Saturday, 5 December 2015

How drought is affecting one small community in Swaziland

Mr Simelane at the dried-up lake in Mpandesane. Photo Aidan O'Neill

On Wednesday we visited the care point at Mpandesane. Many of you will have visited or heard me speak about it. It’s where the Simelane family organises a Care Point, providing food for local orphans and vulnerable children; and providing adult care for child-headed families.

It takes almost 3 hours to get there from Mbabane, including a stop to buy food (mealie meal, beans and oil, supplied by the Diocese of Iowa) and water and sweets. As I paid for the sweets, I spotted some bags of balloons, so I bought some. 

The drive took us through a landscape of brown and red. Everywhere was dry and dusty. In the distance there were red clouds of dust following behind vehicles on the gravel roads. The smell of death is in the air in Swaziland; the roadsides are littered with dead cows, in various stages of decomposition. In one place we passed a small cow, skin and bone, standing in the middle of the road, too weak even to step out of the way of passing traffic.

The further south we travelled, and the lower we went, the hotter it got. Over 50 degrees in Mpandesane, getting out of the air-conditioned car was like stepping into an oven. As well as delivering food for the care points, Mandla was distributing gifts of clothing and toys from Limerick & Killaloe Diocese, which had travelled in the container with the carrot washer. He was happy to be able to bring some surprises on his last visit before Christmas. Coats and sweaters and shoes were given out by approximate size, and immediately put on.

Run after your condom
The children appeared delighted with the balloons, choosing the brightest colours. The thorn bushes surrounding the small clearing made sure escapees didn’t survive. When one toddler let go of his balloon, a little girl - maybe 7 years of age - shouted, “Quick, run after your condom!”

The marker for the new borehole


This little community has been so generous to us in their hospitality. The Simelanes allow us to bring groups of strangers to wander round their homestead, to try out their maize grinder, to investigate the cotton crop and to observe how they care for the many orphans and vulnerable children in the area, in the driest and poorest region of Swaziland. Land ownership issues have prevented us doing more to help them than bring occasional extra food supplies. 

This year the gift of land to the church from the local landowner (whose third wife is principal of the local Anglican primary school) has coincided with the death of Mrs Simelane. We commissioned a survey, and water has been found nearby, but very deep (85m). As soon as funds permit, i.e. when we have raised €10,000 a borehole will be drilled, and clean water provided to the whole community.

Mr Simelane used to fetch water from a nearby lake with his donkey and sled, and an assortment of buckets, bottles and basins. The water was the colour of chocolate milk. In the current drought, the donkey has died and the lake has dried up. In order to source water for the Care Point the cooks have dug a hole several kilometres away, where there used to be a river. Overnight some water seeps into the hole and the ladies collect it and carry it on their heads.

Mr Simelane showed us the marker for the site of the proposed borehole, and then took us to see the lake. On google earth you can see the large lake clearly - but it has gone. The shallow dip is completely dry. 

Two hours in the heat was all we could stand. As we drove away we saw Rebecca clearing up after the children’s meal in her new fake fur coat!

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Climate change and Swaziland

Jan writes from Swaziland:

"Reports from Swaziland  tell of serious drought and high temperatures.
In fact the situation here is described as a National Disaster.
The media has reported that many families are losing their cows while other families are not able to plant anything.

Most Swazis are subsistence farmers who grow maize and other crops to feed and raise their families while also rearing cattle to sell and educate their children. In Swazi tradition a man’s cattle reflects his wealth and most Swazis have a sentimental attachment to their livestock. It is for that reason that the death of cattle owing to drought is an emotional trauma to most families as well as financial ruin. A large proportion of rural households practice subsistence agriculture. About 66 percent of the population is unable to meet basic food needs, while 43 per cent live in chronic poverty.

We have to ask the question is this drought and lack of rain a Swazi problem and are they the ones who caused it?   

“Last month was the hottest October in modern history and the first ten months of the year have also been at record levels, US government scientists said this afternoon. (18 November)
The latest data means that 2015 is firmly on pace for being the most scorching since 1880, as global warming concerns mount ahead of key climate talks in Paris later this month.
October marked the sixth month in a row that heat records were shattered worldwide, said the monthly report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for October 2015 was the highest for October since record keeping began in 1880," said NOAA.”

The situation in Malkerns:

The average monthly maximum temperature for
August:                  23.8C⁰
September:           25.4C⁰
October:                25.4C⁰

Actual maximum average temperature in 2015 measured at the farm in Luyengo:
August:                  29C⁰
September:           29C⁰
October:                36C⁰

The average monthly rainfall in Malkerns for:
August:                  20mm
September:           44mm
October:                98mm

Actual rainfall measured at Luyengo farm for:
August:                    6mm
September:           12mm
October:                38mm

The situation in the Makerns Valley is exaggerated by the ongoing repairs to the canal, necessitating periodic closure.

