Happy New Year- Profile of a Child: Hlekisile

We want to wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and offer a story of hope and new life for the New Year about one child we care for.

This is Hlekisile. Hlekisile has one of the most tragic backgrounds of any of the children. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about the children’s stories, but we believe it is important because it shows how a child can bounce back, and that there is a lot of hope for these children for brighter futures.

While her father was dying of AIDS, her mother was murdered, supposedly by the father’s family- she was accused of “bewitching” her sister-in-law. Her father died 6 months later of AIDS. After that, the eight children in Hlekisile’s family shuffled around between homelessness and the homesteads of extended relatives, starving and being severely mistreated.

We discovered the children homeless in 2006 on our home-visits. Hlekisile is the youngest, and she has some siblings in the hostel with her. She is 11 years old, and she is finally going to school. She is well-behaved and enjoys playing with her friends at the hostel. She is part of a dance group and a choir group.

Hlekisile needs extra love, care, and kindness, but you can see from the photos how she beams out a genuine light. We consider her a small success story because these kids are facing so much opposition in their lives- and just to have them go to a primary school is such a huge achievement.

Blessings and thanks to our wonderful community around the world for the New Year!
It’s been said many times- but we see it directly- hope for the future is found in the light and love of the children of today.

Srs. Barbara and Diane

Christmas Gifts for the Children

Photo from a Christmas party past

Last weekend we held our annual Christmas party celebration for the children at the hostel. The children are off visiting their homesteads now for their long break (6 weeks), and we check in with them often. (Read more about school breaks by clicking on this previous post: School Break Time.) Among some of the gifts we were able to give them at the Christmas party were bikes, soccer shoes, and watches.

Photo of a staff member trying out one of the bikes

Four of the older children in the hostel received bicycles that greatly help with transportation. These young people are getting older and beginning to transition to working full-time jobs and living on their own. (Read about one older boy’s transition in another previous post: Siyabonga! Giving Thanks for Friends & Family.) Bikes reduce the time spent traveling from work to homestead, etc, which can be hours when you’re on foot.

At the shoe store- one of our staff members shopping.

All of the boys received a brand new pair of soccer shoes. The grant that provided these gifts was from a private Italian donor who visited Cabrini Ministries, and the story is that he was talking to some of the children that play soccer, and one of them confided in him that the boys felt embarrassed that they didn’t have proper soccer shoes when they would play soccer games with other teams that did.

So both the staff and the boys were thrilled this year that OUR kids could have something beyond what’s just essential for basic living, and that is essential for fun and social life and making them feel non-distinct from kids on other soccer teams that we play. Every day, we try to keep life as normal as possible for these kids and for the 1000 patients we serve—and we are so grateful to our supporters who help us to keep doing that.

We were also able to purchase watches and skirts for all the girls. (Money for gifts goes pretty far in Swaziland, thankfully.) Our staff has really enjoyed being able to make the children happy, and at times like this, the children can feel like normal kids, and not just forgotten orphans. Such actions of love and generosity change these kids’ lives forever.

Many blessings to everyone during this joyous Advent and Christmas season.

Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane

Today is World AIDS Day- We Remember Thabsile

December 1 every year is designated as World AIDS Day, and around the world, people take a moment to remember those who were lost to the disease, and also join together and advocate for progress in the fight against AIDS. The theme this year is “Leadership.”

We’d like to take a moment to honor the life of Thabsile, a young woman who was one of our HIV/TB patients, who passed away recently.

Thabsile had a real desire to live. She fought for life every day. Her TB was so bad (one of the consequences of AIDS is high susceptibility to tuberculosis, and other “opportunistic infections”) that she had to have daily injections of antibiotics. Our staff also fought to keep her alive- our nurses, with great generosity and without any extra pay, worked on Saturdays and Sundays, to go every day to her home and give her treatment.

When we first met her, she was living under a tree. She had no running water, or electricity (needless to say). ShelterBox provided her with a tent, and the Red Cross and World Vision were in the process of helping to build her a cement block structure. Also the medicines were helping her to rebound a bit, and the future looked brighter for her.

