Food Crisis in Swaziland

According to the IRIN article below, Swaziland is experiencing its worst ever harvest, due mostly to drought, as well as erratic rainfall patterns and overgrazing.

“Swaziland: More than a third of Swazis in need of food aid”

Swazi people in the rural area where Cabrini Ministries is located traditionally made their livelihood as subsistence farmers, and the primary crop was maize (corn).

Corn, however, does not fare well in drought. In addition, the HIV/AIDS crisis affects the success of a family’s agricultural endeavors. The disease affects the adult generation that is in the prime of their working years. Children whose parents are sick or dead from AIDS often do not have the skills to successfully farm by themselves.

Our Farm

We have five hectares (10 acres) of land that we are cultivating at St. Philip’s Mission. We use the harvest from our farm to supplement the diets of the children at our hostel, the people we serve with our healthcare outreach program, and other children and families on homesteads. Our farm is a powerful symbol of life and hope for the community, and the children also help out on and learn valuable agricultural skills from the staff.

Our Dedicated Staff

You can see the red dusty earth in the background… but our crops are green because our sprinklers are working great!

We are proud to report that our irrigation system is working well and is the key to our farm being productive amidst the drought. As the heat ends and we go into the winter months, the crops are more abundant and the HIV patients we serve are receiving more fresh vegetables each week. Our butternut squash has been a real winner this year, and we think it is the best in Swaziland.

Our Food Supplies

We also receive food from the World Food Programme (cooking oil and a nutrient-enhanced corn-soya blend) and buy our food from the markets (thanks to our donors). We are seeing a great need for more food supplies in the area, especially for our HIV and TB patients. People taking HIV medications (ARVs) need to take those medications with food, or they will get sick. Unfortunately, one meal of mealie (ground corn) a day does not provide the sustenance they need to absorb and use well the medicines they are receiving. Our agriculture department is looking into what crops that grow well are particularly beneficial to people, and will help the most people.

Food Distribution: the Corn-Soya Blend from World Food Programme

Food Distribution: Greens from Our Farm

Many of the children, when they first came to live at the hostel, had been malnourished, and took a while to adjust to understanding that they would have regular food. They would often gorge instinctually, and we would have to tell them to slow down, and eat calmly and slowly and just enough. From not knowing when food would come again, the kids learned that when it did come to eat as much as fast as possible. Experiencing the pain of hunger so young, you don’t forget it easily.

Younger Children Having a School Meal

Medications must be taken with food

Older children at the hostel eating dinner

Blessings and thanks to all of our friends and supporters out there! Together we form a circle of love which brings the living water of love to this dry area.

Srs. Barbara & Diane

Welcome to Our Blog!

Welcome to our Blog. Though the word is still strange to us, many of our friends, including Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who visited in June 2006, suggested that we start one. So, this will be a way that we (Sr. Barbara Staley and Sr. Diane Dalle Molle) and our colleagues in Swaziland can share with friends, family, and supporters.

We’ll use this Blog to tell what days are like here, what’s going on with the children, programs and projects like the farm, and how the community is faring. We’ll also provide links to further reading about Swaziland and the issues we face here.

We’ll also have links to the Cabrini Mission Foundation — newsletters, pictures, and other updates — and lots of photos of the children and life around St. Philip’s Mission.

To get started, we’ve added posts to bring you all up to date on Cabrini Ministries and its work in Swaziland.

Join us in living the work. And do be sure to add your comments, and share this blog with friends.

Overview of the Cabrini Ministries’ Work in Swaziland

Cabrini Ministries
P.O. Box Mhlatuze
Swaziland, Southern Africa

The Missionary Sisters have been serving at St. Philip’s Mission in the lowveld region of Swaziland since 1971. Today, they continue to serve at the mission running the health care services and outreaches, and boarding hostels or OVC children, as well as supporting the education program, agriculture program, and providing skills training. In recent years, efforts have been made to specifically respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Swaziland by expanding services to include:

OVC Hostel – established to care for the high rate of children orphaned by AIDS. Many of the children are compromised by malnutrition and chronic conditions such as TB and kidney disease. Children receive full room and board, as well as health care, and educational, emotional, and psychosocial support and other services. Children visit their homesteads and remaining extended family members often in our effort to keep them connected to their communities. Great emphasis is focused on nurturing the childrens’ Swazi identity.
Click on Care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children to read more about the orphan care program.

Home-Based Care – Started with a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Home Based Care program focuses on caring for the sick and dying, testing for and monitoring HIV and TB, helping people begin treatment, and transporting people to the hospital to receive treatment.
Click on Health Care Outreach to read more about the health care program.

