Spring for Swaziland, NYTimes and Swazi Observer Articles

Just a reminder, if you are in the New York City area- next Wednesday evening:

And thanks to Nick Kristof for his mention of the Cabrini Sisters in his op-ed piece on Sunday in the New York Times (yes, that’s Sr. Barbara with the “lead foot”!):
A Church Mary Can Love

Finally a Cabrini Swaziland staff member wrote a wonderful article that was published in the Swazi Observer:


How does a child grow into a person who becomes a good mother or father?
How does a child grow into a person who becomes a good citizen of the Nation?
How does a child grow into a person who respects himself and others?
How does a child grow into a person who knows that he comes from God and goes back to God ; a person who prays and struggles to do good?

It may seem like a simple answer but the beginning of becoming a mature adult who contributes to the common good of the Nation and the good of his or her family… is to have parents who direct and discipline a child’s life with love and concern.

In our Nation today only 21% of the children have both parents and all the rest are either double or single orphans. Even the single orphan is often abandoned by the remaining parent when one dies.

What does this mean for the future of family life in Swaziland? What does this mean for the future of the Nation?

It is truly a tragedy for the children of the Nation today and a disaster for the future of the Nation tomorrow. So many of the children of Swaziland are growing up disconnected….with no sense of belonging to someone who loves, respects and disciplines them…who teaches them the way to think, choose, behave in the normal situations of every day life.

Orphans, many thousands of them, are struggling to raise themselves with no sense of belonging to a family, a group, a Nation. They are learning that adults often take advantage of them, encroach on their homesteads, abuse them physically and sexually, or just don’t have time for them because the adults themselves are overburdened with mouths to feed.

Already the Nation has, by some estimates, more than 200,000 orphans…how lonely, disconnected and angry will these children be as they try to grow into an adult world with no skills of family and relationship….they will easily follow the example of those who have taken advantage of them and abused them in various ways. Are we moving toward a Nation of thugs? A nation of young adults without compassion and connection? A Nation of young adults with little sense of right relationship? Faithful relationship? There appear to be few answers for the children growing up without parents in these last 15 years..often alone or with overburdened guardians.

Are there answers for the children being born right now? A large percentage of the families and women having babies are HIV+…does that mean the tragedy and disaster of disconnected children must go on and on? In the area of the Lubombo lowveld where Cabrini Ministries works the HIV+ rate over the past three years has remained between 45 and 60% of those tested.

Is there an answer? Yes, I believe there is the beginning of an answer – PARENTS, MOTHERS AND FATHERS MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR LIVES AND STAY ALIVE! What does this mean?

1. It means testing early and often even if you do not feel sick
2. It means getting to the clinic before you are too sick to walk
3. It means adults have to stop pretending that there is nothing wrong even when they keep getting sick
4. It means if you find you are HIV+ you decide that you will get the help you need, eat as well as possible, go on anti-retroviral treatment when it is necessary and live for another 15 or 20 or 30 years so that you may stay with your children, love them, teach them, discipline them and help them to grow into a good and loving adult like yourself.

Your health as an adult and a parent is not just a personal thing….IT IS NOT TRUE THAT ”MY LIFE BELONGS TO ME AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT.“ Our lives belong to God, to our family and to the Nation. As a parent it is a responsibility that comes with parenthood to care for yourself, stay healthy, even if you are HIV+ or with AIDS, because your life is for your children…for their future.

There are programs and projects to help orphan children in Swaziland all struggling to do the best they can to help some of the thousands of orphaned children; there are school teachers with great compassionate hearts trying to help as many as they can of the many, many orphaned children they teach each day. These are good efforts and God who loves children in a very special way blesses these efforts. BUT NOTHING TAKES THE PLACE OF A PARENT WITH ENOUGH LOVE TO STAY ALIVE FOR THE SAKE OF HIS OR HER CHILDREN, NOTHING.

Blessings and love,
Srs. Barbara and Diane

Update on Nick Kristof’s Kids

Hello everyone,
(Apologies for the delay in communications… email and phone service in the bush have been sparse lately.)
We would like to update you on a few things in the next few weeks.

First, we wanted to take a longer-term look at several children’s lives.

In May of 2006, New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof visited us in Swaziland to do a feature about AIDS. His work ended up in the form of a short New York Times video, available for Times Select subscribers at: The World Hasn’t Moved On. Click here to watch:

In the video, Kristof focuses on children orphaned by AIDS, and profiles three groups of children orphaned by AIDS in our community. It is interesting to look at each of these groups of children and see how they are faring since the video was shot over a year and half ago.

