or for another one? Do we support only one of the children in the family or do we give them all a chance? How will the funding continue so that they aren’t abandoned before they can at least get a high school education? It’s all a balancing act on a very fine line and it’s one that I pray continually for God’s wisdom, strength and for Him to show me the way.

1 comment:

Swaziland 2009 VIM said...

Greetings Chris,
Thanks for your updates on the family. I've been thinking about you lately and am so appreciative that you are able to clearly share your thoughts and experiences through the blog. The California team is gathering today for our final wrap up. It's seems strange to think that only a few weeks ago we were all together in Swaziland.
The team will continue to hold you in prayer. Be encouraged that all of us are as close as a heartbeat away through the Spirit who dwells in us.