Education – The educational program began over fifteen years ago when it was discovered that many children in the homesteads were not in school and their families could not afford to send them. With the assistance of the Swiss Solon Foundation, once the children are on the foundation grant, their education is guaranteed through 7th grade if they pass. This increases their chances for individualized growth and better employment opportunities. A special tutoring program called the “Bridge School” program helps students study intensively to reach the grade level appropriate to their age.

Agriculture – In 2005, Cabrini Ministries established an irrigated farm. This project provides supplemental fruits and vegetables for the patients in the health care program and the OVC children in the hostel, and helps to create a sustainable income for those children and adults learning agricultural skills and maintenance.

Skills-training/Staff at Cabrini Ministries– Cabrini Ministries employs about 40 local Swazi people to help run all of the above works. Training is provided as well as income and other benefits for our employees. An aftercare program has also been established to help hostel children 18+ build the job and life skills and experience they need to take care of themselves as adults.

Health Care Outreach

One of the two main works we do at Cabrini Ministries is Health Care Outreach (the other is Care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children). We provide health care services to about 1000 patients a month.

Our health care program has received accolades for delivering high-level professional and comprehensive health care services to the St. Philip’s Mission community in Swaziland. Especially when dealing with illnesses like HIV/AIDS and TB, we believe highly organized comprehensive care with a lot of follow-up and monitoring is the only way to make progress.

Our health care services include several distinct but interrelated categories:
* HIV testing, counseling, and treatment (HCT); includes ARV, CD4 programs and counseling
* Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT); in collaboration with St. Philip’s Clinic antenatal care program
* TB screening and treatment; treatment done in collaboration with St. Philip’s Clinic
* Community education and support groups
* Nutritional supplements for adults and infants

*HIV Testing, Counseling, and Treatment
We provide blood testing services and counseling for approximately 100 adults and children in our community per month. This includes a test to find out if someone has the HIV virus, following up with results, and providing counsel based on the results of the test. We also monitor the CD4 (or T-cell/ immune cell) counts for HIV+ people via blood tests. The CD4 count of an HIV+ person is what determines whether they need medication (antiretroviral drugs or ARVs) or if their immunity is strong enough that they do not need medication.

There are about 450 HIV+ people that we administer ARV medication to every month. The drugs are provided by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. We keep detailed records for each patient in our health care program- this is very important in administering complicated treatment regimens like those for HIV and TB. About 10 new HIV+ patients per month have to go on ARV medication in our community.

*Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT)
One of our programs, in collaboration with St. Philip’s Clinic, is called the Strong Mother/Strong Baby Program. There is a very high infant and birth mother mortality rate here and this program aims to provide pre- and post-natal education and health care for mothers from a nurse/midwife team. There are about 100 mothers & infants in the program. HIV+ mothers can give birth to and raise HIV- babies, but steps must be taken, such as taking PMTCT medication during pregnancy, and avoiding breast-feeding. We provide testing, referrals, transportation to the hospital for medication, formula, education classes, bottles, soap, candles and matches for sterilization, and other services as needed.

photo by Luis Maximiano

*TB Screening and Treatment
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in Swaziland, because the HIV infection rate is so high. TB attacks people with compromised immune systems. We have begun to screen every HIV+ patient for TB with a sputum test. We administer medication to about 50 adults and children per month for TB.

*Community Education and Support Groups
We provide walk-in community health education sessions twice a week for about 30 people each session. At these sessions- usually led by a Swazi nurse or Swazi HIV+ health care staff member- we review basic disease and health care education for HIV/AIDS and TB. We also provide HIV education at our monthly staff meetings. Support groups have formed naturally among HIV/AIDS and TB patients in the community education sessions.

*Nutritional Supplements for Adult and Infant Health Care Patients
We provide about 800 dietary supplement packages per month to our health care patients. Malnourishment is a serious health problem here because of drought and the lack of economic opportunities. (Click to read more about the drought, climate change, and the food crisis in Swaziland: “Life in a Changing Climate” or “Food Crisis in Swaziland”.) We believe nutritional support is critical to comprehensive health care, especially because people cannot take medications or stay healthy and off of medications for HIV/AIDS and TB if they don’t have enough food. The nutritional packages contain such items as fruits and vegetables from our farm, Morvite (a vitamin powder mixed into a drink), and a corn/soy blend.

Delivery of Services

Drop-in Center
At our drop-in center at St. Philip’s Mission, staffed by nurses and assistants, we receive about 350 patients per month, for everything from HIV/AIDS and TB testing, treatment, care, and follow-up; to other, often secondary infections, such as skin infections, diarrhea and vomiting; and education and emotional and spiritual support.

