Thursday, 15 June 2017

Bhandeni, Swaziland - Monday 12 & Tuesday 13th June

After and excellent, but very full, weekend with the young leaders of the community of Oshoek in South Africa - we needed to get ready to go to Bhandeni in Swaziland.  Before we could prepare though, we needed to transport the young people back to their home areas.  This was eye opening.

A couple of miles up the road seemed a straightforward drive, but we then needed to turn off down dirt roads in the fading light to remote homesteads and houses.  A 20 minute drive, off road, underlined to us what a struggle these children have to get to school, and to the care poitns where they receive support from the care volunteers, including Nesta and Anita.  The care point is also where they are also the givers of support to the children who are younger than themselves. 

As we gathered at the end of the weekend we were tired and slept well - thankful for a warm sleeping bag and a good shelter - Oshoek is a place of rolling mountains and hills and the temperature drops at night.

Oshoek Dawn
An early start on Monday 12th allowed us to see a beautiful sunrise before crossing the border into Swaziland.We had been joined by Vusi, a wonderful South African worker for Hands at Work who had been doing the very hard work of forging new partnerships with needy communities in Osheok and in Swaziland.  Along with Devon, a Canadian volunteer, he had been helping to set up home based care in the community we were about to visit. So our team was a real mixture now- the blended team was now twelve... nine from Lichfiled and Matlosane Diocese plus Devon (Canada), Vusi ( South Africa) and Lerato ( a young female volunteer from Johannesburg).

  The temperature rose as we travelled east towards the border with Mozambique and the border town of Lomahasha.  We left the mini bus and trailer in a police compound for security and transferred to 4 wheen drive trucks. One of which had been driven from Oshoek by Vusi, the other was gnerously driven for us by a local young man in Lomahasha.

With our gear packed in and around us, we began a journey up and over a number of substantial hills, with  the road more like a wide mountain track.  There was no way that a regular car would have made the journey.  The journey took about 20 minutes and as we went on and on, we began to realise why Hands at Work in Africa had begun to work with the community in Bhandeni.  It was so far from any main area of commerce and 'development' and as we went further along the difficulties for the people living there became more obvious.  Living in Bhandeni, must feel like the country and the world has forgotten you.

Zodwa (one of the care volunteers) cleans the cooking area
When we arrived at the care point we were met by some smiling but tired care volunteers, cleaning pots and making a fire to cook the evening meal for the the fifty children who would come to the care centre, for a meal, care and play... after their two hour (!) walk back home from school along the same roads and mountaintracks which we had driven up in a 4x4.

After introductions and a shared sandwich lunch we went into the community to walk with the care workers to do Holy Home Visits, the format of which were now familiar to us... A greeting, and unhurried conversation, with he care volunteer seeking to be open to prompting of the Holy Spirit as to what the needs of the children in the family might be, perhaps practical, emotional or spiritual... but always with a view to encrouage and support - and always ending with prayer for the family.

Some of us were able to visit the son of one of the main care volunteers - Xholani (* not his real name).  He was 32 and was in bed, painfully thin, and had been suffering with an unknown stomach complaint. He had spent a week in hospital and been discharged, but was clearly still in pain, and the medication he had been given had run out and the family could not afford any more.  Sheila (who used to be a nurse) listened to his symptoms and thought he had suffered from some kind of hernia of the bowel

He was glad of our vist and brightened as we talked to him with the help of Lorato who translated for us.  We prayed earnestly with him that God would heal him and as we left could not help thinking of how any of us from the UK with similar ailments would have received good medical care through our NHS and would not have had to worry about whether we could afford the hospital stay, or the cost of transport to the clinic.

Playing in the sand and dust at the care point in Bhandeni
As we arrived back at the care point,  children had begun to arrive from school and were being fed. We chatted with them with the broken Siswati phrases we had learned and there was a mixure of delight and concern as we played with them in the fading light of the beautiful mountain setting- knowing that their need of affection and care was so real.  This was a community that seemed to have been bypassed by the improvements of life which many of us take for granted. 

RUSF - food supplement packs
 There was no electricity at the care point.  Drinking water needed to be collected from a borehole a good distance away, and many of the children were barefoot.  For the first time in any community I had visited with Hands at Work, I saw that some of the children had been given food supplement packs - provided by Hands at Work follwing hte severe drought whcih the community had suffered in 2015/16 . 

Rosanne gives a cuddle

Our heads were spinning at the questions as to why it was like this.  A mountain setting like this in Europe, with a warm climate such as this, would be a prime sight... but here was a community which had been forgotten until Hands at Work had asked in the neighbourhoods about where the most vulnerable community was.

Val makes friends

We ended the day sharing in the delicious food [Pap(maize porridge), beans, and cabbage] which the care workers had prepared for the children using ingredients provided by Hands at Work.  As we prayed together to close the day we knew we were prvileged to be amongst this fragile community as, with the unique help of Hands at Work in Africa, small but significant help was being given and change brought about.