Fridays have become my favorite day of the week if at all possible I go up to Mbabane to help out at the Sandra Lee Center where Nomile stays! This past Friday was an exceptionally GREAT day! My Friday morning started with me taking my car to the mechanic that I’ve started using in Manzini. He is a very nice, capable young man and seems to be very honest. He was recommended to me by a fellow missionary that took his vehicles to him for service. The mechanic’s name is Jose, but here they pronounce the J as a J, not an H. My air conditioner had stopped working on Monday and of course this has been one of the hottest weeks I can ever remember. Jose said he would check it out and thought it probably only needed “gassing.” He said he would be finished by noon which I was hoping for because I had planned on going up to the SLC in the morning, but cut it to a half day so I could get my air conditioner fixed. One has to have priorities.
At 10:00 I went to an awards ceremony for the ten Methodist Schools in Central Circuit that was to be held at St. Paul‘s. The ceremony was to announce the best primary school student, best form 3 (10th grade) student and best form 5 (12th grade) student; the best primary school teacher and best high school teacher; and the best school in the circuit for the 2010 school year. There were several students from St. Paul‘s high school in attendance and they kept singing songs while waiting for the ceremony to start. Their voices were incredible. It was wonderful just listening to them and we had lots of time to do just that because the ceremony didn’t start until 10:45! I was very, very impressed and excited to hear that this is the second year that the Schools Manager (the Superintendent of the Central Swaziland circuit of the MCSA) had done this. The winner of each category was selected by not only how many subjects they passed or how many students passed the national exams given to each 7th grade, 10th grade and 12th grade student, but it also took into account their grade point average. In other words the winners were chosen not just on how many passes they had but also on the quality of those passes! I’ve been talking to several head teachers and the schools manager about the need to do this for quite a while because a student could pass by having an average of 40% correct, and the top student could have grades between 70 to 80%. This doesn’t do anything to prepare them to go onto to college or some sort of post high school training program. The winners for the best primary student and teacher came from Lutfotja Methodist Primary School and the best overall school was also Lutfotja! This made me so happy and proud of them because we (the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu project and One Child, One Heart at a Time funds) have been working with some of the children at this school to get them to the Doctor each month for their ARV medication and/or at other times as needed, to pay school fees and buy uniforms for some of the kids. In 2009, I bought fencing for Lutfotja with the agreement that they would grow Maise and vegetables to feed the children at school. I did this because I could tell that the agriculture teacher was very good. And indeed he is because was the one that was chosen as best primary school teacher of the year! There is only one High School, so their winners weren’t quite as exciting as the primary school winners were.
Each winner was given a check for R500. I’ve been thinking of offering some type of monetary award to the most improved school or best school based on their performance, but had not made the offer to do so yet. So I am so glad that they did it on their own. I am still considering of perhaps pitching in a bit more money in the future for the best school, and I’d like to also see an award go to the most improved school. My hesitation is sustainability. It would require on-going support, but I’m not letting that stop me, especially since they have started doing something on their own to incent the students, teachers and schools.
The ceremony had just come to a close when Jose called me to say he was on his way to deliver my car. The best news was that it only needed the “gas” so it was a quick and relatively inexpensive job. That air conditioning was like a breath of fresh air!
After getting my car I headed straight up to the Sandra Lee Center in Mbabane. My friend Robin and her husband Michael started this center several years ago. For more information on this amazing home for orphaned and abandoned children, go to their website at: http://sandraleecentre.org. I’ve been trying to go up once a week this year to help Robin with what ever I can do to assist them. The last couple of weeks I’ve been helping her sort through and organize clothing donations for the kids. She has a garage with shelving for boys clothes and another one for girls clothing. The idea is to sort all the donations into size and put them in boxes so when she gets a new child or when a child grows out of their clothes she can quickly go the appropriate garage and pick out clothes for the child. As you can imagine it’s a tedious job which isn’t very fun especially when it is very, very hot. I tease Robin that she is such a slave driver because she knows I’ll do anything to see Nomile! But in reality I do it willingly and yes, the bonus is to see Nomile and all of the kids while we are working. But most of all I can’t imagine how she and her husband have been mommy and daddy to so many kids over the years. Robin and Michael don’t live at the SLC. They currently have 4 houses at the SLC. Each house has a make (ma-gay, meaning mother) that stays with them day-in and day-out caring for them and raising them as if they are own children. It’s a life long, or at least very long term, commitment for the makes. They also have an Aunty that comes during the day to help with the washing, cleaning and cooking for the children. Each house has up to 8 children in it. Robin and Michael treat the children as if they were their own – keeping up with their school work, checking on them if they are ill, buying the groceries for the houses, giving them lots of hugs and kisses and taking the children to their home to play or swim in their pool. The love that surrounds that place is amazing. The children are amazing. Just living at this center gives these children such an advantage over so many other Swazi children, not to mention the schooling, medical care and nutrition they are receiving. Luckily, on this Friday since I was tardy coming up to work, we worked for a short time in the pantry for the center re-organizing some of the food, medical, hygiene and school supplies. It wasn’t near as hot and garage duty!
