Thursday, September 01, 2016

"How was your trip?"

We've been home for a week now and I've probably been asked that question 100 times. And every time I sort of freeze up and then say, "It was great! Awesome!" There is so much more that I want to add but for some reason my brain shuts down and I'm left standing there with my mouth open and no words coming out. I suppose there are a few reasons for this - for one, I never know how in depth I should go. Some people who ask have a genuine interest and would love to hear every detail. But some are only being polite and are satisfied with a "It was great!" I have a hard time telling which is which. And then there is the fact that I know that my brain hasn't had enough time to process all that I've experienced. It's hard to take 10 days full of every emotion on the spectrum and wrap it up into coherent thoughts. But I'm going to take a shot here and try to get some sentences down.

"How was your trip?"

I had the chance to visit with friends, both old and new, who share a passion for Swaziland with me. We laughed and cried, discussed issues and problems Swaziland is facing, and talked about the amazing work that is happening there. We bonded over our love of the people of this country and how it feels like a second home. We prayed for the country that we all love so much. My trip was invigorating.

"How was your trip?"

We visited one of the ladies that has cooked at Bheveni in the past. She has been fighting cancer and when we first approached her homestead, I didn't recognize her because she seemed so fragile. She stayed strong as she chatted with us but when we were giving hugs as we left, she broke down in Julie's arms and couldn't stop sobbing. My trip was heartbreaking.

"How was your trip?"

Just shy of 100 women were able to come to the Timbali camp. We witnessed them during their worship time - dancing and singing in the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. Some of us were pulled by the hand down into the dancing and we laughed and sang and worshiped and danced like nobody was watching. My trip was freeing.

"How was your trip?"

Greta was watching out the window of the van we were driving in when she noticed a group of people climbing around a garbage dump. She asked me what they were doing and I had to explain to her that it was garbage day and that those people were scrambling to get to the new trash to look for food. Her face went white and my heart hurt. My trip was difficult in ways I can't fully explain.

"How was your trip?"

We visited with 2 ladies that run a carepoint all by themselves. The other women in their area won't volunteer because they want to be paid for the work. Those 2 women work tirelessly at the carepoint and then go home to their families and work there. But they were joyful in their service and explained to us that they see the carepoint children as a gift. They say that God has trusted them with these children and that even though it can be exhausting, they will continue to be joyful in their service. They want to love each and every child they serve with the love they feel from Jesus. My trip left me awestruck.

"How was your trip?"

Swaziland is going through their worst drought in 100 years. I saw animals that were barely moving from lack of water. I heard stories of people having to walk miles and miles just to get to dirty water. The capitol city, Mbabane, has water restrictions where the water will be shut off for several days in a row. Along with the drought, the food prices are skyrocketing. When we passed out a 2.5 kg bag of rice to each woman at camp, there were cheers and tears of thankfulness. My trip put things into perspective.

"How was your trip?"

We were able to bring a few women to see their friend whom they hadn't seen in over 6 months because of the friend's undiagnosed illness. When we walked into the house, the ladies immediately piled onto the mattress with their friend and scooped up her baby. They were chatting and giggling like old friends should and the smile on the sick friend's face was glowing. My trip reminded me that true friendship crosses all cultures.

"How was your trip?"

We were able to stop in at Bheveni carepoint twice. Even though the kids that we sponsor weren't there, I recognized so many faces... and it was clear that many of those faces recognized me. It had been 2 years since I had last been there yet I could hear a few yell "Margo!" and come greet me. There were several new babies for us to snuggle and Greta was able to discover the Bheveni that she had only seen in photos. She held babies and played with kids and smiled so big I thought her heart was going to burst. My trip was beautiful and life changing.

So, friends, this is where I am so far. New revelations come each day and probably will continue for quite some time. But know that if you ask and I don't have the words, there are plenty floating around in my brain. It just takes time to be able to express it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Create Hope!

