Monday, December 7, 2009

Dec 1st - A big day for Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu

Tuesday, December 1st was a big day for our Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu Project.  After many months of working towards our goal, we brought the kids from Lutfotja Methodist Primary school that are a part of this project, HIV+ and receiving monthly medication to the newly opened satellite Baylor-Bristol-Meyers Squibb Children's Clinical Center of Excellence in Manzini.  Let me explain what a milestone this is for our project and our kids.

Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has a Children’s foundation in Swaziland which is an international non-profit non-governmental organization founded as a partnership between Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative and the government of Swaziland.  In 2006 it opened the Baylor College of Medicine Bristol Myers-Squibb Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence-Swaziland (COE) in Mbabane which is a state-of-the-art Pediatric AIDS facility that tests, treats and cares for children and their families that are HIV+.  It is very impressive but more importantly it provides the best care and treatment possible for those who attend their facility.  They also operate satellite clinics in two cities in Swaziland, one of which is at the RFM Hospital/Clinic in Manzini.  The clinic in Manzini was operating out of several of their existing rooms in the RFM’s pediatric clinic.  They did a phenomenal job, with the little space and resources they had in Manzini.  They were slated to open a new clinic on the grounds of the RFM in Manzini in February, 2009.  After funding and other delays, they finally opened the new clinic the last week of November, 2009.

Since August, 2008, we have been paying the transport costs for 7 children and their primary caregiver to go to various clinics to receive their monthly medication.  Most went to the Baylor clinic at RFM but some went to outlying rural clinics to receive their medication.  The care and treatment at these rural clinics is not at the same level as the care and treatment at Baylor.  Doctors are usually not present at the rural clinics, sometimes they run out of medication and we had one child who received the wrong dosage over 6 months ago and has been ill ever since.  Thoko and I started talking about trying to get all of our kids to Baylor in RFM in the fall of 2008.  Baylor asked for us to wait until their new satellite clinic opened in 2009 because of the space limitation.  Thoko and I wanted all of our kids at Baylor in RFM for many reasons.  One is that the care is superior and if the child is ill with an HIV opportunistic disease, they also treat that disease.  Another reason is that it would be easier for us to communicate and coordinate with Baylor, the school, the parents and our volunteers.  In addition, it would save us (Thoko, the other volunteers and I) a lot of time, worry and transport money for us to make sure the school and the parents have the money for transport before the child’s visit.  We also hope that this will unite the children and families so they can support each other in living positively with HIV.  Thoko was the main driver of this initiative.  She talked to the Baylor nurses several times and of course she was the one who talked to the parents explaining what was required to make this happen.  My role, as always, is to be supportive, assist when possible and play my white American trump card if needed which I rarely need to do.  In addition, it was easier for the Baylor (American) Dr. to communicate with me just as it was easier for the Baylor nurses (Swazi), the parents, and the school counselor/head teacher to communicate with Thoko.  As part of this move, we also added 7 more children to our program.

This sounds like it should be a simple thing, but just trying to keep up with all the kid’s appointments and then get their medical cards and talk to the parents took a lot of perseverance.  Luckily, all of the parents of children who attended rural clinics agreed to the transfer and really did a super job of getting the information needed.  And those parents whose kids were already at Baylor agreed to work with us and Baylor to have their children come on the same day.

Finally, we had everything set.  We picked Tuesday, 12/1 to be the day of our first visit.  We picked that day because it was the first week that the new satellite clinic was open and the last day we could do this before I left and everyone involved felt it would be best if I was present to assist as needed.  We also had the school counselor and the Lutfotja Methodist Church CCS that is our voice, arms and legs in the community when Thoko and I can’t be there to come with the children.  So we hired a kombi (van) to pick everyone up at 8:00 from Lutfotja and bring them to Manzini.  Of course the kombi didn’t leave at 8:00 so things didn’t go quite as quick as we had hoped.  But considering everything, things went really well.  It was good all four of us were there to assist.  It was a little confusing for awhile.  It was a good thing that I was there because I could explain things quicker and easier to the Baylor receptionists, nurses and Dr. and Thoko could communicate with the parents and kids easier.