Our friend Menzi helped to shoot some video of one of our nurses, Simon, going out to visit her to provide her medicine. Before we were even able to share this video with the world, she has passed away. This is how we feel in regards to the fight against AIDS and TB sometimes- that the disease seems to still be one step ahead of us. That it takes even more effort to get one step ahead of it and save people’s lives. World AIDS Day is an important reminder that there remains a real urgency for treatment, awareness, and prevention, and that we need to join together to lead and inspire other leaders in the fight against AIDS. We need to take bigger steps to get ahead of the disease and to stop losing precious young people prematurely, like Thabsile.

Click on the arrow to view the first video, of her homestead, and the second video, of her telling her story. (Her story is in Siswati- she tells of how she started to get sick in 2005, found out with tests that she had TB & HIV, and has been on ARVs and TB treatment since and is beginning to get better.)

Sr. Barbara Staley & Sr. Diane Dalle Molle

In the Spirit of Christmas Giving- A ShelterBox Photo Album

Click on the square below to view a photo album of scenes from when the organization ShelterBox (http://www.shelterbox.org) visited our community in Swaziland. The photos show scenes of distribution of the boxes to needy families in our area, pictures of some of the homesteads that were damaged or impoverished, and various shots of implementing the equipment- like setting up the small stoves that are used for heat and cooking.

ShelterBox Visits Cabrini Ministries' Community in Swaziland

ShelterBox relies on generous donors and volunteers to provide special tent-packages to areas stricken by natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies, and the packages can provide a large family with shelter, tools, and emergency supplies. Read more about the ShelterBox visit by clicking on this link to an earlier blog post:

You can see in the photos that the people in our community are very grateful for receiving these simple gifts.

As the Christmas season kicks into full gear, we want to remind you to let the spirit of the love and grace of Christ dwell in your heart and let it shine through your actions.

Blessings & love,
Sr. Barbara Staley & Sr. Diane Dalle Molle

Siyabonga! Giving Thanks for Friends and Family

Happy Thanksgiving to our friends, family, and supporters out there! One of the greatest things about the holidays is gathering together with friends and family.

We in Swaziland feel grateful for having become friends with some United States personnel and other people working in Swaziland who are very supportive of our work.

One of these people is Scott Mooneyham, who is the Regional Security Officer for the United States Embassy in Swaziland. He is good friends with Thom Krauss, another great guy who has visited Swaziland (and is an Ironman- see his website www.empoweranother.org). Scott is involved with a project that aims to reuse the wood from the crates that large items are shipped to Swaziland in, to make furniture for schools and for other charitable purposes.

Above is a photo of Sicelo, one of our OVC kids, who is 19 years old, and currently in our “aftercare” program for kids who are older, but need help with learning job skills and finding a job before going out completely on their own. Sicelo has been doing work-study in our agriculture program, getting paid a stipend while learning maintenance and agricultural skills, for a year and a half. He lives on his homestead which is 3-4 miles away from our farm, but we’ve given him a bike, which makes the difference between a 10 minute bike-commute to work and a 1 1/2hr walk each way. He is planning to attend a trade school in Manzini in January 2008, and has shown a desire to learn carpentry. Scott has connected with Sicelo, and is looking into the possibility to get Sicelo a carpentry apprenticeship. It’s great that our network is growing in such a way.

We’re building some new staff housing on the Mission, and Eric Olson has been chipping in to assist with this project. His wife works for the Peace Corps in Swaziland, and he has a construction background. Eric has been coming out to oversee the building project, advising our head of maintenance, and generally offering great help.

Christine Stevens is the US Government’s HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, otherwise known as the PEPFAR coordinator for Swaziland, stationed in Mbabane. With US resources, PEPFAR is able to help support Cabrini Ministries’ health care program. Christine is a great ally in our work to bring treatment to people with HIV/AIDS, and Cabrini Ministries has been chosen as a pilot site for an example of quality care at the community level.

