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.