The past couple of weeks have been buzzing around here. School is out and summer vacation is in full swing. Between softball games and having a garage sale and camp and Driver's Ed - and add in the prep work that we've started for the upcoming trip to Africa - well, the word vacation shouldn't be tacked on to summer if you ask me. :)

Our team got news in the past few weeks that surprised us. There is a new rule that we weren't aware of that says that in order to travel to Swaziland we need to have a minimum number of 8 people on our team. Right now we have 5. We have about a week for 3 more people to jump up and say "Yes! I'll go!" and to put deposits down or our trip will have to be put on hold until next year. My initial reaction was sadness - I think of my Bheveni family every single day. I see their smiling faces in photos on my cupboards and fridge. I can't wait to be back with them in person - to be singing songs and laughing and snuggling babies.

My initial sadness has turned into peace - knowing that if we are meant to go, it WILL happen. God has a funny way of making things work out - sometimes at the last minute and in crazy ways. But if this year we are meant to take a breather and wait, then that will happen. And that's ok too. Either way, we have done all that we can do and now we put it in higher hands.

During all of this I had the honor of making the Create Hope shirts this year. We had everything ready to go and then got the news that we might not be making the journey to Swaziland. We have decided to go ahead and sell the shirts and the profits will divvied up depending on what happens with our trip. On a normal year, we do a "buy one give one" shirt - you get one, we bring one to a child at Bheveni, and the rest of the money goes toward the big Fun Day celebration and the supplies that we bring to the families on the home visits. If our trip does not happen, when you purchase a shirt, you will receive yours and every last cent of the profits will go into our Bheveni Fund. We will talk with the Swazi staff to find out what needs the Carepoint has and the money will be donated there. It may be school fees, school supplies, uniforms, food, items for the carepoint, or a combination of these. The in country staff has much more knowledge about day to day operations at Bheveni and they will steer us in the right direction.

So, without further ado, here they are!

If you'd like to order one, just click here. This website will take your order and ship the shirt/s directly to you! It is a pre-order sale so the shirts will be printed at the end of the sale and then shipped out.

If you'd like to donate but don't feel the need for a shirt, you can donate through Danielle's PayPal account here. She's the coordinator Stateside for Bheveni and will get the money to them. If you're more comfortable with a check, you can most certainly send one written out to me to my address (Margaret Brown, 931 6th St. NW, Maple Lake, MN 5358.) I will collect all donations and get them sent out at the end of t-shirt sales. And I want to say something here that I mean with all of my heart: ANY size donation is appreciated and celebrated. Some people are able to give larger amounts and that is AWESOME... but many aren't in that place and can afford $5 or $10 - you have no idea how fast those smaller amounts add up! 

I want to thank all of you out there who have been and still are supporters of Bheveni Carepoint. The people there are my family and it means so much that y'all have come behind me and support my passion.

My journey with these folks started several years back and the one thing I'm sure of in all of this uncertainty is that the journey is far from over. Whether it's this year or next or the year after that, I WILL get to see these faces in person again.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


It's been just about 2 weeks since I stepped off of the plane and back to real life. It seems like yesterday, it seems like a lifetime ago.

I miss these people:

And these people:

I even miss this guy:

And man, oh man, I miss this sweet girl:

I miss the laughter and the singing and the baby snuggles. I miss seeing the kids come walking down the dusty road to the Carepoint, some who have come miles from school, with their knitting projects in hand, ready to show off their newest creation. Heck, I even miss getting peed on by the sleeping Swazi babes.

Maybe this time is harder because it was my third trip. The connections with the kids and the bomake and the people on our team are stronger. The time spent with the American missionaries in Swaziland was more like being home than visiting.

The hardest part in all of this is trying to find a balance. After being immersed in Swazi life for two weeks, it's hard to jump back into American culture. When I read Kenzie's blog post today I started to cry. She said so many things that have been on my mind and heart the past couple of weeks but I wasn't able to put into words. 

The balance. It seems like it shouldn't be so hard.

