How serious is the problem of HIV/AIDS?

This is an extremely difficult question to answer. Frankly, no one knows for sure. What we do know, is that we are dealing with the most serious health problem in the history of Swaziland. Statistics about AIDS are not accurate and usually reflect a much more positive picture than is really the case. However, the government is trying its utmost to find accurate statistics regarding the position about AIDS in Swaziland. All indications are that more than 30% of the population in Swaziland is HIV+.

Large numbers of people are dying daily because of AIDS. We do not have access to accurate statistics indicating the number of people dying due to AIDS-related illnesses, but all over Swaziland, our church members are saying that people are dying at a rate that they have never experienced in the history of Swaziland. In a recent survey it was found that in 60% of homes in a certain area someone had died in the previous twelve months. Most of them died as a direct result of AIDS.

According to the latest census indications are that more than 10% of the total population consist of orphans - that is 115,000 orphans!

The history in a nutshell

In 1986 the first three people who tested positively for HIV were found in Swaziland. A year later the three had increased to ten and one person had full-blown AIDS. After five years (1991) there were 584 people who were HIV+, 62 with full-blown AIDS and 43 people had already died due to AIDS-related illnesses.

Swaziland has a population of approximately 1 million. If the 42,6% of pregnant women who are HIV+ should be a fairly accurate indication of the total population who are HIV+, then it means that more than 400,000 people have this disease at the moment.

In the Swaziland newspapers, where notice is given of the death of people, sometimes more than two pages are used up by these notices. Often, a photo is also included with the notice. With the exception of a few of those who had died, all the photos are of young people, in the prime of their lives, who had died. Everybody knows the cause of their death, even though it is never mentioned. Amongst the pregnant women that were tested recently, it was found that more than 42% of those between the ages of 20-24 were HIV+

What can we do?

We believe the church has a specific role to play. The church cannot do research on new vaccines. The church cannot take over the role of doctors and nurses. However, we believe, as Christians, we have the task to comfort these people, in the same way that Christ would have done, and to bring to those who are dying and to their family members, a message of hope, not only of the everlasting life in Jesus Christ, but also that we care about them while they are still alive.

What are we doing?

In January 2006 our church started with a Home-Based Caring project in the southern, most affected, region of Swaziland. This is also the most neglected part of the country as most organisations tend to get involved in the northern part of Swaziland where the two main cities, Mbabane and Manzini are situated. Through a series of events, God convinced us that we need to make ourselves available to the community by caring for those who are not able to care for themselves any longer. Our vision is To become the Hands and Feet of Christ in this Community. The amazing story of how God led us to do this work and how He provided to make it possible was recently published in the Theological Journal, Verbum et Ecclesia, and may be downloaded. The title of the article is: On Becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-Ridden community.

We first started at Dwaleni where 32 people were trained as caregivers. These people are all volunteers, without receiving any salary at all for the work that they do. At any given time they are caring for around 100 people, some who are sick, some who are chronically ill and others who are terminally ill. The work which is done includes the basic care of the patients such as washing them and ensuring that they are taking their medication. However, the task is much greater than this. It also involves the couselling of the patients and their families and we often have the privilege of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with these people. Intensive training in the counselling of traumatised children have also enabled the group to work with children who have been abused or who have gone through the trauma of losing one or both of their parents.

At Dwaleni we have also started with a feeding project for orphans of the area. About 10% of the total population of Swaziland are orphans. These children are fed at our church on a daily base and recently we also started with a creche mainly for the orphaned children.

After a year of finding our feet at Dwaleni, a second group was started at Matsanjeni where 42 people are part of their home-based caring project. Shortly after a third group was started at the south-eastern border of Swaziland, at a town called Lavumisa. This group also has 42 members. Lavumisa is one of the main entry ports into Swaziland with the related immorality which often comes with this.

After this, further home-based caring groups were established in various areas. More than 1200 volunteers are presently part of this project in 46 areas, serving almost 4600 clients. In the meantime pre-schools have been started at four different venues as well as feeding projects for orphans at eight Neighbourhood Care Points, where more than 750 orphaned or vulnerable children are receiving nutritious meals daily.

How can you help us?

As we get face to face with the problem and effects of HIV and AIDS on a daily base, we realise that, even with a thousand caregivers, we will still not be able to do all the work that needs to be done. Seeing the faces of children who have to take the responsibility of adults as their parents and older brothers and sisters die, is especially heartbreaking.

Shiselweni Home-Based Care
has been registered as an NGO. Unfortunately, this has very little influence on the financial state of the organisation, as the Swaziland government does not have funds to sponsor organisations such as this. Although all caregivers are told beforehand that they are volunteers and must therefore expect no salary, there are certain needs which we can no longer ignore if we want these caregivers to support their clients effectively.

It is our wish to set up a group of supporters who would each be willing to sponsor one or more of these volunteers on an ongoing basis. We are willing to link a certain volunteer with such a supporter, to send a photo of the person and also to keep the group of supporters updated on the work being done. This will enable us to supply the caregivers with basic medicines such as vitamins, pain killers, wound cleaners and gloves. Should you wish to help us to get the work done, you are most welcome to contact me at wyngaard@lando.co.za

Should you wish to make a financial contribution towards this work, money may be paid directly into our missions account of which the details are:

Bank: Absa
Branch: Piet Retief
Branch code: 632005
Account Number: 923 201 9533
Name: Shiselweni Reformed Home Based Care
Swift Code: ABSA.JJ.ZA