Home-Based Care
For those too sick to come to us, we deliver the same services to them at their homesteads. We work very closely with the traditional system of the Rural Health Motivators (RHMs)- community members who are trained to diagnose people on homesteads and help get them to us for more care. Swaziland has a great shortage of trained doctors and nurses for all the people that need health care, so the RHM programme is a stopgap in place right now. We visit about 50 people on their homesteads with our mobile clinic and home-based care program.

To read about a typical home-based care visit, click on the post: A Visit to A Homestead.

Transportation to Hospital or Clinic
One reason why many people can’t access treatment for HIV or TB is the lack of transport to and from hospitals and clinics, which can be miles and miles away. We transport over 350 people a month to hospitals and clinics for the services they need there in Cabrini Ministries vehicles.

Healthy patients help staff with the farm harvest

What Our Health Care Program Means For Our Community

We suffer about 5 deaths per month, usually all from HIV/AIDS. This is a loss this community feels so deeply. But for 1000+ people a month, the health care program means receiving health care services they need, and sometimes means literally receiving life. The health care program is a ray of hope and healing that we feel and appreciate here.

Also, the people that we provide health care services to in the communities around us are also often intimately connected with the orphaned and vulnerable children at our hostel- such as being the immediate and extended family members and very close neighbors of the children. With both our health care and orphan care programs (and education and agriculture), we aim for a continuum of community health in all aspects of the word.

Care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC)

One of the two main works we do at Cabrini Ministries Swaziland is Care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children, or OVC (the other major work is Health Care Outreach). The child care program was established in 2002 to respond to the HIV/AIDS and TB pandemics by caring for OVC and helping their extended families.

One of the most apparent effects of the swift spread of HIV in the community was the growing number of children rendered parentless. Children were taken in by relatives, neighbors, or in some cases were forced to fend for themselves. In 2002, a boarding hostel was established on the Mission in response to the local orphan crisis. The Hostel was to provide food, shelter, and supervision for many of the children who had lost both of their parents (often termed double orphans) and were living by themselves at a child-headed homestead or some other equally dangerous living situation.

Fifty children were originally admitted, with the number nearly doubling by the end of the first week. Many of those inaugural children still reside at the Hostel during the school year, with new intakes coming every January. We currently have about 120 orphans living at the hostel, many as groups of siblings as we try to keep families together.

The child care services provided by Cabrini Ministries extend beyond a roof above the heads of 120 orphans; the Hostel has become a home where local women provide these vulnerable children with loving care, medical services, balanced nutrition, school enrollment as well as educational enrichment activities, and assistance in strengthening and maintaining positive relationships with what family they have. In several instances, Cabrini Ministries has helped children find family they did not know existed, and in that way have taken an active role in restoring life for these children.

Many of these services have been made possible through child sponsorship facilitated by Cabrini Mission Foundation in the United States and Cabrini Health in Australia. Since 2002, individuals have also made annual contributions in support of children residing at the Hostel. We’re very excited to report that this year Mrs. Petronella Mamba Mnisi, originally from the Mamba kingdom, one of the three chiefdoms served, has become our first sponsor from Swaziland! It’s very rewarding to see such generosity come from within the community. We hope to see more Swazi sponsors to follow.

As organizational and paradigmatic growth has occurred, we have moved from speaking only of the Hostel to a broader label of Child Care. Over time, it has become clear that here is a need for expanding services to new levels of care, with a goal of providing psychosocial support to the children of the community. These extended services include providing educational sponsorship to over 100 children from the area, transition programming for Hostel children moving on to the next stage of their lives, and increasing assistance with legal documentation and other referrals. Acquiring legal documents like birth and death certificates – which are not automatically distributed in Swaziland – is vital for orphaned children to receive many of the services for which they are eligible.

Cabrini Ministries is seeking ways to expand support in facilitating these processes throughout the community. For example, the organization has begun exploring relationships with local caregivers of Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs – gathering points where orphans and vulnerable children receive a meal and supervision from volunteer caregivers from their area) to identify potential points of collaboration.

This expansion of services will mean good things for the children of the three chiefdoms served by Cabrini Ministries as we continue to act on our long term commitment to improving the life of each child. Yet it will be a slow process, requiring development of understanding and skill among the staff and organization as a whole. Hopefully it will mean the restoration of more lives, and increased hope for the future.

To read profiles of a few of our kids, click on these posts:
Khululiwe, Tanele, and Bonakele
New York Times reporter Nick Kristof’s Kids

History of Cabrini Ministries at St. Philip’s Mission


The Missionary Sisters have been serving at St. Philip’s Mission in the rural lowveld region of Swaziland, Southern Africa since 1971 at the request of King Sobhuza II and the Servite priests. Today, they continue to serve at the mission running the health care services and boarding hostels, as well as teaching in the school and providing skills training.