Nomzamo, a 12-year-old orphan, is struggling to take care of her two younger sisters at the time of the video. She must feed, clothe, and otherwise raise her sisters. At the time of the video, Nomzamo and her sisters lived in a mud and stick hut with a poor roof. They did have a living grandmother, but the grandmother worked on a farm several towns away and was gone all week only to visit with them on the weekends.

Nomzamo and her sisters are doing somewhat better now, by happy fault. For one, the grandmother retired, so though she is very old, she is an adult presence in the home. Cabrini Ministries visited the homestead and talked with the grandmother about boarding the children at the hostel, but the grandmother refused, because she said she needed Nomzamo to cook for her and to keep the house safe so no one would steal from her. They are having a difficult time affording and otherwise obtaining food. They did receive donations from the World Food Programme, but run out, so Cabrini checks in regularly and helps with corn-soya and mealie-meal. The land around them is very dry from the drought and they are unable to grow crops. (Read more about the food crisis or the drought here or here.)

One positive, unexpected turn of events was that their house was fully rebuilt by SWADE (Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise). SWADE is building a dam nearby and many residents, including Nomzamo’s household, were forced to relocate. Their amount of land was preserved, however, and a house was built with better structure and materials as a replacement. The family now lives in a very solid, concrete house, painted, with windows.

Cabrini Ministries also supports Nomzamo and her sisters with extra school expenses. The government covers school tuition for all registered orphans, but there are other expenses such as uniforms, shoes, supplies, etc. that are necessary but not covered. (Read more about school fees for orphans here.)Through a foundation grant and sponsorships from private donors, we are able to pay for about 100 children’s extra school expenses and ensure they are able to go to school.

Wandile and Temdoline, portrayed as brother and sister in the video, are not actually related but are two orphans that have stayed with each other. They lived with Wandile’s aunt at the time, who was shown very sick with AIDS, unable to provide food for the family and close to death.

Wandile’s aunt became a patient of Cabrini Ministries, and was put on anti-retroviral medication. She responded very well to the treatment and got some of her health back, but food was still difficult to secure. The homestead was run as a part-time shebeen, which is an illegal home-brewing drinking hut. Shebeens tend to leave children extra vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The aunt eventually abandoned the children and took the last of the food.

The children followed another child home from school one day hungry and having no place to go. The child’s mother, which was Wandile and Temdoline’s neighbor, though barely having enough to feed her own children, could not turn Wandile and Temdoline away. This kind of woman reminds us of our unity as a worldwide family and our duties as “neighbors” to each other. The children are currently living with this neighbor.

This is a common situation in Swaziland of a family being overstretched taking on extra members, with the orphaned children being at the end of the receiving line and last to get their needs met. Cabrini Ministries checks in with this homestead regularly and tries to provide help where needed.

Siphiso says in the video he thought about suicide after he had watched both parents die, but that he didn’t want to abandon his two younger brothers. We thank God for Siphiso today, because we have been happy to have had an opportunity to see him grow, and he and his brothers are doing much better under Cabrini’s care. Siphiso and his brothers were living on their own as a child-headed homestead.

We were able to have Siphiso and his brothers move into the Cabrini hostel in late 2006. Another important thing we helped Siphiso and his brothers with was figuring out his extended family relationships in the area, which were complicated, so now they are reintegrating into their family and staying with adult relatives over school breaks.

One amazing thing is how much Siphiso has grown! He is now taller than many of the adults around here. We think this is one of the visible consequences of good nutrition that we are beginning to see over time with many of the children in the hostel. Siphiso is 17 but as a result of his past, only in grade 6. Because he is so tall, he sometimes gets made fun of by the younger students. We will probably pull him out of the school system after his grade 7 exams and support him to go to trade school, which tends to make older students like him feel much more confident and successful.

The other brothers, Mcolisi and Sipho, are doing well, physically healthy and growing tall too.

Thanks to Nick Kristof for his original reportage, and thanks to all our supporters that help us improve the lives of such children over the long-term.

Love and blessings,
Srs. Barbara and Diane

Article in the Swazi Observer about Cabrini Ministries’ Orphan Care

Hello friends,

We wanted to share with you the following article that was written by Calsile Masilela, a writer for the Swazi Observer (one of two major newspapers here) that came to visit us, and who we feel really understands our works.

As the adult generation ages 15-49 struggles with a 34% HIV prevalence rate and more people that age are dying, their children are left behind as orphans to be taken care of by extended family or neighbors. Grandmothers (gogos) like Gogo Shongwe portrayed in the article below often take on caretaking duties at an age when they would normally expect care themselves.

