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Southern Africa: Faith Helps Sustain Family Burdened by AIDS and Severe Drought

Three-year-old Yenziwe's mother is dying of AIDS; meanwhile, her elderly caregivers struggle to feed her and five orphaned children in their care due to Swaziland's severe drought.

October 2007

Please note: If a sponsored child is directly affected by a crisis or disaster, it is World Vision's policy to notify that child's sponsor as soon as possible.

"I can see Yenziwe [pictured] is smart," says the 3-year-old's mom. "I hope she can go to school and continue through university; I'd like her to be a secretary in a hospital or office." © 2007 Rachel Wolff/World Vision
Editor's note: Southern Africa is already in a life-and-death battle against AIDS, extreme poverty, and recurring rain shortages. Now, the beleaguered region's worst drought in 30 years is causing 5 million people across Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe to suffer hunger and malnutrition. Through advocacy and intervention to fight AIDS and hunger, World Vision is helping to meet desperate families' immediate survival needs — an estimated 1.7 million people in these countries — and preparing them to better cope with such future disasters.

Yenziwe, 3, doesn't understand that her mother is dying of AIDS.

"Make [a local word for 'mother'] doesn't want to go outside because it's too hot," the toddler explains, referring to Khanyisile, 34, who lies on a thin mat in the small hut that the two share with seven others. "That's why she sleeps all the time."

Khanyisile's elderly great aunt and uncle, Sarfina, 66, and Mgcibelo, 77, provide day-to-day care for her; they also own the mud-floored 13-square-foot thatched hut in which the young mother lies. Here, they look after Yenziwe and care for five other children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

Double Burden

But AIDS isn't the only heavy burden this family bears. Severe drought across Southern Africa this year has made the situation nearly unbearable for vulnerable families in Swaziland, like Yenziwe's.

"In my entire life, I have not seen a drought where we have absolutely nothing to harvest at the end of the season," says Mgcibelo.

Sarfina agrees, adding: "It is through God's grace that we have managed to live to this point!"

Vulnerable Children Most at Risk

Acute malnutrition is not widespread in Swaziland yet, but conditions are such that it could be.

"Children are definitely at risk; orphans and vulnerable children, even more so," observes Dr. Irene Kiiza, a World Vision health specialist who is in Swaziland to assess the current situation. "Because of pervasive poverty, many children have been chronically undernourished. And due to this year's devastating drought, many families are surviving purely on emergency food aid and help from relatives."

Yenziwe, whose father died one year ago, hasn't lost her energy like so many hungry children do — thanks to her elderly caregivers' resourcefulness and assistance from World Vision and other groups. "I like to play outside. I like to chase the chickens," says the lively little girl.

In addition, Khanyisile has another source of strength to help her fight seemingly insurmountable odds.

'We Thank God'

"All nine of us share the food, so it doesn't always last," says Yenziwe's mother, Khanyisile, who rests her hand on her toddler's shoulder. "When Yenziwe is hungry, she gets tired and goes to sleep." Khanyisile is bed-ridden and is suffering the ravages of AIDS. © 2007 Rachel Wolff/World Vision

Bedridden since February, she has lost nearly 25 percent of her body weight and is completely dependent upon Sarfina for her day-to-day needs. However, she remains optimistic: "I'm really, really hopeful that I will survive this sickness."

She is on anti-retroviral therapy, but she says it is her Christian faith that helps to sustain her. "These days it's difficult for me to go to church because I can't walk. [But] people from my church visit and pray with me. We also pray as a household, in the morning and when we go to sleep. We thank God for the gift of life."

Khanyisile's faith also is reflected in her young daughter. "On Sundays, Yenzi is the first one to remember that it's time to go to church," says the proud mother.

World Vision Interventions and Advocacy

Responding to the great needs of vulnerable families like Yenziwe's, World Vision plans to expand its emergency response in the lean months ahead as funds are made available. The lean months — a time period after the previous harvest is gone and before the next one is ready — have become far more taxing as a result of the continuous drought.

"Those who managed to harvest a bit of maize are sharing with their relatives and neighbors now," explains Mduduzi Shongwe, World Vision's area development program manager in Yenziwe's community. "But we're already seeing these families' grain bins go empty."

World Vision also is addressing the ongoing livelihood crisis that subsistence farmers face in Swaziland because of recurring drought conditions and AIDS. Our help includes:

  • Food aid for families
  • Food-for-work opportunities
  • Agricultural and livelihood training
  • Seed and tool distributions
  • Water projects to help residents cope with water shortages
We advocate for increased resources to fight AIDS in countries like Swaziland, where it is rampant. Right now, World Vision is advocating for swift reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR), set to expire in September 2008. Read more about this legislation and our efforts to facilitate its extension.

A Child's Faith

In the meantime, Yenziwe has found Sarfina's Bible in the family's pile of loose belongings. She begins flipping through the pages, pretending to read. "I love to sing at church; I dance at church, too," she says, and begins to sing a praise song: "With the power of the blood, we are going to conquer..."

As she trails off, unable to remember the rest of the words, her mother picks up the song. After one stanza, though, she stops, too weak to finish.

Learn More

>> Read more about the severe drought in Southern Africa and what World Vision is doing to help.
>> Learn more about World Vision’s advocacy for AIDS-affected children.

Three Ways You Can Help

>> Pray for Yenziwe, Khanyisile, Sarfina, Mgcibelo, and others affected by the drought, and for aid groups, like World Vision, who are responding to their needs.
>> Make Your Mark for Children. Ask Congress to swiftly reauthorize the global AIDS bill and ensure that 10 percent of all global AIDS funds be used to care for orphans and vulnerable children, as called for in the original AIDS bill.
>> Give monthly to help feed hungry children around the world. Become a Child Crisis Partner.

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