A week or so ago we (Thoko, Gladys, Thembi, and I) drove down to Kalakahle Methodist Primary School. It’s about 75 – 80 km from St. Paul’s on the Eastern border of Swaziland. It is a very rural area with not a lot of opportunities for people to find employment. It’s also an area that is hotter and gets less rain than other parts of the country so it is more difficult to grow crops in this area. We went there to talk with the head teacher, the chairman of the parent committee and one of the teachers about expanding the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu Project to Kalakahle. We had hoped to expand the project to Kalakahle last year, but it just didn’t work out. We want to expand to Kalakahle for two reasons: 1) It is a well organized school with a good head teacher, deputy head teacher as well as some very caring teachers. Actually, it’s always been my favorite school even though I don’t get there often because of the distance from St. Paul’s. 2) It has the highest OVC (Orphaned & Vulnerable Children) rate of the 10 Methodist schools in Central Swaziland Circuit, and quite possibly the highest rate of any of the Methodist schools in Swaziland. This year’s statistics show that there are 424 students enrolled at the school with 32.55% of those students registered with the government as being single or double orphans; 53.3% are registered as being orphaned or “vulnerable”; and 85.85% of the students fall within the orphaned and vulnerable category but they may or may not be registered with the government.
There are many reasons why kids aren’t registered with the government as being vulnerable. One reason is that a child’s status may have changed after the yearly deadline for the head teacher to turn in the list of kids that should be registered with the government. As an example, today we were told of 5 children whose father had passed away the week before. These kids are now orphans, but can’t be registered with the government until next year. Until they are registered as orphans, the community considers them as being very vulnerable. Another reason some of the vulnerable kids aren’t registered with the government is because the classification of being “vulnerable” is very subjective. How do you choose who is the most needy in a community where most of the people are living below the poverty line? In addition, I’ve heard some teachers complain that the government doesn’t like the numbers of vulnerable kids to go up each year. Another reason why kids may not be registered with the government as being vulnerable is that the government can’t make up it’s mind (and then follow through) as to whether they are going to continue to subsidize the school fees for the vulnerable children or not. They will pay for the orphaned kids, but the vulnerable children represent a huge number of children and the government says it can’t afford to pay for all of those children. It seems that some of the head teachers have just given up.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the issue of OVC’s, especially those considered to be vulnerable, is a hot one. Personally, I see this as probably being the biggest issue and area of need that will no longer be addressed by the government. Much of the government’s funding for schools and school fees for OVC’s comes from donors outside of Swaziland such as the South African government and the European Union. The world economic crises that has affected so many countries has prompted the European Union to cut some of the funding to Swaziland schools. I don’t want to dwell on the financial and political decisions of the Swaziland government or of the international government agencies that assist Swaziland. Let me just say the issue of OVC’s is a sensitive one, it is critical and the situation is just going to get worse as the parents of these children die or leave the home to try and get employment only to not return for many months or even years all the while not contributing anything towards the support of their children. This situation gets compounded as the gogo’s who are left to take care of these children start dying due to old age.
So, back to our meeting. Of course most of the conversation was in SiSwati, but I could figure out most of what was being said and if I wasn’t sure what they were talking about I asked Thoko. I was very glad that the chairman of the parent committee was there to hear first hand what the purpose of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu is. The discussion was very passionate. It was obvious that they care for the children. The more we sat there talking, the more my mind started racing with all kinds of possibilities to help this school and children from a Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu project perspective and from a One Child, One Heart perspective. When we drove into the school we saw many children that desperately needed uniforms. One girl’s dress had a big patch in the back but the material was so thin we could see her panties through the uniform. As Thoko pointed out, the children don’t have jersey’s or track suits because if they did, the girls would have them tied around their waist to hide the condition of their uniforms.
One of the reasons this school is so close to my heart is that they not only appear to be giving the children the best education and the best learning environment possible considering the challenges, but they also are doing what they can to help their kids in other ways. For instance, they applied for and were selected to be one of the schools to receive grant money to start a poultry project. These funds enabled the school to build a chicken house, buy the chicks, chicken feed and other necessary items. The students care for the chickens and the eggs are sold. The profits are used to buy school uniforms for some of the OVCs. Another NGO (non-government organization) came and taught them how to grow vegetables using very little water and land. These vegetables are added to the mealie meal and beans that is traditionally given to the children at school for what we would call lunch.
Another reason I like this school is that I know some of the former teachers, students and even a former head teacher. They all are very intelligent, well spoken people who I feel have a lot of integrity. I’ve learned a lot from those that have come from this school either as an employee or a student. The current head teacher, her deputy and the teacher that was at our meeting are all very involved with the Methodist Church. This school just has a different feel from the other schools.
The day ended up being long. The drive was very hot because the day before the air conditioning in my truck just stopped working. But despite the distance and the heat it was a very good day and we are excited about finding ways to partner with this school to help them help their OVCs. It’s not going to be easy between the distance from St. Paul’s and the overwhelming need. But I feel this is where God has been leading us to and with God on our side, who can be against us? With the Lord’s help we will be able to help some of these children stay in school, feel better about themselves and most important to know that people love them and care for them.
The next step in the process of getting the project started is for the deputy and the teachers to get together to identify the neediest or sickest children. We will start with 12 children. When the children have been identified by the school, they will call Thoko and we will go back to Kalakahle to meet with the head teacher, the school “counselor”, the CCS (Christian Community Service) from the local Methodist society, and the Rural Health Motivator from the community. After getting as much information as possible from the school we will then visit the homesteads of these children to do a more in-depth needs assessment. Then as a committee the ladies will decide what we can do to assist with these children. The intent of the project is to help HIV+ children get their monthly medication and stay healthy, but we’ve experience has taught us that we need to be open to what is the true need of the child and it’s family.
I’m anxious to get started at Khalakahle because the need is so great. It’s going to take a lot of patience to wait until we can take the next step. But that is the name of the game here in so many areas. Stay tuned for updates on Khalakahle.