Fantastic Feast Day!

On the 13th of November, we here at Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland, celebrate our namesake and the foundress of the ministries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. This year our celebration was made even more joyous by the addition of a much needed bout of rainfall! As the entire staff of Cabrini Ministries Swaziland gathered together to honor the life of Mother Cabrini, we reflected on the life of an amazing woman, without whom our work would not be possible.

Frances Cabrini was a remarkable woman who practiced great determination and perseverance in order to live her life spreading God’s love to those most in need. We are grateful to her and all she did in her life to make the world a better place. Siyabonga, Make Cabrini!

As it does every year, we start our Feast Day with a procession to the church carrying the statue of Mother Cabrini…

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 120

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 129

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 121

We then attended a beautiful mass lead by Fr. Gaston, who was assisted by a few of our hostel children performing their duties as altar servers.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 136

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 131

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 135

Some of our hostel girls approaching the altar with offerings for Mother Cabrini.

After the moving mass, the entire staff gathered at the dining hall for some entertainment, speeches, and, of course, a feast!

Our Deputy Executive Director, Ben Kickert, kicked the program off to a great start, bringing up all the new employees that have joined us this year at Cabrini Ministries of Swaziland.

New Employees

“Welcome to the family!”

He then continued the recognition party by presenting staff members who have been with us for 5 and 10 years with a special gift and thank you from Cabrini Ministries.

5 Year Employees

And of course it would not be called a Cabrini party if we did not get to hear a few songs sung by our glorious choir!


To send the entertainment portion of the celebration out with a bang, Grade 5 and Grade 6 performed a fantastic retelling of Saint Frances Cabrini’s inspiring life, appropriately titled Mother Cabrini and the Cabrini Way. 

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 180

Here we see Bongiswa Nxumalo perform the role of the priest in the baptism scene of the play.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 182

When Frances was a young girl, she admired her sister, Rosa, very much and was always copying everything she did!

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 184

Here we see Celemphilo Maziya and Ncobile Gumedze with their prop boats and flowers as they perform the scene where Frances explains to her sister that she is imagining that the little boats are filled with missionaries that she is sending off down the river.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 196

Here we see Mother Cabrini’s first voyage to New York City!

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 205

“Siyabonga, Mother Cabrini” the children sing for the finale of “Mother Cabrini and the Cabrini Way”

And then…we feasted on a wonderful meal prepared by our very own Cabrini staff.
The Cabrini Staff ate, laughed, and cheered on the rain as it fell down onto our thirsty land.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 206

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 169

Grades 5 and 6.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 143

Simo Mamba in traditional party attire.

Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 151Halloween, Feast of Mother Cabrini, Form 5 pictures 140

As always, we are grateful, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, for all that you did for this world. We strive to live on in your spirit of peace and goodwill!

-The Cabrini Staff



Technology Upgrades and Thanks!

In Swaziland, you find things either change very quickly or not at all.  We have seen huge advances in treatment for HIV/AIDS in the past couple years, but other things like infrastructure (electricity and roads) seems to be going back in town.

Technology is one area that seems to move forward either quickly or not at all.  Lately we have seen some incredible advances that have allowed us to work at a new level of efficiency.  The cellular networks were recently upgraded to allow for fast (but expensive) access on a new 3G network.  We can now skype and have reliable access to essential tools like email.  We have also installed a new internal wireless network on the mission that allows staff members to communicate back and forth and share documents — a luxury unimaginable just 6 months ago.

These new capabilities have also allowed us to form new connections with the outside world.  As you can probably tell if you are reading this post online, we have upgraded our web presence to include a revamped website while still maintaining all of the previous posts from the older blog.  We have also set up a twitter account and a facebook page.  You can subscribe to updates via email or put the feed into an aggregator like google reader.  All of these tools will allow us to better share the story of Cabrini Ministries and keep you up to date on what is happening in rural Swaziland.  Isn’t technology amazing?

