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.