We at Cabrini Ministries try to ease the burden on families affected by HIV/AIDS by helping to raise orphaned and vulnerable children with a co-parenting approach, providing shelter, food, clothing, school fees, psychosocial support, health care, etc. for orphaned children while also helping them maintain a connection with home and their remaining family members. We also try to help struggling caretakers like Gogo Shongwe with food and health care.

This article was published in the Swazi Observer, Monday May 5, 2008.

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… As the drought hits hard on Lubombo folk

LUBOMBO drought-ravaged residents want action against the devastating effects of poverty.

Photo of Gogo Shongwe by Jane Gillooly

  Gogo (granny) Maria Shongwe, who lives with her orphaned 11 grandchildren, said she had never expected to live under such harsh conditions. Gogo Shongwe related that in the past they used to engage in farming but stopped because of the drought.

  “We now depend on food aid, which is also not reliable because at times we go for one to two months without receiving the rations,” said Gogo Shongwe. She added that she was disturbed that some of the grandchildren do not go to school because she could not afford to pay for their school fees.

  She mentioned that out of the 11 grandchildren only five go to school, thanks to Cabrini Ministries.

This is one of Gogo Shongwe’s grandchildren that lives at the Cabrini Ministries hostel during the school year and is doing well.

  “I really wish the mission staff could be blessed for they care for the needy like ourselves. When I get to the mission to visit my grandchildren at the hostel, they welcome me and I also feel at home,” she said, adding that they also give her some food to eat and some food to take home.

  Gogo Shongwe said if it was not for the mission a lot of children around that place would be dead by now.

  “My granddaugher, it is only now that we shall have a meal because the missionaries gave us some,” she said.

  Gogo Shongwe encouraged people to visit those areas so that they would see the situation in order to make proper interventions.

  “As winter approached, we have no warm clothes and there is nothing we can do from the little that I get from the grant. I used it all in buying mealie meal,” said Gogo Shongwe.

  On the other hand, Dumsile Tsabedze from Luvatsi urged government to look deeper into the issue of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children for she said it was painful for them as community members to watch children caring for themselves.

  “My neighbor died, she was living with her three children of which two are boys and a girl.

  “The children were left with their uncle, who then left them all by themselves with no house after the one they occupied collapsed,” said Tsabedze.

  Tsabedze said it was through mercy, for her family was also big and starving, that she was able to intervene to keep the children’s bodies and souls together. She expressed her gratitude to Cabrini Ministries, who also came to the rescue of the orphans and took them to the hostel.

  The missionaries take care of the children fully even during school holidays when they are with her.

Photo by Jane Gillooly

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If you’d like to learn more about Gogo Shongwe, she is also featured prominently in a documentary about Gogos (grandmothers) called Today the Hawk Takes One Chick by Jane Gillooly, which was filmed in our area. The film shows Gogo Shongwe’s day-to-day inspiring struggles to care for her grandchildren and raise the next generation. Click on the link below to go to the website where you can purchase the DVD of the film and learn more about the film project.


This is another of Gogo Shongwe’s grandchildren that lives at the Cabrini Ministries hostel.

There is hope in the children of the next generation- you can see it! These children have so much potential. And it is up to all of us to honor that and support orphaned, vulnerable, and needy children, so they can grow up and bring the world their best.

Blessings, love, and thanks to all who support the works,

Srs. Barbara and Diane

"Picking Up the Pieces" Article by Rev. Ken Jefferson

We are still cleaning up after the storm that hit us a few weeks ago. Below is an article written by our friend Reverend Ken Jefferson, a Scotsman, a Baptist Minister, and the pastor of the Mbabane Chapel. This article appeared in the local paper here- the Swazi Observer. We met him a while ago, because he writes a wonderful weekly column in the Swazi Observer from a theological perspective and we called him to thank him for it- the rest is history.

He came to St. Philip’s the morning after the storm to see for himself and generously helped us. He has also helped us in the past; last winter, through Rotary, he got us 100 much-needed blankets. His articles are always well-written and inspiring and we offer this to you to provide a window into what we are experiencing now, and to offer hope and faith to all in difficult times.

Blessings and love,
Srs. Barbara and Diane

“PICKING UP THE PIECES” by Rev. Ken Jefferson

In the days between Christmas and New Year there was a storm. It struck in the late afternoon, and for many places across the country, it was just another storm. We have them and we cope with them throughout this season.