The nurses, Dr. and I decided that the second Tuesday of each month would be “Methodist day” at Baylor.  We will be working together to get all of our kids on the same schedule and keep them there.  I also promised that we would make sure that the parent or guardian of each child comes each time so that we will have been communication regarding the child’s care.  Our plan is that the Lutfotja CCS would come with the children and then our committee would meet them at Baylor.  Eventually we hope to get women from St. Paul’s to bring lunch to the children before they go back home.

Another benefit to this arrangement is that since (Thoko, the volunteers and I) will meet them at Baylor on our day.  If a child is also sick and needs medication that is not available in the RFM pharmacy, we will be able to quickly go to a local pharmacy to purchase the medication and send it home with the child.

The day went really well.  The parents, school counselor and the Lutfotja CCS were so appreciative.  Baylor was pleased that we will be there to help with communication and follow-thru with the children and their families.  We really couldn’t have asked for a bigger success.  It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that December 1st was World AIDS Day (even though I knew it) and that we had commemorated that day by improving the treatment these children that are HIV+ will get.  How awesome is that?  It is one of those moments when it does feel good to be able to do something that will really improve a child’s situation and hopefully their life.  Praise God.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nonjabulo and Ubuntu

The Sunday before I left to come back to the States (11-29) I went to visit Thini and see Nonjabulo and her mom Nonhlanhla. I almost didn't recognize Nonjabulo when I walked in the door!  She was so adorable sitting propped up on the couch with a cute frilly little dress on.  (I know they dressed her up just for my visit.)  She is the sweetest little girl.  I picked her up and she fussed a bit so her mom (who was hanging up the wash when I arrived) came right in to quickly nurse her for just a bit and then Nonjabulo was ready to play and smile.  Praise God this child is doing so well.  I can't remember how much she weighs now, but her weight had come up considerably (for her) and she was actually feeling a bit heavy.  I say it again, Praise God!

The other purpose for my visit was to deliver some "specially formulated" sorghum porridge I purchased to try with some of the kids who are having trouble getting well or are very underweight.  100% of the daily vitamins and minerals have been added to this porridge so if there is a problem with obtaining proper nutrition, one serving of this should be all they need, though it isn't enough to fill their stomachs for the day.  This is advertised as tasting very similar to the sour porridge or store bought porridge that would normally be eaten.  Nonjabulo and her mom are two of my "test" cases. The feed back I received is that it is "very nice."  I looked at another replacement option that was developed in the US and while it is a cheaper alternative than this sorgum porridge, the people don't like the taste because it isn't anything similar to what the people are used to eating and therefore they won't eat it or they take out the soy bits and eat only the rice which defeats the purpose.

The problem is making sure they people who I've given it to eat a single serving every day and that they don't give it away to someone else in their family or community who is in need.  The first time I gave Thini 3 bags of this porridge, she gave one away to a child in her community who was very sick with HIV and TB and was severely underweight.  I tried to tell her that the porridge was special for Nonjabulo and her mom, but realized Thini's action is what makes her Thini. This type of behavior is known as Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.  Ubuntu and love describe Thini.  So while I can't be sure this porridge will actually benefit Nonjabulo and her mom, I have to have faith that it will.  This is just one more situation where I have to let go and Let God handle it.

The other problem with feeding people in this way is that once you start, you have to continue feeding them.  I'm not sure if I will continue with this project when I return from the States. It's expensive and hard to manage with individual families and it isn't feasible to prepare and serve to an entire school.  I wanted to give it a try and see the affect on the three families I've given it to.  Generally speaking, giving people food is not the right answer.  I just felt I had to try something because malnutrition is such an issue.  The Swazi's eat a lot of maize - in sour porridge in the morning, at noon time a thicker version with a few sugar beans in a sauce over the maize, and then again in the evening.  Malnutrition is more of a result of what they eat rather than whether or not they get enough to eat each day.  A diet of mainly maize no matter how much they eat will result in malnutrition unless they can add a lot more protein and other vitamins and minerals.  I'm praying for guidance and wisdom in this matter.  