My van's air conditioning is pretty weak right now and I was complaining about it. Until I was completely convicted. Think of the heat in Swaziland in the summer. They live with no air conditioning. I was at the grocery store walking through the toilet paper aisle. They use crumpled up notebook paper in the outhouse at Bheveni if they use anything at all. There was complaining at the dinner table about what was for supper. Two weeks ago I saw a woman drop to her knees in tears because she was so thankful for a bag of dry beans. 

And last week, when I was school shopping for my kids, I was angry. The 5th grade supply list alone would be enough for 10 school kids from Bheveni. And don't get me started on the $100 graphing calculator Miles needs for high school math. $100! How many months of school tuition would that cover? The $80 activity fee for Linus to join Cross Country. How many meals for hungry bellies would that be? 

But it doesn't work like that. Two different countries, two different cultures, two different worlds. Slimming down the supply list here doesn't magically put pencils in the hands of Swazi kids. Making my kids eat every last bite of their food doesn't fill the stomachs of starving people in Africa. And making my kids miss out on life here doesn't end the poverty over there.

Two different worlds, but I want to be a part of both. I am a part of both. God has instilled in me a genuine love for the people of Swaziland. He has also instilled in me a love for my family and friends here. I'm trying my best to figure out how these two things mesh together and what it means for my life. So please bear with me as I try to find balance. As I stumble, as I ramble on, as I obsessively post photos of those I love from both America and from Swaziland.

Kenzie said it best: "I didn't go to Africa because I have an answer to the world's problems or because I have the resources to fix those problems. I went to love. That's it. Because God first loved us and it is the most valuable thing you and I have to offer everyone and anyone we come in contact with."

So I'll start there. Both here, in daily life, and every minute that I'm lucky enough to spend over there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Be the Change

Have you seen the commercials with Sally Struthers and that old guy who want you to sponsor starving kids across the world? You know the one...

Well, when I was a kid and saw one of those ads I wanted to blast my piggy bank apart and give every last cent to those kids. I couldn't believe that there were people in the world that needed food. Why couldn't everyone just share? Maybe not the good stuff like Pizza Rolls - but what about green beans or water chestnuts? If we had extra cans of that stuff in our pantry then surely others did too. Why not pass it along to the people who needed it?

As I grew older (and maybe a little wiser) I understood the economy and logistics and other things that made me realize that it might be a little harder than express mailing a can of corn overseas. I also (unfortunately) became more cynical. I mean, did the starving kids actually get the money and food? Was it some awful way to tug on my heartstrings while the kids stayed hungry and "the man" lined his pockets?

Even just a few years ago I was skeptical. Dustin and I sponsored a couple kids through Compassion International but I wasn't really sure how much help that was doing. I have a love for kids that has been with me ever since I can remember. I volunteered at my kids' school. I read stories to the Elementary kids wearing goofy costumes. I taught Sunday School to preschoolers. I contemplated going on mission trips through church but it just didn't feel like that was right for me. I wanted to do more... wanted to reach out and help but had no idea where to start. That's when I saw the pictures from Mike and Danielle's first trip to Bheveni Carepoint in Swaziland and I knew, I mean I KNEW that I was going to go there and be a part of something amazing.

Mike and Danielle work along side Children's HopeChest where Danielle volunteers her time as the coordinator for Bheveni Carepoint. She is an advocate for the orphaned and vulnerable children there - she works to get sponsors for each of the children, is the point person between the kids there and the sponsors here, and sets up fundraisers when needed for things such as the water well they now have. I know she does MUCH more than that, but that's just a brief overview. I remember contacting her about going on the next trip... I had no idea what I had to do or if there were criteria I had to meet - and she met with me and gave me a big, fat "YES!!! Come with us and meet these awesome kids!!"

I looked into HopeChest. I wanted to make sure they were legit. I trusted Danielle and Mike but my cynical brain just had to make sure. Everything I read about them, all of the testimonies, all of the stuff about Tom Davis, the founder (who wrote Red Letters), it was ALL good. "All right," I thought, "I'm going to give it a whirl." 

