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The Inspiration To Return To Swaziland

My last MidWeek column told of an experience I had recently in the African country of Swaziland while helping out at an orphanage for abandoned babies.

If you didn’t read it, it’s likely that you’re not even slightly interested in Africa. Lots of people, including my sister, aren’t at all sympathetically drawn to the continent that never seems to get its act together.

There are actually 55 internationally recognized separate countries in Africa. (Somaliland still hoping for recognition.) Therefore, generalizing about Africa, as many do, is a bit like lumping Hawaii and New York together as America.

One neat description does not fit all.

Still, my sis is afraid of Africa, which I appreciate. Until my regular journeys there, I thought a machete-wielding native lurked around every corner. News reports, documentaries and movies going back for decades have seared into our collective consciousness scenes of mass starvation, systematic rape and mutilation of women, child soldiers, civil wars and the butchering of hundreds of thousands of people with machetes in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Remember Hotel Rwanda?

African presidents like the late butcher Idi Amin of Uganda, Zimbabwe’s iron-fisted Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, where millions have died in civil war, do nothing to discourage the average American from believing that the whole of Africa is one hot mess. Nor does the still-epic HIV/AIDS crisis that creates orphans on a pandemic level attract tourists.

So, some of my readers (and my family) wonder why I choose to do humanitarian work in the Kingdom of Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, who routinely is described by both African and international media as one of Africa’s worst leaders. Why serve in a country where unemployment is more than 40 percent and life expectancy is 46, where 47 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and 15,000 children there are heads of households because of the highest

HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world?

Why? Simply because the people, especially the babies and children, really, really need help. But why go halfway around the world when children need help here or a country somewhere closer, or where the government is at least trying to help its own people? Rwanda, for example. After the most grisly and rapid genocide in recent history – nearly 1 million slaughtered in 100 days – Rwanda today is emerging as one of Africa’s best nations, both economically and socially. Why not there? Or the Philippines? There are lots of orphans there.

I don’t know that answer, except to say that in 2005, when a pastor spoke at our church about a short-term mission trip to Swaziland, I walked down the center aisle, signed my name and have been going ever since. It’s a calling, I guess. Now I’m attached to orphans I’ve known for years who’ve grown into smart, talented teenagers with plans and dreams. They inspire me to return. Other heroes inspire me, too: Americans and Canadians who sacrifice much to live there and raise orphans cradle to adulthood, never really sure where the funds will come from. And I can’t forget the sweet and grateful, struggling Swazi people who move my heart to fly 30 hours one way.

My first time in beautiful (and actually really safe) Swaziland almost nine years ago, I was devastated by the poverty: small children living without anyone, the plight of powerless women, a sense of gloom from AIDS deaths hanging in the air. Depression set in as I pondered – don’t laugh – how in the world I would be able to “fix” Africa.

Recovering from my embarrassing delusion of grandeur, I began understanding this simple proposition: one child, one orphanage, one encouraging word, one donation at a time.

Still, some understandably question: If outsiders keep helping children survive in these Third World countries, won’t it encourage the corrupt leaders to neglect the poor even more?

The answer is a question. How many children might be saved from death while some organization conducts a long-term study to find that out?

If Swaziland is calling, go to heartforafrica.org.

susanpagecoffee@gmail.com

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