Friday, December 4, 2009

Siphiwe and Lwethu’s wedding on November 28

On Saturday, November 28th, Siphiwe and Lwethu got married.  For those of you who may not remember or who may be new to my blog, when I arrived in Swaziland Siphiwe was there on a two year assignment as a Pastor’s assistance and local preacher.  I think he was about 23 or 24 when I first arrived. He is very tall, kind of quiet but has a great sense of humor.  He is a wonderful young man.  He reminded me a lot of my sons.  He was my angel.  He went with me wherever I needed to go, showed me the ropes and introduced me to people.  He taught me a lot especially about the culture.  I call him my South African son.  I know that he has no idea how much his presence and help meant to me.  I’m not sure I could have made it through those first few months without him.  Over the year and a half that we were both in Swaziland, I also discovered that he has wisdom and spiritual insights way beyond his young years.  He left Swaziland last December to be an associate pastor in a church in South Africa.  He was taking correspondence courses during his assignment in Swaziland and during this past year in SA.  He passed all his courses and now will start a two year program at Seminary.

While in Swaziland, Siphiwe met a really nice young Swazi woman named Lwethu.  Even though he swore to me that he would never marry a Swazi woman because he was looking forward to going back to SA, love prevailed.  She is very sweet, pretty quiet but also has a great sense of humor.  She is going to make a very good pastor’s wife.

So, Saturday was the first part of their wedding.  It held in Swaziland.  The wedding was beautiful.  I cried. What more can I say?  Ok, so there is a bit more.  The wedding was very western and similar to what you might expect to see in the states.  The wedding was supposed to start at 9:30.  I arrived at 9:35 a bit upset I was late.  There was only one other person and the Bishop there.  About an hour later people started arriving and at 11:30, the wedding finally began.  The wedding was held at a hotel.  I don’t really know why, but I’m told weddings don’t necessarily happen in churches, evidently not even for Pastors.  The room was decorated in their colors: silver and hot pink.  They announce what their wedding colors are on the invitation.  It is amazing how many people came dressed in silver and hot pink.  The wedding program was very similar to the wedding I attended last September. (I wrote a blog on that wedding also.) I love how the bride’s attendants and the groomsmen dance down the isle.  Then the groom came in from the front of the accompanied by a female member of his family (I think a cousin).  He had his own music playing for his dance from the front of the room to about halfway down the isle.  His music was “How Great Thou Art”. (Yep, I cried for that too.)  His cousin sat down in the audience.  Then Lwethu walked down the isle on the arm of her very proud Uncle. (I didn’t realize until then that both of her parents had passed away.  Her Uncle raised her.)  They walk down the isle very, very slowly.  One thing I’ve noticed is that they leave the brides dress so long that some one has to move it each time she takes a step so she doesn’t trip on it.  Lwethu looked very, very nervous and I could tell she was crying.  I was so worried for her.  When they reached Siphiwe, the Minister performing the service asked who would give the bride away.  Her uncle responded and then Siphiwe and Lwethu walked the rest of the way to the front together.  I think that is real sweet.

The service was a bit different because so many ministers were involved.  Rev. France Mabuvso, a newly ordained full Reverend in Central Swaziland Circuit was the Master of Ceremonies.  Rev. Sikumbuzo Ngama, the former superintendent gave the opening prayer.  The Bishop, Rev. Sizwa, performed the service and signed the marriage certificate.  Rev. Kanana Nyamaka, the current superintendent for Central Swaziland Circuit gave the beneficiation.  Just before the benediction, all of the reverends and pastors who were attending circled the couple and prayed for them.  That was awesome.

After the vows were said and the rings exchanged, the Bishop had two chairs brought down from the table where the wedding party sits during the service.  This table is located where we would normally have an altar.  Siphiwe and Lwethu sat in front of the audience facing the Bishop.  The Bishop said he was going to speak to the Siphiwe and Lwethu but we would be able to hear what he had to say.  He also said he was going to speak in English because he “looses too many words when he has to speak in Siswati.”  I was so happy.  The Bishop spoke about colors and paint brushes.  Basically saying they can paint their marriage any color they choose.  They can paint it happy or paint it miserable.  It is their choice which they must make every day and they must paint it together.  He also told Siphiwe it was his job to totally love Lwethu.  And he told Lwethu it was her job to totally respect Siphiwe in all he does.  The Bishop went on to say that Siphiwe has to love Lwethu so much that she has no choice but to love him back and that she has to respect Siphiwe so much that he has no choice but to respect her back.  It was an interesting way to put it, but considering the culture it was the perfect way to make his point.  As the Bishop spoke, he required responses from both of them, and if he didn’t get an answer he asked the question again and didn’t move on until he got answer.  What pressure!