I decided that since I was going to take the plunge and go visit Bheveni that I should be "all in" so we decided to sponsor a child there too. I looked through all of the photos and opted for a sweet little boy named Khaya.


When I first met Khaya once I was in Africa, he was pretty shy. Since we had just started sponsoring him, he only knew a few things about me and my family. Also, he was just 4 years old, so I'm not sure how much he really understood about our relationship. 

While on that first trip, Khaya and I spent time together and forged a real bond. I also met an adorable 3 year old who didn't want to leave my side. She loved to hold my hand and she would sing songs in her soft voice. I fell in love. So once I was back home, I searched for her on the HopeChest website and lo and behold, she was unsponsored. Sphelele became our second sponsored child.


This past year, Khaya moved away from the area so we no longer sponsor him. This does happen time to time. Kids don't get placed in orphanages in Swaziland, they move in with family - even if the family members are in a different region. Children also move with family to find work or to get into a school that has room for them. Vukani came to us when Khaya moved. And after this past trip, I had sweet Tiphelele and her beautiful smile on my heart so we added her to our "sponsor family."



During my second trip to Swaziland, I got an amazing glimpse into sponsorship through two of the teenage girls from Bheveni and their sponsors, a family from our team. Britt had been along on my first trip but on this trip his wife, Pam, and their two daughters, Missy and Brittany, came along. Missy and Brittany had been writing to their sponsor girls at Bheveni but even they didn't realize the impact that they had on these girls. When they first met, there were hugs all around. It seemed that every time I turned around, Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe were laughing and chatting with Missy and Brittany. We all came to find out that the short letters that Missy and Brittany had sent were practically memorized by their "special friends" (that is the term HopeChest uses for the sponsor connection.) The girls knew all about what Missy and Brittany wrote - what they were studying in school, their hobbies, their family. They really were friends before they ever met in person. Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe even wrote letters to Missy and Brittany while we were there - letters that were so sweet and so kind that I started to cry when I read them. I hadn't really understood how much the kids over in Swaziland were affected by the connection of a sponsor until that moment

 The Bush family with Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe.

The "fab four."

In the past two years, there were a handful of times on each trip when a child would randomly ask me, "Do you know so-and-so? He/she is my special friend! She has a cat" or "He rides a motorcycle!" I was amazed at how much the kids retained from the letters they had received. Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised. In grade school I had a pen pal from Greenfield (which is, like, 20 miles from here) and I thought she was exotic! Just imagine how awesome it is for a child to know someone from a different country! I once sent a photo of my kids playing in the snow with one of my letters and 6 months later when I visited in person, I spent about 20 minutes explaining the ice on the ground and that yes, we can survive in that kind of weather!

And this year.... this year I got to share in some of that sponsorship love. The kids that we have sponsored have been relatively young. They seem to be more shy at first and I don't know that they fully grasp the idea that I am the same person that has been writing them. Plus, many of the littles haven't learned English yet so there is a language barrier there. But this year, when my plane came in a day late and I missed the first day at Bheveni with the rest of the team, our sweet Sphelele asked for me. Many of the younger kids grab hold of the first hand they can when people visit... anyone will do. But Sphelele looked for me. And that next day when she came in through the gates after school, she gazed all around. I could see her from where I was standing inside of the building. I walked out into the sun and when we made eye contact, she ran for me! She wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a bear hug and I squeezed right back. She pulled me to the side, away from most of the others and we sat down. She speaks very little English still, but she tapped me and said "Margo." Then she did what she does so well, she started singing a song and my heart melted. She was singing in SiSwati and I have no idea what the words meant but it didn't matter.

So all of this to say that sponsorship really does matter. Of course the financial aspect is important. But even more important is the relationship. Some of these kids are lucky enough to have someone at home who loves them unconditionally. But for each child that does, there is one that has lost both parents, one that is suffering from abuse, one that is literally struggling to survive. And sometimes the only hope that they have is that there is a person out there that cares about them. 