Betsy Kummer is also in Swaziland with her husband who works for the Peace Corps. We have really enjoyed her friendship and truly appreciate her active involvement with our works. Betsy has made a beautiful video production of our works here that we will use in future presentations. The video features staff, volunteers, a ShelterBox distribution, and song & dance from the kids in the hostel (who always like to put on a show when they return from breaks). Click below on the arrow to view. (If you have a slower internet connection, you may not be able to view the video.)

Thanks to all friends and family for your love and support, and a deep Thanksgiving THANK YOU (SIYABONGA!) to all,
Blessings and love,
Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane

Why We Are Here

Many people have never heard of the small country of Swaziland. With all of the suffering all over the world, it is possible to wonder why we are working here in particular and not somewhere else. But there is very good reason- Swaziland is the face of a humanitarian emergency. This small country has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world according to UNAIDS- meaning 33.4% of everyone 15-49 has HIV. Also, in 2004, Swaziland had the lowest life expectancy of any country in the world- this means people are living to an average age of 31.3 years.

In these times with treatment for diseases like HIV and TB available, it is just unacceptable that people are dying at 30 years old. Imagine what it does to a whole country if all the younger generations only reach the age of 30. This is why we have so many orphans, so much economic instability and poverty and hunger, and so much disease. It is a vicious storm of related factors that comes on over years, and takes years to repair, leaving us in the midst of a full-blown fever-pitch emergency.

Photo: Eva-Lotta Jannson/IRIN/Red Cross – Swaziland still “stands to lose the next generation of human capacity”

A new report by researchers Alan Whiteside and Amy Whalley of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa used the country of Swaziland as their example of how HIV/AIDS in southern Africa is indeed a “humanitarian emergency”- but unlike traditional short-term humanitarian emergency thinking, requires rethinking and a long-term response. Whiteside also makes the connection between falling social and economic well-being indicators in Swaziland with the HIV prevalence rate- basically, the more HIV in the country, the sicker the country will appear all around.

Photo: Eva-Lotta Jannson/IRIN/Red Cross – Maize production has more than halved in AIDS-affected households

Aid agencies like the UN’s IMF need to change thinking from fix-gap short-term solutions, to longer-term real solutions. (It is suggested that perhaps this emergency state in Swaziland could have even been avoided with more comprehensive prevention and treatment interventions earlier…!) NONE of the southern African countries or multilateral organizations have achieved their goals of universal access to treatment medicines (antiretroviral therapy drugs-ART).

Fiona Napier of Save the Children in South Africa says that the impact of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa is “profound.” Indeed, when we are sitting with our hostel children who have all suffered some form of loss due to deaths of family members, and we hear their stories and see the effects this loss has on the children mentally, physically, and emotionally, we can agree the impact is “profound”- profoundly wrong.

Despite whatever you may think of HIV/AIDS, when it comes down to it, it is a disease like any other that has afflicted humanity mercilessly over time. There may be no “cure,” but treatment is available in the form of medicines that restore people to normal life. Still, people are not getting treated. Why are people moved to respond to immediate humanitarian disasters like a tsunami, hurricane, or wildfire, but not disasters that have been able to get out of control for too long- like HIV/AIDS here? This report tries to argue that this is a disaster with the same effects as any other…

Click on the link below to read:
IRIN article: SWAZILAND: Declare HIV/AIDS a “humanitarian emergency”

We can change long-term problems, though it might be more difficult than a short-term action. Real change is made through programs like orphan care (taking care of the next generation), health care (getting sick people treatment to restore their livelihoods), and agriculture and education programs. Forging a relationship with one child through sponsorship is a great and rewarding way to support the long-term change needed here. (A heartfelt THANK YOU to all our sponsors out there! More info about our sponsor-a-child program is here: Sponsor A Child in Swaziland)

A person needs food, shelter, education, health, and love, and they are all needs that depend on each other to be met, and none can be neglected. This is why we’re here- in Swaziland, but also in the deeper sense- on Earth!- to help each other meet our needs, and be full, beautiful, healthy people.

Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane

It’s Gala Time!

A week from now, the Cabrini Mission Foundation is holding its annual Gala in New York City. Click on the link above to find out more information about this event.

