Swaziland. A small country in southern Africa facing big problems. Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world. Some 200,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS out of a population that is on pace to dip below one million. This horrible disease only exacerbates the problems of poverty in the country. With 40 percent unemployment and 69 percent living below the poverty line, it is a bleak situation to put it lightly.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I traveled with my church youth group to a sort of church/community center we have partnered with to try and do whatever we could to help. Now I had heard the stats above and many more like them in our preparation for the trip, but nothing could prepare me for the real thing. Something got lost in translation because I was not expecting to meet such beautiful people in the midst of such terrible circumstances. Swazi’s are a very gracious and welcoming people. We were always greeted with smiles at least and sometimes a hug, even when meeting for the first time. The adults (most are older than 50 as the middle generation is ravaged by AIDS) of the community are strong and resilient. Much of their body is callused and scarred from years of fighting for life. Yet when we visit them in their huts their eyes light up the same as my grandparents when I visit them. They have such hope and joy. The Swazi’s just want to talk and get to know you. We had a playground we wanted to install right away when we got there. We didn’t get it installed till later because the people wanted to know us more than get a metal structure. Relationships truly are the currency of Africa.
The kids are another breed entirely. Then again they aren’t. The Swazi kids still squeal with laughter when you tickle their sides. They love to play tag and run races and sing and dance. You forget the kid you are giving a “kash” ride (sit on the shoulders) may be the head of the household at age 8. You don’t worry that the baby peeing on you might have AIDS. You see in their smiles and laughter that they are kids. Kids that need love and care, which is what happened to me. I forgot about all the stats, all the desperation and got lost in my love for these kids. That is they great thing about kids if you show them a little love, if you invest in their lives not only will they give their love right back to you, but you will make a lasting impact. Kids all over need to know there are loved, but in Swaziland I believe it makes a bigger difference. Or at least a little love goes a long way in Swazi.
My heart will always be in Swaziland and I will definitely be going back sometime. Going back to just fellowship with these amazingly strong yet tender people. It’s a special people that can teach you about strength and tenacity at the same time they teach you about love and relationships.
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