Sponsorship through Hope Chest is so much more than what you see on paper. I've learned so much about it through my visits to Swaziland than I ever could have just reading about it. It is a very real relationship between people - people that are across the world from each other and in most circumstances, people that will never meet. I honestly wouldn't believe in the connection if I hadn't seen it for myself.

If you have ever considered sponsoring, please give it a try. To do so through Children's HopeChest:  click here ( This is Bheveni Carepoint's page. Look through the photos and find a child that isn't already sponsored. Follow the instructions on the site and start the awesome journey!

What to expect:

1. The cost is $38 per month. Notice that I didn't write JUST $38 - because I know that while some could spend that amount without much hassle, for some that is a lot. For our family, we have had to make some adjustments in our finances. We've had to sacrifice in some areas (which, to be honest, isn't a real sacrifice, if you know what I mean.) It means not going out to eat once a month or skipping the waterpark. Maybe passing on Caribou coffee a few times a month.

2. Writing letters about once a month. HopeChest has made it super easy to contact your child. On their website there is a "write" tab on the screen and you can email your child! It doesn't have to be a long, philosophical letter. I just write a few paragraphs to our kids - they love hearing about what our kids are doing, about the weather and how it's different than theirs, about our pets. The emails are printed and given to staff who bring them to the kids. If your child doesn't speak or read English it is translated for them. You can even attach a photo of you, your family, your pets, whatever and the kids get those too!

3. Pray for your child. We do this as a family and our kids have learned so much about kindness and different cultures. We keep photos of our sponsor kids up on the fridge (and, well, pretty much everywhere else because I have taken so many) :)  It reminds us to pray for their safety and for them to remember that we love them, but more importantly that God has not forgotten them.

Sphelele, Vukani, and our newest addition, Tiphelele

Obviously I'm passionate about Bheveni Carepoint. But there are many other carepoints in Swaziland that have kids that need sponsorship too. The Nsoko area has several carepoints that are in dire need of help. Even if HopeChest isn't the right organization for you, please look into other organizations. Do some research, find a reputable place, and sponsor a child. 

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Worth the Wait

I'm not even sure where to start.

This was my third trip to Swaziland. You'd think I'd have the hang of the whole reentry to "normal" life down by now. While this year has been much easier than last, I'm still struggling with processing the experience. If you've asked me how the trip went you most likely heard me say "Well, ummm, it was awesome!" It's unbelievably hard to come up with a few sentences to fully describe a life changing event. 

And it really is life changing. 

It doesn't matter that I've been there before. Each time brings new experiences but also rekindles relationships and friendships. It's crazy that people from across the globe who speak a different language - people who I see for a handful of days in a year - have become so important to me. 

I wish that I could accurately describe how cool it is to step out of our van onto Bheveni soil and see the kids running at us. Kids that I've seen grow and change over the past few years. Or how it feels to greet the Bomake with a hug because we're already acquainted and we're picking up where we've left off, just like old friends. I can't really explain what it's like but I can give you a glimpse into the awesomeness.

It starts with our flight from Minnesota being cancelled, four hours of failed attempts to reroute, and Danielle and I spending the night that we were supposed to be crossing the Atlantic in a seedy hotel by the Atlanta airport. 

I'm not going to lie. I was borderline panic attack mode when we found out that our flights were screwed up. I am a planner - I make a list of the lists I need to make to be fully prepared for these trips. I don't want to leave anything to chance. As the lady at the ticket counter was working to try to keep us close to our original itinerary I was breaking out in a sweat. I even started to do the whole bargaining thing in my head. It went a little something like this:

"Lord, please let this be a mistake. Please let her look on the screen and see that it is a different flight that is cancelled. We'll laugh together at her silly blunder and I'll be polite and be on my way.

No? O.k. How about you clear this up and get us on a different connecting flight. I won't even complain if we have to run through the airport in Washington DC to make the flight to South Africa.