I went to see the very origin of the canal at the Usuthu river, 12 km from the farm. The river has practically no flow. Normally 50% of the water from the river is directed towards the canal. This canal feeds the entire Malkerns valley, all farms, all households and all businesses. The latest rationing proposals include the complete closure of the canal for periods of 2 weeks, that is if some rain will fall, otherwise there will be no water at all from the canal. At the moment the position is close to catastrophic. The farm is alive, but only thanks to the reservoir, and Tiekie’s careful rationing strategy."

Please support the Diocese of Swaziland as it continues to serve the people of Swaziland in these difficult days.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Luyengo Farm: better than ever!

The new fine seed planter

Walking over the fields of Luyengo Farm today it’s hard to imagine what it looked like during the devastating hailstorms of December 2014. Hail in Swaziland comes in a range of sizes from frozen pea to golf ball. Pockmarked cars are a common sight. The hail damaged mature cabbages and killed seedlings. It separated the tops from carrots and beetroot. It left mud that overflowed the tops of wellies. As well as destroying the crops in the field it made planting impossible and so affected the farm for several months.

Carrots ready for delivery

Today the farm looks magnificent. 8 hectares are under vegetables - soon to rise to 12. Early in the morning it is a hive of activity - picking in the fields, washing vegetables and packing in a variety of sizes and quantities, including microwave-ready packs, loading the truck, the tata and trailer and even Tiekie’s car to get the orders out. The staff are busy and happy, supervised by Adolf, the new foreman, Vuzile who’s in charge of the pack shed, Nomcebo who looks after orders and admin, and standing in the centre Tiekie, directing operations.

Luyengo Farm pork chops
Tiekie's beetroot & carrot washer

With recent investment in new machinery, including a fine seed planter, and the farm achieving ever higher yields, the future looks bright. Plans are afoot to increase the piggery to 30 sows later this year - the current pigs can’t eat all the vegetable waste produced.

Cabbages on Luyengo Farm
Just today we heard that the carrot washer, sponsored by Limerick Diocese and built by students John and Brenda from Tralee IT, has left Durban by train and will arrive in Swaziland over the weekend. Unloading is scheduled for Monday afternoon - photos will follow!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Siyahamba: Young Anglicans walking in the light of God.

The Walkers (Bahambi) in Hlangano

Steeper than it looks!

In April, Mandla Mdluli, Development Officer, wrote:

This week in Swaziland, a dozen young people will undertake a 125-mile sponsored walk to raise awareness and funds to support the work of Anglican church schools.
Entitled ‘A Walk with Christ’, the young people, aged 20 to 33 from parishes throughout Swaziland, will walk from Mpandesane in the south to Manzini in the north. They leave on Tuesday and aim to complete the journey in one week.
The philosophy behind the expedition is that it is not enough for the church to ‘talk the talk’, we should also ‘walk the walk’!
The participants want to raise awareness about the challenges facing schools and school children in Swaziland, in particular the shortage of food supplies for school meals and the prohibitive costs of secondary school fees and educational materials.
It is hoped that churches, business and other organisations in Swaziland will sponsor the walk to help raise much-needed funds for Anglican schools.
The walkers will stay in Anglican churches en route, and provide local young people with support and training in life skills, career guidance and business enterprise.

Some of you may have followed the young people on Facebook: The walkers - Bahambi. Their journey was physically difficult, as they moved from low veld to high veld, and emotionally challenging. The walkers were mostly unemployed young people, with good and generous hearts. They seek ways to help others despite having almost no resources of their own. They worked in the homesteads of the poor and elderly; they visited schools and taught life skills through drama and workshops; they enjoyed the fellowship they shared with each other and with those they met along the way.

Before they left they sought sponsorship from The United Society and other partners, as well as from local businesses and supporters. The funds they have raised are now being spent on school uniforms for the many schoolchildren, particularly in rural schools, whose families (if they have family) cannot afford to buy uniforms. Pencil cases, generously donated in Ireland, are also being given out as the team visit schools to bring uniforms. 

Thank you for your continued interest in and support for the work of The United Society, as we journey alongside the Diocese of Swaziland. Have a look at these photographs - with your help and encouragement the young people of Swaziland can move mountains.

Fetching water from the Black Mpuluzi River

Life skills at Salem High School

Ncobile cooking a meal

Irish pencil cases at Mpandesane Primary School

Gugu hard at work

Gogo Kunene