This year, the work in Swaziland is highlighted, and there will be a short presentation and slideshow given by Sr. Barbara.

Sr. Barbara is currently on a spiritual retreat and looks forward to seeing everyone that can make it to the Gala next week.

Inspiration: Stopping TB and Healing the World

A month or so ago we had a visitor who has a long history with Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland. His name is Dr. Mario Raviglione, and he is currently the Director of the Stop TB program for the World Health Organization, stationed in Geneva. He’s Italian, and about 20 years ago, he was in the US doing his residency in infectious diseases at Cabrini Medical Center in New York. During that time, he came for three weeks to work in the clinic here at St. Philip’s Mission in Swaziland with our sisters. One of the sisters, who I believe was Sr. Raphael, said to Mario- “Now don’t go back to Italy and be a doctor and get rich, but do something good for other people with your medicine.” He shared with us that Sr. Raphael was one of his inspirations to go into public health service.

About 6 months ago, he decided that he wanted to return to Swaziland to come back and see it, and wanted to bring his family with him, because he now has children that are between 15 and 22. So he got in touch with our superior in Italy and asked if Sr. Raphael was still there at St. Philip’s. She said, “No, I’m sorry to tell you that she has died, but you can still go there and visit.” So he came to see us, and we took him out to see patients, such as one woman who we care for who needs daily injections of antibiotics to treat her TB, and he was very interested to see our responses to the challenges of increasing TB incidence in our area.

[World TB incidence. Cases per 100,000; Red = >300, orange = 200-300; yellow = 100-200; green 50-100 and grey <50. Data from World Health Organization, 2006. (Source: Wikipedia, "Tuberculosis," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis)] In particular, there is a growing problem here with drug-resistant TB. There are something like eight different classes of antibiotics for TB, so you start out with the lowest class. If the patient doesn’t respond, then you move up a level. Once you’re onto the 3rd or 4th levels, that is what is called “multi-drug resistant TB” (MDR-TB). There are some cases that aren’t responding to any level of drugs at all- called “extreme drug-resistant TB” (XDR-TB). Diseases become able to combat medicines when there are mutations of the original disease, or if there are problems with compliance (taking the drug regularly as directed and with no interruptions). The same thing is happening with the HIV virus, and most people in our area with TB have HIV and vice versa. You can imagine how drug compliance problems are rampant in places like Swaziland that are battling with extreme poverty, lack of food and water, and multiple, complicated diseases requiring complicated treatments. So this is how you get your first-line medications, your second-line meds, etc… (these are terms used to describe HIV drugs). Only TB right now is up to 8 lines of treatment. And unfortunately, as you go up the levels, the drugs are more expensive and harder to obtain.
(photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

[Read more about TB in Swaziland in another post on the blog: “The Tuberculosis Epidemic- Impacts the People & Places Struggling with HIV”]

It was good to have Dr. Mario and Dr. Rudolfo Russo here with their families. They have been great supporters of our work and are helping us draw up new ways to improve our TB screening and treatment procedures. And I think it’s great how he was sort of able to come full circle with the Cabrini sisters in Swaziland.

I feel that right now, TB is a much more immediate threat to the health of all of us than HIV is (though of course they go hand in hand), because of the way it’s spread- if you’re talking with someone within two feet of them, saliva molecules can be passed- and because it’s becoming so drug-resistant. Dr. Samson Haumba, the HIV-TB coordinator in Swaziland, and Elijah Dlamini, a long-time TB nurse from Good Shepherd Hospital, have both given our staff presentations on protecting ourselves while dealing with TB. We are scrambling to meet all the challenges and are in great need of protective measures like masks. There are no isolation rooms anywhere in the country and the hospitals are overwhelmed, so this woman who we care for, who is lying under a tree and can’t even sit up to feed herself, cannot be in a hospital because she will infect other people. Homestead visits like what we are doing with our home-based care program are the best solution, but it is still a lot to ask of community health providers to manage multiple, complicated diseases like HIV and TB.

Still, we do manage to care for at least 10 new patients each month, and we are able to provide complete care for those people thanks to our worldwide support. The heartache of such sickness can be soothed, and to see our patients get a second life thanks to receiving the healthcare they need renews my spirit and I hope the spirit of the world.