No? O.k. How about we get rerouted through a different flight that will get us to Africa on time to meet up with the rest of the group. I'll even be friendly to the people seated next to me on the plane and won't pretend to be using my headphones when they aren't even plugged in to anything. Plus, I'll give up my first choice of meals and eat the crappy airplane food AND be grateful because there really are starving kids in Africa."

It went on like that in my head for quite some time. We were back and forth between ticket counters and travel plans and my smile and patience were starting to wane. Then Danielle said something to me that struck a chord. She was feeling the pressure too, but she looked up and said "You know what? This is frustrating for sure, but I need to look for God in these interruptions."

At first I was like, "WHAT?!" Because lets face it... this was not part of MY plan and I REALLY like it when my plan works. But then I let her thought sink in and it hit me like a ton of bricks. There are so many times in life that things don't work out like we planned. We have two options: throw a hissy fit or accept it and work from there. How much time do I waste going over the what ifs? How much energy do I spend on filling out the "it's not fair" column? And how sad is it that I could be looking for the bright spot in the interruptions and seeing how God is using them for good? If you really think about it, life actually happens during the interruptions. So I decided right there that I was going to try to curb my natural reaction to things not working out as I planned and I was going to do my best to focus on making the best out of the situation. The positive me might not be as entertaining as the snarky me, but we'll see how it pans out.

Anyway, Danielle and I eventually made it to Africa. We had spent the night in what I dubbed the "No-tell Motel" in Atlanta but we laughed at the crazy misfortunes of that experience. We both survived the 15 hour flight to South Africa sitting apart from each other, both sandwiched between strangers. I even had pleasant conversations with the people on either side of me. We missed the 5 hour van ride  to Swaziland with the rest of our team but we got to spend quality time with Steve (one of the missionaries from Alabama who now lives in Swaziland) laughing and talking as he drove us to our destination.

We arrived at the guest house (where we stay during our time in Swaziland) on Tuesday in the late afternoon. I had left my house to start the journey on Saturday morning. I was doing my best to keep the positive train of thought but I was tired and stiff and I'm embarrassed to say a little jealous of our team that got to spend that day at Bheveni Carepoint while Danielle and I were travelling and making up for lost time. But all of the negatives were washed away as the team came filing in through the front door. Smiling faces and hugs from friends I hadn't seen in a year, a few new faces I had yet to meet, and the sweetest words for my ears: "Margo, the little girl you sponsor asked for you today. We told her you'd be there tomorrow!"

And you know what? On Wednesday, when Sphelele came walking through the gate of Bheveni after she was finished with school, her eyes searched around. As soon as our eyes met her face lit up and she came running toward me and she wrapped her arms around my waist.

Definitely worth the wait.

Sphelele and I, 2011



Thursday, May 01, 2014

It's Go Time!

I'm going back to Africa in 80 days.

I'm beyond excited... but also anxious. Financially, the decision to go on this year's trip was a struggle for me. With my surgery happening early on in the year our insurance deductible was back to zero. With the medical bills and the fact that our Swaziland team is going back to back years I wasn't sure if we could swing it. I went back and forth on the decision, prayed about it religiously (see what I did there?), and decided that I just couldn't let the financial aspect get in the way of me going back to Bheveni. Honestly, the thought of not going was heartbreaking. 

This time around I decided not to send out support letters. My friends and family have been generous in past years with financial donations that have helped me get to Africa. It's safe to say that I couldn't have made either trip without the help of those who supported me. But it's tough asking people for money - even when it helps support a good cause. So, this year I'm not asking for people to help me pay my way to Africa... but I'm asking for support in a different area.

In the past, as with this year, our team has sold t-shirts as a type of fundraiser. With each purchase of one of our shirts, you get one for yourself and one is donated to a child at Bheveni Carepoint. The shirts have been an amazing highlight for the kids - and I'll admit I was surprised at how excited they were to receive them. We hand them out and tell the kids to wear them on our "fun day" and every single person shows up wearing them. I can remember on my first trip when we were approaching the carepoint for fun day we could see a sea of red and green shirts. Last year when we were at Bheveni I saw many of the the kids wearing the shirts from the previous year - and they would make sure to point it out to us as if showing us a trophy.

