Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A pair of shoes

I just returned home yesterday from Swaziland, a beautiful country that has some serious struggles. They have one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, their unemployment level is around 70%, and most of my generation has died to HIV-related diseases, leaving behind around 200,000 orphaned children with no adults to care for them.  And there is no way to truly describe the joy and heartbreak it is to get to go and love the people of Swaziland.

I spent some of my time on/near Project Canaan, a farm that Heart for Africa owns and operates to generate food and jobs for the community (and also where the Baby, Toddler Home and Preschool are located). One day, we went out in teams to visit homesteads that have been identified as being among the most in need in the area, many of them being the homesteads of workers on the farm. Our goal for our visit was to help plant a garden (to create a sustainable food source), play with the children, bring them some clothing items, and fit  the children with TOMS shoes.

One of the homesteads belonged to S, a man who works at Project Canaan.  He and his three children, his sister and her four children, his mother, and his two younger brothers live there.  All together that's five adults and seven children. Twelve people on a homestead with only one income - S's small farming salary. Before Project Canaan, there was no income for the family. This is an agrarian society - everyone knows how to plant and grow food... the problem is gaining access to seedlings. This family did not have enough money to start a garden.
S proudly showing off his three kiddos.

So we came, bringing our garden tools, over 200 seedlings for onions, cabbage, beets, spinach, and a moringa tree (read about these amazing trees here).  We worked together with S and his brothers (ages 19 and 20) to plant their garden.

But that wasn't even the best part of the day.

There is no access to clean running water in most places in Swaziland. As we started tilling up the garden, the kids ran down to the "river" to get water so we could plant. So of course, I went with them! :)

As the kiddos filled their containers, I noticed S's niece's shoes:

Look closer:
It's blurry, but look at her right foot - those are her toes coming out of her shoes!
This sweet child walks around in her only shoes - old crocs that are completely torn open on one foot. The other shoe isn't in great shape either. One half of her foot has no protection from the ground. I ran into several thickets that day with some seriously sharp thorns. I hate to think of what she's been through not having proper footwear.

We gardened together, played together and had a very sweet couple of hours at their homestead. Before we left, we gave each family member two articles of clothing and the kids each received their very first pair of TOMS shoes. This was amazing.

Standing next to her old shoes (her younger sister's shoes are in her hand)

close-up of her old shoes.
At the end of the day, the Gogo (grandmother) was so excited and proud to have a garden on their homestead. She looked at this picture over and over after I took it: (by the way, most Swazis grow very serious when you take their pictures, then when you show them the picture, you get the most incredible smiles!)

If you are still reading, you're in for a small treat. We had a tiny miracle happen on this day. I had been part of the team the previous day that got all the boxes of shoes ready for the homestead visits. We had the kids' shoe sizes and we put the shoes in boxes labelled with the homestead owner's name.  We didn't provide any extra shoes, just the ones that were on the sheet provided (the kids' shoe sizes had already been obtained earlier)

For some reason, our boxes for the two homestead we visited had extra shoes.  And at S's homestead, every single shoe size was off by a bit. Had we come out with only the shoe sizes on our list, we would have left without being able to give any of the TOMS. But we had enough shoes. And all of the children we saw that day got shoes that fit. I checked when we returned to our hotel that night - we were the only team that "accidentally" went out with extra shoes.

God is working in Swaziland indeed.

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