In recent years, efforts have been made by the MSCs to specifically respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Swaziland, expanding their services directly related to the pandemic which now include:

* Healthcare including home based care to HIV/AIDS patients,
* Care of orphans and vulnerable children,
* Provision of food and food supplements to the elderly and HIV patients,
* Education of the children in the homesteads.

Cabrini Hostel
– The Cabrini Hostel was established as a direct response to the high rate of children orphaned by AIDS, who have been left without parents or with only one parent. The Hostel is designed to help all of its children stay connected to and rooted in the lives of their families and homesteads. Great emphasis is focused on nurturing the childrens’ Swazi identity.

Education – The educational program began over fifteen years ago when it was discovered that many children in the homesteads were not in school and the families could not afford to send them. Over the years, sponsors have helped support many of these children, but as the pandemic of AID/HIVS became increasingly pronounced, many more children needed support. With the assistance of the Solon Foundation, a Swiss foundation helping countries in Southern Africa with education, once the children are on the foundation grant, their education is guaranteed through 7th grade if they pass. Cabrini Ministries has been able to support 120 children and these children are now given a chance to grow as individuals, have better employment prospects in the future and become good citizens of Swaziland.

Home Based Care – Started in 2000 with a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the rural health initiative for HIV/AIDS education was established. The Home Based Care program focuses on caring for the sick and dying, testing for HIV; helping people begin treatment; transporting individuals to the hospital to receive treatment. At the present, Cabrini Home Based Care program serves over 200 people and is in operation 5-7 days a week.

Agriculture – The lowveld region is very dry and in the past 10 years has been experiencing a drought. In an effort to bring food to the sick, the elderly, and the orphaned children in the hostel, as well as the homesteads, Cabrini Ministries in 2005 established an agriculture project. This project provides water for drinking and food and helps to create a sustainable income for approximately 200 people in addition to serving the children housed at the hostel.

What is a Blog?

“Blog” is a word that is short for web log.

A blog is a website that is maintained like a diary, with entries (or “posts”) appearing in reverse chronological order, so the newest appears first.

The word “blog” can be used to refer to the website itself, or it can be used as a verb to describe the act of creating the website or posts (such as: “We will be blogging new and exciting stories on our blog”).

Blogs range widely in form and content. Most blogs contain text, images, links to other websites or blogs, and an interactive “comments” feature that allows readers to leave comments that appear on the blog.

The only difference between a blog and a traditional website is that a blog tends to be updated and changed more often, and follows the style of an online diary.


Subscribing to the Blog is great way to enjoy it.

Subscribing is free and easy. All that it means is that you will get a short email in your email box when a new article is posted on the Blog. (We post a new article every 1-2 weeks- so you won’t receive many emails.) It makes it easier for you to read the blog because you don’t have to find it on the Internet every time. It will send you the article, like a traditional newsletter. From the email message, you can click through to view the whole Blog if you want.

Instructions for Subscribing to the Blog:

All you have to do is type in your email address into the blank box in the upper right corner of the blog, and click on the button that says “Get email updates.”

You will be taken to a screen where you will see 1, 2, 3: 1) Check to make sure your email address is spelled correctly. 2) Type in the letters and numbers that appear as a security measure. 3) Click on the button that says “Subscribe me!”

You will then receive a message in your email to confirm your subscription. In the email message, click where it says “Click here to activate your account.” This will take you to a confirmation screen, and you will be officially subscribed to the Blog.

If you ever want to unsubscribe, just send a message to


We always welcome and encourage comments on any of the articles on the Blog.

Here’s how to make a comment:

At the bottom of every Blog article, you will see: “Posted by Cabrini Ministries Swaziland at (date and time) Comments”

Click on the word “Comments.”

This will take you to the Comments screen where you can type in your comment in the blank box. When you are finished, click on “Publish your comment.”

Your comment will then be available for people to read when they click on the word “Comments” at the end of the article.

Any questions about the blog? Please ask! Email:

People Involved with the Blog & Current Contact Info

Sr. Barbara Staley, MSC, lives and works at the Ministries in Swaziland. Among her many duties, she manages the staff and oversees the functioning of the children’s hostel. Sr. Barbara is the main voice of the Blog in Swaziland.

Sr. Barbara is reachable by email at:

Sr. Diane Dalle Molle, MSC, also lives and works at the Ministries in Swaziland. Among her many duties, she manages the healthcare outreach program and is the Director of Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland.

Sr. Diane is reachable by email at:

Erika is the technical blogger behind the Cabrini Ministries Swaziland Blog. Srs. Barbara & Diane, Erika, and others have helped build and shape the Blog, and continue to work together to communicate stories from the field through the medium of the Blog. Erika is the main contact person for the Blog in the US.

Erika is reachable by email at:

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us. Thanks for visiting our Blog!