Another chunk of the money that comes in from the t-shirt sales goes toward buying supplies for the fun day and also for the home visits that we do. I've described the home visits here before, but basically we go to several different homesteads during our time there and bring along some much needed supplies - mostly food items that can help feed the families for a few weeks. These are families that are in desperate need and most likely have no other food to eat.

At minimum, our team needs to sell 200 shirts. That would get each child at the carepoint their own shirt and we would have enough money to cover the cost of the supplies for the fun day and the home visits. This year's shirt sales have been a little slower than in previous years so I'm reaching out to all of my friends asking for help. The cost of a shirt is $20 - and remember, that covers a shirt for you AND one for a Bheveni child. 

If you aren't interested in a shirt you can just donate the $20 and it would go towards two shirts for the kids. And if $20 is more than your budget can take right now ANY amount will help. You'd be surprised how fast the smaller donations add up!

This year we've added two different hats and a onesie to the collection, all of them sending the proceeds to where it counts: the kids.

Will you consider helping me with this cause by purchasing a shirt or making a donation? You can contact me through facebook or email ( to place an order or you can send it to me through the mail:

Margaret Brown
931 6th St. NW
Maple Lake, MN 55358

Shirts come in adult sizes S-4XL and kids XS-L, onesie in 6 month - 24 month.

I honestly appreciate all who have and who may support me in any way in my Swaziland adventures. I love the people there so much and I love sharing it with all of you!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Swaziland 2013 - part 12, Nsoko - the hardest day

I feel like I've been putting off writing this post for quite awhile. To be honest, I'm afraid that I won't be able to find the right words to describe what the trip to the Nsoko Carepoints was like. That I won't do justice to the kids there or to the staff that is working tirelessly to make things better for them. I guess I can't do anything but give it my best shot.

We spent the majority of our time in Swaziland in and around Manzini. For our last day visiting carepoints we drove down to Nsoko. We had been told by different people that the Nsoko area was quite a bit different than what we had already seen; that the need there was great and that the area was suffering more - from poverty and from death. Jumbo had explained to us earlier in the week that this area was where the AIDS epidemic was fierce - one man he knows has gone to performing funerals full time: almost daily. This is the area where there is a shortage of caskets. I tried to mentally prepare myself with this information but I don't think that anything can really get you ready to experience all that we saw.

First off, on the drive down I noticed that as we got past Big Bend everything just seemed to get more and more desolate. The mountains and greenery that surround the Manzini area were slowly fading into a few hills and a lot of brown. 

Kim and I were excited to meet up with Erica, who oversees the carepoints in Nsoko. Erica traveled to Bheveni on the trip before I went for the first time and then flew to Africa with us in 2011 before heading to Nsoko to check out the area that she would soon call home. We were happy to have her as our guide around the carepoints that we were visiting.

The first carepoint that we went to was Mabantaneni. There was a group of people there helping to build the first real carepoint building and it was sorely needed. There were a couple of hut-like structures that served as storage and shelter and a kitchen area that had seen better days. The new building would be a blessing not only to the kids, but to the community that could use it for other needs.

When we arrived the kids were getting ready to eat their morning meal. They got their food and retreated to the only shade nearby - on the side of the kitchen. We sat with the kids while they ate but they were more into the food than they were us as visitors. :)  There were cows and chickens roaming around on the land and I was surprised at how close they would come to humans. The kids seemed totally unfazed - even when a cow was close and let out a loud "Moo!" that made me jump. 

We passed out oranges to the women and children - fruit is a huge treat for them! The kids were very excited about the oranges and dug right in.

I could definitely see the need for sponsorship here. The kids were very pleasant but I think that the connection with a sponsor would be a huge boost to them. They have a building now but there is so much more that could happen here to make it even better. A playground would be a great project to get done so the kids have somewhere safe to hang out and play.

