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November 11, 2010 / kathrynllewellyn

Someone like you

When you look into the eyes of a 12 year old girl who has lost both her parents and is raising their 10 year old sister as best they can, despite being in absolute poverty, do you know what you see? Still a child.

That was my biggest observation during my latest visit to Swaziland. I laughed, played and cried with hundreds of children and came to the conclusion that against all the odds these children have somehow managed to cling onto  being a child – just.

Child headed households are probably the most upsetting for me to walk away from. I find it impossible to imagine what it must be like for a child to lose both parents and become a parent themselves in one go. These children have to be supported and it’s not enough to say “God, that’s awful. Aren’t we lucky?” The sense of loss for these children must be enormous; loss of your parents, security and childhood, loss of your provider and your protector – these children are particularly vulnerable to rape, neglect and hunger. Stealing food and selling your body, even at a young age is often the only option.

I once met a girl (I’m going to call her Audrey) who was the head of a household. She was 13 and trying to care for her 3 younger brothers and sisters. She had been exchanging sex for food and was now pregnant and very sick. Her 2 sisters and brother are all in poor health and not in school. In Audrey’s words “we all wait for death”.  That was the story the 1 year ago. That is not their story now.

I met Audrey this year. She is now 14 and is caring for her 3 younger siblings and a baby of her own.  Her 2 sisters and brother are in school and doing really well. They are much healthier and eat at least twice a day. Audrey has a small vegetable plot that she manages and has food for her family and some left over to sell. All of them have access to a nurse once a month and are treated for worms, skin infections and other illnesses they have picked up along the way. Audrey is the only one of her family that is HIV positive and she is getting the support she needs to live healthily and positively.

I cannot put into words the transformation that I saw – these children are no longer awaiting a death sentence, they have a voice and a life, they have hope and ambitions. In fact, the three younger children want to be a dancer, doctor and a teacher. I reminded Audrey of what she said to me a year before, that they were waiting for death. She smiled at me and said, “That was then. I am a different me and we are now living. Death will have to wait a long time for us now.”

I don’t know what it is about Swaziland that fills me up with hope and joy.  Maybe because it’s a kingdom it evokes the thoughts of a fairytale ending. In the midst of some terrifying statistics, more orphans than they can support, women’s right violations, human rights abuses and poverty like you’ve never seen; this is a country that wants to succeed and wants to lift itself out of poverty. I’ve been coming to Swaziland for the past five years and there have been changes. The challenges that face the poorest people in Swaziland are still as complex and hard as they ever were. The change is in how people are addressing these challenges.

I always ask people what they need when I visit communities, I was greeted with responses that drive my work today –

“Chickens, I want to start a chicken business”

“Some land and inputs, I want to grow food for my children and sell some tomatos”

“Another candle making machine, we can’t keep up with the demand on candles”

“School fees for the orphans we have”

“We need to change the law for women and people with living with HIV, can you bring us a lawyer”

“I need to learn how to keep my books. I’m not good at maths. Can you get a book keeper to teach me?”

These are women we can easily help. They’re not looking for handouts and they’re no different to us – they want a little help to start a business. There are no small bank business loans for these women. They are empowered in mind; we just need to empower them in resources and giving them a louder voice.

I am writing this very different type of blog to my usual because I want to share with you the  amazing changes that are taking place in Swaziland and I want to inspire you to want to continue and start helping us though the 50:50:5 movement.

I am asking 50 people to give £5 a month and asking them to ask 50 more people to do the same. Having walked away from Swaziland seeing the difference already made, but meeting so many in the dire position that Audrey was in a year ago and knowing we can change that. I realised that it has to be us. We have to be the ones. We can’t look to the person next to us or the person after that. I also realised how little we need to transform someone’s life.

The cost of saving Audrey’s life was:

School fees for three:  £141

Start-up costs for a vegetable plot and training: £300

Medical support: £150

Counselling and guidance: £100

So, for £691 – 5 lives get changed. That’s £138.02 person. That’s £11.51 a month to transform a life.

If we can get 5000 people to join the 50:50:5 movement, we can transform the lives of 20,000 women and children in Swaziland through providing: education, medical support and counselling, training, income generation projects, legal support and most importantly giving them a voice.

My blog is not meant to make anyone feel guilty or pity the women and children we work for. It is meant to show you how you can be part of a movement that will empower women and children in Swaziland to take control of their destinies. It’s meant to inspire you to want to make a change and join us:  50:50:5 www.positivewomen.org

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One Comment

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  1. Laura Whateley / Nov 12 2010 8:40 pm

    Great Blog Kathryn. I’ve joined the 50:50:5 campaign- £5 isn’t much and if everyone joins it’s amazing the difference it will make. Keep up the inspiring work.

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