The amount of orphans in the country of Swaziland is overwhelming due to the impact of AIDS and most are left to their own devices to survive. Many babies are abandoned at hospitals, along the roadside, or left in a pit latrine to die. The child may be sick and the mother has no means to care for it, the mother may be sick and knows she will not survive, or they simply can not feed another mouth. There are many reasons and it is hard to understand.
“Why can’t they just….”
“How can they do that to their own child?”
“There has to be a way….”
“I could never do that.”
We try to grasp but can not truly understand how these decisions are made. Poverty, starvation and sickness strip a person of everything they have, no matter how little.
This being said, the halfway house is one of the few places that abandoned children are sent to. I don’t know how it all works, deciding what child is going to go where, this i do not know. But, I do know that these children have survived.
Finally, they could hit the ground running. After some sleep and breakfast, the group loaded into the bus and drove to the halfway house. This small house is a government assisted orphanage in the city of Manzini and one of very few in the country. The group drove through the gate and entered the small yard, full of overgrown weeds and some old, rusty playground equipment. In the building ahead, a bunch of little faces begin to appear at the window, staring solemnly at the visitors. They looked curious but mostly cautious. One by one they popped up to see and then disappeared. This orphanage does not receive a lot of visitors. The kids withdrew from the window and as curiosity won out, they piled up in the front doorway to see who had arrived.
The woman had been here before and was greatly anticipating the visit. Although there would be very few kids that were here during her first visit, she was excited to meet these little sweethearts and love on them. The woman greeted the ladies that were working at the orphanage, Nikiwe and Thuli, and was invited into the kitchen/living room. The teenager shyly followed, greeting the ladies as she had been taught according to the Swazi custom. To show respect, she crossed her left hand over to her right elbow and uttered “Sawubona” while shaking hands. This was her first interaction with the local people. There was an awkward silence after she had reached the limit of her vocabulary but yearned to say so much more.
The woman had made her way into the living room and sat down. A small girl in a watermelon knit sweater caught her eye. They shared a few smiles and giggles before the little girl decided that it was safe. She approached the woman slowly, really wanting to sit on her lap but still cautious. The little girl’s name was Sibongeleni and she had the most beautiful big eyes that instantly melted the woman’s heart. The woman picked her up onto her lap and began playing peek-a-boo and little piggy with her feet. The girl wore tattered slippers that once proudly displayed stars and suns but the slippers were old and the stars had been dirtied and torn over time. As the woman looked around she made a note to herself to bring slippers for the kids next time. Sibongeleni and the woman played as if they knew each other, as if they spoke the same language. No words were shared, just laughter and maybe a few joyful tears from the woman.
The teenager settled in on the floor with some pencils and paper that another group member had laid out. It was perfect for the teenager who had wanted to communicate with the kids but did not know how to interact with them sans words. This is where the teenager is at home, with pencil and paper in hand. She began drawing with the little ones and they had a common language. Sibongeleni wanted to color as well and snuggled in next to the teenager. The woman moved to the kitchen and chatted with Nikiwe and Thuli in limited english and SiSwati, both sides trying their hardest to speak the other’s language. The woman found her long lost “sister” in Nikiwe, they were born only 3 days apart. They laughed and enjoyed sharing about each other’s lives.
All too soon, the group had to leave. They said good-byes temporarily, for they would be returning next week. The kids waved to the bus as it drove away and the woman and teenager waved back for as long as they could from the back window on the bus. It was bittersweet, opening their hearts to the ladies and kids at the halfway house, knowing that next week their hearts would break as they said good-bye for good.