The second carepoint that we stopped at was Madabukeni. This carepoint is out in the middle of the countryside with not much of anything nearby. I found myself feeling lonely just standing there taking it all in. The kids here were lining up for a meal when we arrived so we talked a little about the area while waiting for the food to be dished up. We learned that this carepoint was one that was in need of a water well but they were having a hard time locating water beneath the ground. The "nearby" school, which was a couple of miles off in the distance, was pointed out and I thought of the young kids that had to make that long walk every day - and those are the lucky ones because they get to attend school at all.

As we went over to visit with the kids while they were eating I noticed a baby that was fussing. I went over to pick her up and she started to scream - that's when I learned that she was terrified of white people. That was definitely a first for me - I've never made anyone cry just because of the color of my skin! I retreated quickly and made my way over to a group of young kids. I sat down next to them and they answered a few questions but didn't engage much - which was a huge difference to what I had experienced at the carepoints earlier in the week. The language barrier may have had something to do with it - I'm not sure. This carepoint seemed to have a sense of sadness hanging over it and I just wanted to scoop these kids up and hold them like a mother would.

We set off across the street for a home visit. We were told a little of the family's background as we walked: a mother lived there with her youngest child, a 10 year old HIV positive son, and her young grandson that she cares for. One of her older sons lives on the homestead but does not help support the family. The 10 year old goes to the carepoint and was walking with us. As I heard the details of his situation I offered my hand out to him and he grabbed on with a smile. 

The mother welcomed us by laying out the usual mats. As our D-Team member started translating what the mother was saying I could feel the tears well up in my eyes. I have been on several home visits, each one with a story that could break your heart and a family that is beyond grateful for the small gifts that we bring. This was the first time that I couldn't stop the emotions from coming out. She quietly talked of her family and her situation as she stared off to the side, not looking at any of us in the eye. She talked about how she did everything that she could but there were many days where the wasn't any food to feed her kids. She said that she was starting to wonder if there really was a God because of what her family was going through, and I know part of that was that her son has AIDS but they don't have access to the clinic where he could be getting the drugs that could help him. I was sitting toward the back of the group with tears running down my cheeks. I honestly can't clearly remember the rest of that visit because I was so overwhelmed in that moment... starving kids, a 10 YEAR OLD dying. My Greta is 9.... it could be her... the only difference between my kids and that boy is geography. As a parent I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to watch your children suffer. As a human I can't stomach it.

We left Madabukeni and traveled to the last stop of the day: Joyela Carepoint. We greeted the bomake and got a few big hugs in return. We were here later in the day so there were some of the school aged kids as well as the preschoolers. The kids here interacted with us a lot - singing and playing soccer - and they laughed at us when we showed them some of our dance moves. 

Our visit here was a little shorter because we were going on another home visit. As we were driving out to the homestead we heard a little about the family we were about to visit. Two young women, each with a child, all four of them HIV positive. I wasn't sure if I could make it through another visit like the last one - and because our group was so large - both Kim and I opted to stay in the car. While waiting in the car Kim and I talked with Jumbo about the Nsoko area, about what we had seen during out trip there and Kim came to the conclusion that the ministry money that she had left over would be best put to use here. You can read about how Erica used part of that money at the second homestead here

I think that the biggest lesson I learned from the Nsoko carepoints is what a difference partnership and sponsorship make at a carepoint. Obviously part of that is the money that comes in and the different projects that a coordinator can accomplish but I honestly believe that a big part is the relationship between a sponsor and a child. It seems like such a little thing when we write or email to the kids we sponsor - I used to wonder if it really mattered that I wrote to them at all. Then I visited the kids at Bheveni and realized that many of them know their sponsor by name and have memorized every detail that they can. To my kids over there, I am just a friend that loves them but that friendship helps to create hope. The kids in the Nsoko region could use some serious love, help and most definitely some hope.