Blessings and love to all,
Sr. Barbara

A Box of Hope

In early September, a few volunteers that are part of a wonderful organization called ShelterBox (www.shelterbox.org and www.shelterboxusa.org) came to Swaziland, and visited with us at St. Philip’s Mission.

ShelterBox is a registered UK charity with groups in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and Southeast Asia that provide aid for disaster victims throughout the world in the form of 3x2x2 ft green plastic containers.

Inside each 100 lb container are such supplies as a rugged 10-person tent, thermal blankets, tools like a hammer and saw, a wood-burning stove unit, mosquito netting, water purification tablets, and containers of various sizes for water and food.

To many of us in the “first world,” this looks like a list for a weekend camping trip. But the reality for many around the world, especially those in the midst of a natural or man-made disaster, is being without some of these basic items required for human survival.

In 1999, ex-Royal Navy search-and-rescue diver Tom Henderson came up with and developed the concept of deliverable shelter solutions, and since then ShelterBox has become one of the most effective relief organizations in the world. The items in the boxes are bought by donations to ShelterBox and distributed by Rotary Clubs affiliated with ShelterBox throughout the world.

Four volunteers with ShelterBox came to Swaziland because of the forest fires that were raging here in July. All in all, 110 boxes were distributed through Cabrini Ministries to our surrounding community, meaning that we did the assessment of who needed them the most, we and the four volunteers distributed the donated boxes in September, and we are continuing to distribute more boxes now after they’ve gone.

These photos are from volunteer Larry Agee of ShelterBox USA. Larry spent 2 1/2 days with us at St. Philip’s Mission distributing boxes to our grateful community members.

Most of the families in our community that received ShelterBoxes were families of our kids in the hostel, or our healthcare patients, or the elderly. Basically everyone has thatch roofs, but some people have nicer thatch roofs, and some have thatch roofs that are very leaky or sparse. One man that received a box was living in a teepee-like structure of sticks where the diameter was only about 3ft and the height about 4ft. Another woman was living under a tree only, too sick to even sit up and feed herself. She is only about 30 years old, but has terrible TB and HIV. She received a ShelterBox.

People cried when they got them. They thought they had died and gone to heaven. For us it was also amazing the way we were two different organizations working together collaboratively for disaster relief. It’s a new definition of disaster relief, because it’s not Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami, but there is a disaster going on in Swaziland. I’ve seen this for a long time. But we worked together in a complementary way, because we can’t really provide housing for all the people in our community that desperately need it, and the boxes are so ingenious that they are really some of the best housing people have in the area.

A big thanks to Larry and the volunteers from ShelterBox, and all our friends and supporters. A box- who would have thunk it? These are the kinds of great ideas that save the world!

Sr. Barbara Staley

Click on the link below to read more about this great organization:

New Video of OVC Hostel Children

Technical challenges notwithstanding (!), we are happy to be able to share a bit more video with our international community out there.

Click on the square below to view some recent video of the OVC (Orphans & Vulnerable Children) kids playing at the hostel and hear the voice-over of a staff member.

From the video:
“So these children are the OVC children, in Cabrini Ministries’ OVC hostel.

“These are some of the few children who have been able to find mercy through the help of Mother Cabrini and all those that are part of [the works].

“Almost all of these children are orphans- they’ve got no parents. And, most of the parents, they die out of HIV and AIDS, including tuberculosis.

“When the Sisters came here, they had to go around the homesteads and they were able to fund some of the children to come down here. It’s not all of the children, but they do not have enough funds to care for all of the OVCs in the areas here. There are hundreds and hundreds of OVCs here, but they don’t have enough funds for them all. So these are the few who are fortunate enough to be in the hostel. There are about 100 and some kids.

“So we are thankful for these works and the works of everyone who has a concern for these children in the international community for supporting them materially, and even spiritually, and giving them hope… that it doesn’t mean that- if you don’t have parents, life is useless for you, but there is still life and hope after the death of your parents.”

Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane