Slow and Steady Progress: Working through the storm damage and national exams

Greetings to all,

First we want to update everyone on the storm rebuild & clean-up. The damages were extensive and we are still picking up the pieces. We’ve had assessments done and repair work has begun around the Mission.

Though this storm has been an unforeseen and difficult situation for us to bear, it warms our hearts that a few individuals out there have been moved so far to respond quickly with help. We extend deepest thanks and appreciation to our supporters. We met our goal of getting the kitchen fixed and functioning for the return of the hostel children last Monday, so we all could cook and eat as normal. We do have many more repair goals to reach ASAP (such as fixing holes in the roof, replacing damaged furniture, etc.) but with your support we feel part of a great family of friends that will help to ensure our works will continue. (Click here to link to the Cabrini Mission Foundation and make a donation.)

We have a few items of good news we want to share with you…

(photo by Luiz Maximiano)

We are pleased to announce we were able to take in a few more children and the number of OVC (orphaned & vulnerable children) at our hostel is now up to 141. These children receive all basic care such as food, shelter, clothing, school fare, and healthcare, as well as educational, social, and emotional care and support. We will hold a meeting next weekend where we invite the remaining extended family of all the children (like a Parent’s Day), we will honor special achievers, and we will especially welcome our children new to the hostel.

Also, recently 17 of our seventh graders took their national exams that are required for entering high school. We are so proud of our kids, because everyone passed. Also, one boy received a merit, which means he was in the top 2% in the nation (23,000 kids took these tests) in the scores. We also had two kids that received what is known as ‘first class’ scores, which are in the top 13% of the nation.

It is difficult to express how important this is for these children’s lives. They have the opportunity to get into better high schools now, and getting past grade 7 is a real achievement for rural people that live in the bush. Many of these children’s parents- if they were alive- would not have been able to get past grade 7 or have much schooling at all. So this might be the first generation to achieve this, and the families are beyond proud. Also, the children can feel the self-esteem of being a normal kid- not just an orphan with no chance and no future.

This is our ‘merit’ kid- “C.”- he is 17 years old. Both of his parents have been dead for years. His mother died in a particularly traumatic way: pregnant with her fourth child, she collapsed while walking some distance on foot, and she and her unborn baby were found dead on a roadside. C.’s father was abusive to him, and C. was starved and neglected. He was suicidal at 11 years old, when he came to the hostel to live with us. That was also when he started first grade.

C. has been in our bridge school program where he has been able to complete several school grades in a year to catch up with his age group. His teacher reports that he is an excellent student who works hard, is respectful, and looks to the future. C. has no family left- no extended family to stay with at school break time (Read more about school break time here), so one of our staff members who works in the hostel has taken him in and allowed him to come to his homestead and be part of his family.

(photo by Ryan Phelps- Pediatrician in Swaziland)

C. and the three other bridge school kids who work so hard and are so self-motivated to learn helped to motivate the other 13 kids in a positive peer pressure way. Because they were very much into school, seeking out more learning opportunities, doing homework, studying, helping their peers, and making learning fun and good, their influence rubbed off on the other kids, and school has become ‘cool.’

We had promised that if all 17 kids passed, we would have a party for them. The day we had the party, Brian Gaisford of Hemingway Photographic Safaris had come to visit with his safari group from the US. (Read about how Brian & his safari group bring items like shoes overseas with them here.) Brian and his group managed to bring about 150 pairs of shoes, as well as clothing and art supplies, in their extra luggage- which is incredible! And greatly appreciated…

The safari group joined us for the special dinner we had for the kids, where we had chicken and other favorite foods, presented these kids with awards, and did our best to applaud their efforts. I think they all felt very special that day, which is the best kind of feeling, to support them and help them rise above terribly traumatic pasts.

We can directly credit this remarkable success to the bridge school and afterschool tutoring programs. All the work that goes into supporting these children and alleviating the social stressors on them is showing results: providing real educational and social enhancement opportunities. This is cause to celebrate!

(photo by Luiz Maximiano)

Blessings and love,
Srs. Barbara & Diane

PS. If any of you are in the New England/Boston area, please be sure to go see Jane Gilooly’s film about Swazi grandmothers, or ‘gogos’, Today the Hawk Takes One Chick, which she filmed in our community. It’s showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, on Saturday 2/7/08 at 7 pm. For tickets and directions, go to:

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