After the kids had lunch we took them to Robin’s house swimming. I have no idea how many of them I took over in my bakkie. I probably had six in the cab with me and at least another eight or ten in the back. It’s very common in Swaziland for kids and adults to ride in the bed of the pick up truck. It makes me nervous, but the kids know how to behave. Luckily it’s only a couple of kilometers from SLC to Robin’s house. When we get to Robin’s house, the kids know just what to do. The boys go to one bathroom to go potty and change and the girls go to another one. Then they go to the cupboard outside where all of the flotation devices are stored. The kids know just who needs to wear what kind of flotation device and who can just go run and jump in the pool. Friday was the third time I had gone swimming with them, so I’m getting the hang of it, though I’m still a bit slow trying to fit and blow up those little arm floaties for the kids. They are very patient though.
The kids have so much fun. A few of the younger or newer ones need some one-on-one attention, and Robin is teaching the older ones how to actually swim and dive. Normally, Nomile would be considered too young to go, but Robin knows how much I love that little girl so she lets her come and of course I mainly help Nomile in the water. The first time we went swimming she cried whenever someone splashed her. She wanted both of my hands firmly on her at all times and just to be sure she held me in a death grip around my neck and with her legs around my waist. She hadn’t been in the water very long when she motioned me to go the side of the pool, immediately got out and walked away from the edge of the pool. She immediately started taking off her floaties and then moved to as far away from the pool as she could. Oki-doki. I got that message loud and clear! When Nomile has had enough swimming I start taking the other kids around and playing with the older ones.
The second time we went swimming it was really too cold outside, so none of us stayed in the water very long. But Nomile was a bit better. She didn’t cry quite as much when splashed and I could take my hands off of her, though for most of the time she still had a death grip on me. I did get her to stretch her legs out behind her a few times. But she definitely did better than the first time and she had such a good time with all the kids.
This Friday, she told me she wanted to go swimming! She immediately came to get in my bakkie. I would ask her if she liked swimming or if she was going swimming and she would say “yes.” We got there and she immediately followed the routine and stood patiently while we got the floaties on everyone. Then she went and stood by the edge of the pool and looked at me waiting. I ran inside quickly to put my swimming costume on and had no choice but to immediately get in the water. No time to wonder or worry how cold the water was. I asked Nomile if she wanted to jump to me and her answer was “Yes. Jump.” She jumped to me, and of course, she gets very little water on her face or head when she jumps to me. I’m a softy. I don’t want to scare her away from the water. But much to my surprise, she was very relaxed! No more death grip, she immediately put her legs out and sort of kicked a little. Most of the time I had just one hand/arm out for her to hold onto, or I was holding her head out of the water using one finger from each hand on the floaty. A few times I even let completely go of her. However, when she saw both my hands in the air waving at Robin, then she started panicking just a little. She was talking up a storm, wanted to jump in a lot, didn’t cry when the other kids slashed her and I even had her blowing bubbles. At one point I said “Nomile, you are swimming so well!” She responded with: “I know that.” She stayed in the water with me for at least an hour. There were probably24 kids from SLC, 2 – 3 adults, and 6 or 7 high school kids in the pool most of the time. It was crowded and a blast. Nomile even had fun swatting at the “big fish” which was one of those big inflatable sharks. Once Nomile got out I just played around with some of the other kids. I was probably in the pool for 2 hours. Was I ever tired when I finally got out! Once I got out of the pool, Nomile came up to me several times for me to pick her up or hold her. She was so cute trying to smooth my wet hair down and push it back off my face! This sweet child captured my heart the minute I saw her in 2009 and each time I see her she captures my heart more and more. I am so thankful to God for the plan He had to save this child and for her to be put in the SLC. When I’m at the SLC I don’t even need to pick her up and hold her, though I usually do. I am content just to watch her play with the other kids and wander around the yard. She is such a sweet girl and she is so happy, healthy, relaxed and knows she is well loved.
After dropping the kids back off at the SLC it was time to drive home in my air conditioned bakkie. I am still praising God for one of the simple things in life per the American lifestyle, but such a precious commodity here in Swaziland. The day ended on another high when I was able to talk to my youngest son, Scott, via Skype. I can’t imagine a better day ever, unless maybe it was one when I could have spoken to my oldest son, Christopher, as well!
Today it is Sunday and I’m still full of joy and love from Friday. I can’t stop thanking God enough for his magnificent blessings and the miracle of Nomile and her brothers and sisters at the SLC who have all been rescued from certain death if they had not been found or removed from their abusive environment. These children are a true testament of how love breaks all barriers and heals all. How true that old Beatles song still is: “….All you need is love. love. Love is all you need…”