Just before the benediction, all of the reverends and pastors who were attending circled the couple and prayed for them.  That was awesome.  After the wedding a meal was served and just like in the US, Siphiwe and Lwethu went around to each guest and gave them a little box of mints.  There wasn’t a cake cutting ceremony because the cake is cut with the explanation of why they are cutting the cake as one during the wedding ceremony.  There also wasn’t dancing, but that may have been because shortly after the wedding and reception all of the family and certain “family representatives” headed to South Africa to where Siphiwe’s family lives.  Sunday morning there was another ceremony during which and they both wore their wedding clothes.  Then everyone changed into traditional clothing and the bride was taken to the groom’s family’s home.  She presented traditional gifts to the family and then there was a celebration meal which included a braai (cookout).

The only down point of the wedding, is the same thing that detracts from every service here.  Everyone takes pictures.  They just get up and walk right down in front no matter what is going on and take pictures.   I kept thinking that in the US, the bride and the photographer would be furious that this was happening.  I couldn’t get very many pictures, in part because there was always someone taking a picture in the way.

It was a great day. And I pray the young couple will be very happy and find a way to grow in their marriage to each other and their love of the Lord even though for part of the time they will be separated because of his studies and then possibly because of where he will be assigned as a minister.  Their life won’t be easy, but I am sure it will be very blessed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

I am writing this from the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I am on my way back to Texas for the holidays.  I will return to Swaziland towards the end of February.  The past week or so has been very full and a lot has happened.  I will try to update you a little bit at a time over the next few days in an attempt to shorten the blog postings.

Last Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) we went to pay a home visit on a family out in the rural area.  The family consists of a mother, father, two grown children and an auntie.  All of them are mentally challenged; some obviously more than others.  As is usually the case, it is hard to see the severe need and conditions.  But one thing I noticed is how involved the community was in helping the family.  The family's mud and stick houses had collapsed in the rain but the community came together to rebuild them for the family.  They even put in a very nice concrete floor.  It was elevated just a bit above the ground so that even in a severe downpour the water won't seep through. 

As I sat there looking at the beautiful blue sky with white clouds and bright green grass on the hills I couldn't help but be so thankful that I get to spend my Thanksgiving Day out in the rural area of Swaziland with dear, sweet sisters in Christ.  As I sat marveling at how beautiful God's creation is, praying for the people in the homestead as well as at home in the States I made a long mental list of blessings I am so thankful for.  I was going to post them on my blog, but time got away from me and it didn't happen.  Every day since then has been full of nonstop commitments or things to tie up before leaving for the States.

As always, there is a brief worship center with prayers, songs and speeches before we hand out the clothes or whatever we bring.

Thini brought one of the orange boxes that were donated to the Manyano several months ago.  They have basic home care items in them such as gloves, soap, Vaseline, bandages, notebook, pen, etc. that one might need to use when visiting a homestead, especially if the person is sick.  Thini, the amazing, wonderful loving spirit that she is did her little dance while singing praises to the Lord as she brought the box over to the CCS (Christian Care Service) for that community.

After visiting the homestead the three of us stopped by to visit Nomile which of course we all enjoyed.  Then I rushed home for a shower and then went up to Mbabane to Steve and Monica's house for thanksgiving dinner. They are long term missionaries from the US.  It was a wonderful time in beautiful surroundings filled with beautiful Christian fellowship.   I am very thankful for the opportunity God has given me to serve Him in Swaziland.

I think my Wi-Fi time is about up so I will continue with more updates when I arrive in Washington, DC.  It will give me something to do in my 6 hour layover before I board a plane to Austin.