Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three out of Three Hundred and Sixty-Five

Three days a year.

That's how often the children who live at Ebholi Methodist Primary School get visitors.

That means that is how often they have days full of fun, when adults shower them with love and attention all day long.

Three days.

These kiddos live about a five hour walk from school. You read that right. Five hours each way.  And their community is in shambles. Homelessness is very uncommon in Swaziland, even with the giant poverty rates. Most people at least have a homestead in which to stay. But in the community where the children of Ebholi live, very few have proper homesteads.  Most of the kids have lost both parents, so they stay with aunts or older siblings and don't have real shelter when they are at home.
The front gate to Ebholi Primary School

The kiddos during our church service on Sunday
A few years ago, one of their teachers realized their situation and made arrangements for the kids to stay at Ebholi on Mondays through Fridays.  Right now, there are 41 kids who stay through the week.  Heart for Africa with the help of Feed My Starving Children, provides manna packs and maize bags once or twice a month so that the children can eat. They also have a garden that was started by Heart for Africa a few years ago (my husband was on the team that originally planted the garden!). We added over two hundred seedlings, plus some moringa trees and mango trees to the garden this week.

If there is enough food for weekends, the kids get to stay through the weekend. But that is rare.  Usually, they walk five hours home on Friday afternoon, don't eat much (or at all) all weekend, then walk the five hours back Sunday night or Monday morning.

We spent three amazing days with these children. They love to have fun! They have no toys, no playground, only their school uniforms and 1-2 pairs of play clothes.  When we showed up with several soccer balls, bubbles, stickers, and drawing paper with crayons and markers, you should have seen them! They practically exploded with joy.

41 kids produced over an inch worth of pictures for us in the three days we were there! They love to draw!
One of the girls' rooms. Eleven girls sleep here. No toys, no closets.
They each have a bed and hang their uniform on a nail on the wall.

The older kids working on their artwork.
I am beyond heartbroken over these children. I have three kids. We play every day. They have access to markers, crayons, paper, and ridiculous amounts of toys 24 hours a day. And beyond that, they have so many adults that love them, that pay attention to them. They have countless adults in their lives who build them up. And then they get to do fun enrichment activities like swim team and soccer, dance class and art class, where adults love on them some more.

My Ebholi kiddos get to go to school and they have some great teachers. They have one "Auntie" from their community who comes with them to school to cook for them and returns to the community on the weekends. They have their amazing deputy principal, Ms. Similane, who lives at the school and does her best to care for them.  But that's it.  No playground, no toys, no parents to love on them every day.  No one person who stops everything to look them in the eyes and listen, to hug and hold them when they're hurting. When the school day ends, there are no activities. They play soccer if they have a ball. Otherwise, they mill around. Sometimes they'll spell out each others' names with small rocks. For three hundred and sixty two days a year.

His friend's name is "Thabo"
One of the girls was trying out the jump rope we brought and she fell hard, face-first on the ground. I had another kiddo on my lap so I couldn't jump right up and grab her. What I witnessed in the 5-6 seconds it took for me to get to her broke my heart. She just stood there, bent at the waist. She didn't even cry until after I had picked her up. This is a child who is used to comforting herself. She was taking a minute to pull herself together because usually, there is no comfort for her when she's hurting.  If there is one useful skill I have in Swaziland, it's mothering. I scooped her right up (she's tall - definitely too old for holding), and just held her. We sat together on the ground for a long time as she snuggled in.

Our last day there was so different from the first two. Usually, the kids just basked in our love and attention.  They held our hands, danced with us, played soccer and lots of singing/dancing games. We drew pictures together and I got to teach them how to make origami birds and boxes!  Days chock-full of joy. But an hour or two before it was time for us to leave on that last day, a cloud came over the kiddos' faces. One boy got overwhelmed and just sat down on the stoop, placed his head down on his arms, and began to cry. He's 13. When he goes home, he stays with his older sister and brother. His parents are dead.  Another of our older girls (age 12) just shut down, my heart wrenched to watch her disconnect from us, because she knew we wouldn't be back the next day.  The littles went into over-drive, trying to get as many hugs as possible, as if to store them up until the next year.
They told me they wanted a picture of "the men"! :)

Playing the guitar case!
My sweet dancing partner! She would run and find me and Bri every time we played any music!

Ms. Similane - the deputy principal
She is a true angel.

Dance party with Swazi moves

Origami Bird "Inyone"


  1. That's so beautiful Kirsten! I miss seeing you, but I'm so happy to read about all of your amazing work here and in Africa! These kids need so much, and I'm in awe of all you are doing.

  2. My heart hurts reading this....but I'm so proud of the love you take to them and the way you open yourself to all you can fit, hon...


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