However this storm hit one small area with exceptional force, causing major damage. In fifteen brief minutes it swept through the St. Philips Mission, lifting roofs of houses, taking down power lines, tearing down trees, leaving the nuns who run the orphanage with a repair bill that will run to as much as half a million Emalangeni.

A few months ago, the Mbabane Rotary Club provided a hundred blankets for the children being looked after at St Philips, and in this emergency the nuns contacted me, as president of the club. They reached out for assistance in the crisis that had overtaken them.

They had already contacted a former volunteer, now working with the US embassy, and with this young man I quickly made my way to the orphanage, to see and survey the damage at first hand. It was a scene of real devastation.

The two nuns, Sister Diane and Sister Barbara had endured a frightening experience. The wind came with such force that it lifted the tiles of the roof of their house. Then torrential rain fell and soaked everything inside. The hours of the night were long and difficult. One of the staff lost his possessions when his small house was wrecked. The kitchen which feeds over 130 children was smashed up, the dormitories had holes in the ceiling, and the church which stands at the heart of the mission had sustained substantial damage.

For the sisters there was more than the element of physical fright in their experience. Heartbreak followed in the wake of the storm. To have the work they love and the service they offer dealt such a severe blow in such a short time seemed to be a stunning setback, just at the time when the work of the mission is so critically needed. They realised that plans will have to be changed. Before there can be the dream of expansion, there will a necessary period of repair and consolidation.

It would be my prayer that the Catholic community in this and in other countries will learn of the disaster that struck St. Philips and become significantly involved in repairing the structures. This is a time for Diocesan leadership to come to their aid, and to demonstrate even in cash-strapped Swaziland, practical and physical help can be brought to bear, effectively and quickly. It would be nothing short of a disgrace, were the sisters to find themselves lacking in the support they deserve, and one can only hope and pray that this will prove to be an hour in which their will be the best and most generous expression of local Christian love and solidarity. Oddly and sadly enough, Christian churches are not always fast or first to dig their hands into their congregational or national purses, when funds are required, nor are they as ready as might be supposed to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into hard work on behalf of brothers and sisters in the faith, in spite of their being taught that there is no duty like the duty of loving one another, which is the essential badge of discipleship and in and of itself an essential witness to the world.

But even as I make these points, I know as I do so, that Sister Diane and Sister Barbara have not and will not allow themselves to be overwhelmed, nor are they sitting back and waiting for help to come from one quarter or another. Indeed even by the time I arrived at the mission they had somehow or another got a work force busy, and at a time of national holiday, had somehow managed to get men working on replacing tiles on the roof, and they were arranging to have as much made wind and water tight as they could.

What especially impressed me was the fact that shocked though they were by all that had happened, in no sense had they given way to despair, or descended into self pity. Indeed their primary concerns were not for themselves, but for the members of the mission staff who had suffered loss. Even in an hour of radically changed circumstances, these ladies had not buckled under pressure. They were evidently made of sterner stuff, and just maybe that sterner stuff has a name. It is called faith. It is faith that triumphs in adversity.

I am sure that these nuns have lived lives in which they have been trained in prayer and in meditation. They have spent years of their lives learning to trust God in all things, and this is for them an hour when the hidden life of devotion reveals its true worth, in the discipline of picking up the pieces and starting over.

And maybe we need their example at this special time in our own lives. As we have entered a new year, it will certainly bring us all kinds of storms to be faced. There will be days when our personal sky goes dark and we will feel threatened. We may have to face forces that are terrifying, and find ourselves having to face devastating times. Will we be able to come to terms with tough times? Will we be able to cope and to care enough to keep on going, when it would be easier to give up and cave in?

It would be my prayer that many of the readers of this column will remember the words of Jesus who called His disciples and still calls us to ‘have faith in God.’ Because faith- real faith- is not something that pays dividends in the good times. Faith endures. Faith holds us up, keeps us together even when our world is blown apart. Faith is for every circumstance, and like love and hope it lasts for ever.

By the way of you want to donate to the rebuilding of this orphanage you can phone the sisters on 602-2475 and ask for Sister Diane.

Pastor Ken Jefferson is pastor of the Mbabane Chapel, Makhosini/Ridge Street. The chapel meets for worship every Sunday. Youth Bible class at 9.30.am. is followed by Morning Worship at 10.30. The J team for kids happens at the same time and there is a crèche in operation for the very small children. You are warmly invited to attend this growing family church. Email revjeff@realnet.co.sz or phone 638 2290.

Apparently there is little or no insurance cover on most of the facilities, and to start the reconstruction process will involve the sisters in the hard work of finding funding to rebuild.

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