In moving forward, it is certainly important that we remember where we have come from and how we got here.  A very special thanks needs to go out to Erika Baehr for the behind the scenes, yet essential role she played in getting the first website up and going and keeping it updated.  Despite the fact Erika has yet to travel to Swaziland, she has been able to share the stories of the mission as one who is truly ingrained into the ongoing work.  Everything we have now is built on the work she did several years ago.  Thank you Erika!

We also want to thank our friends at Cabrini College who have provided technical and practical support to our work.  They not only assisted with the transition, but have provided on the ground input in areas such as marketing, business development, and education.  A special thanks goes out to the leadership of the college as well as the implementors who helped to make this possible.

The more things progress in the Lubombo lowveld of Swaziland, the more we are remind just how connected we are with our friends and supporters across the world.  Thank you all for everything you do and have done.  We look forward to continuing to share the story that happens in the bush, but is facilitated by people world-wide.

How to Build a House… and a Community

Hello Everyone!

Back in May, as you know, we at Cabrini Ministries were not really in the business of building houses. We provide educational support and housing for orphans at the hostel, and healthcare and nutritional support for the local community with our drop-in center and outreach programs. But in June, a string of opportunities propelled us head-first into residential construction, so we started building houses.

First, some context… The Swazis in our community often talk about how much better things were 30 years ago. Traditional mud and stick huts were better maintained, and thatch roofs were made of the expensive, good quality thatch from outside the area. Well-built and well-maintained traditional huts do fare decently in rough weather and heat. But today, because the adult labor force has been hit so hard by HIV and AIDS, many people can’t maintain their huts as well as in the past. People use cheaper thatch that must be replaced every year, and there are less healthy adults to do this. As a result, many of the huts are in poor shape, with no roofs and not much protection from the elements. Some living situations are not even huts, but makeshift structures. Orphans and the elderly are two groups in particular need of better housing.

The Swazi government organization NERCHA (The National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS in Swaziland) receives money from the Global Fund for improvement projects in Swaziland. We contacted NERCHA and shared that our community was in need of housing, and in June we were awarded a grant of about $100,000 to produce 35 houses for the most in-need orphans and elderly in our community by December. We immediately got started. The photo above is the existing hut in poor condition (as you can see, with no real roof) from the homestead where we built house #1. In the photos below, we will take you through the process of building a house as we learned to do it.

The houses we built were made of cement, so first, you need many bags of cement.

With those bags of cement, we made bricks. You can build about 32-37 cement cinder blocks out of one bag of cement, sand, and water. It takes between 350-420 bricks to make one house. So we had to make a lot of bricks.

We used our maize-drying area as a makeshift brickyard because it is fenced. The bricks need to be watered three times a day as they are drying, and they take 7-14 days to fully dry.

Next step is mixing the cement and pouring the foundation. The houses are fifteen feet by fifteen feet.

We then lay and mortar the bricks and put in some steel reinforcers. This house is a double-house for a boy and a girl family of orphans so they could each have their own space.

One of the best parts about this project is that we were able to hire local young men to work on the houses as contractors. There are lines at the door for jobs in this area, so this was especially helpful to the community. They were paid the market rate and did a great job. We also had the guidance of Mr. Cuelho from Manzini who helped as a construction manager. And family members and neighbors pitched in. As a result, I believe we were the fastest and most organized house-builders NERCHA has worked with yet.

The last major step is smoothing the cement over the bricks, and putting in the windows, door, and roof. And finally…

Ta-da! A finished house. We are on schedule to complete all the houses by December. These houses were logistically challenging to build, with almost all the materials being made at St. Philip’s Mission, then being transported out to homesteads for construction. But they will be long-lasting and will stand up to weather and heat well. Also, particularly for the orphans receiving the houses, this will help them to be less of a burden on their extended families, and a bit more easily adjusted into society.

These houses are top-of-the-line for the area, and this project has had a huge effect on people and hope in the community. People have really taken pride in the process and everyone has been happy and excited about it. We are so grateful for the grant and the experience!

Happy Thanksgiving to our friends and family in the U.S.
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

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:

A Box of Hope

In early September, a few volunteers that are part of a wonderful organization called ShelterBox ( and 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: