Neighbourhood Care Point kitchen, latrine & borehole in Swaziland
United Society (USPG) received a grant of €9500 from Bishops’ Appeal to help provide a two-pot kitchen with store, a pit latrine and a bore-hole for the Mpandesane Neighbourhood Care Point in Swaziland.
Swaziland is a small landlocked country in southern Africa, between South Africa and Mozambique. It is similar in size to Northern Ireland and has a population of 1.1 million. Swaziland faces many challenges, but at the root of all of these are AIDS and poor governance.
Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection, and since the first case was reported in 1987 the epidemic has ravaged the country. Out of the 1.1 million population there are an estimated 200,000 orphans and vulnerable children.
No household has gone untouched. Many families have been broken up, resulting in children, as unwanted burdens upon already struggling families, being treated little better than slaves. 15% of all households are headed by a child. In these households children struggle to survive, desperately wanting to stay together as it appears better than the alternative. These families live in fear of intruders and wild animals; they struggle to find money for food and school uniforms; they do not seek out medical care.
In the 1990s it became clear that without some kind of intervention, many of these children would not become productive, responsible Swazi citizens – they would be more prone to disease and early death; they would be less likely to acquire the knowledge and skills to support themselves and contribute to the economy; and, most worryingly, many would not have the insights they need to be good parents to their own children.
The people of Swaziland saw the problem, and they came up with a solution, which they call Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs). Swaziland has approximately 100,000 children aged 3-5. Of these, some 50,000 are being fed and cared for in Neighbourhood Care Points. This means about half of the next generation of Swazis are being fed and cared for by volunteers at their local NCP.
NCPs are an inspiring example of how ‘less is more’. At their most basic, these centres consist of a handful of volunteers who feed and supervise a group of children. Originally the food came from their own homes and gardens, and the ‘point’ at which they delivered care was often no more than a spot under a tree. Simple as this model is, it produces an extraordinary range of benefits. Children who would otherwise be sitting at home, hungry and alone, now get a regular meal, are able to play with other children, and have access to an adult who guides and listens to them. By attending an NCP, children from deprived homes can be found, counted, assessed and cared for. By being placed in the care of volunteers who are motivated purely by their love and concern for children, they are more likely to be guided in the social practices and traditions of their people, and protected from abuse and exploitation.
The Government of Swaziland was quick to understand the significance of the NCPs, and to encourage support from local chiefs. Few NCPs are still located under trees, and most get a reasonably regular supply of food from government and local chiefs. The Diocese of Swaziland is actively involved in approx 14 NCPs out of more than 1,500 NCPs mapped.
The Neighbourhood Care Point at Mpandesane is one that remains under a tree. Mpandesane is located in the far south-eastern corner of Swaziland and is in the poorest and driest part of the country. The care point was run by Mr & Mrs Simelane, elderly members of the local Anglican parish. Mr Simelane described starting the care point in response to eating the daily meal and being watched by many small children. Mr Simelane has recently died.
Every day Mr Simelane went to the river, about 2km away. He filled various plastic buckets and bottles with water the colour of chocolate milk, and hauled them back to the care point on a sled pulled by a donkey. The women volunteers who support Mrs Simelane are now hauling the water.
Water is so scarce there that the children can be observed drinking the washing-up water after the meal. Some years ago an aid agency donated blocks to build a kitchen. They did not supply funds or labour for building and the piles of blocks give some shelter to the open fires where the women cook mealie porridge and bean soup for up to 30 pre-school children in term time and double that in school holidays. The same agency donated a corrugated iron toilet cubicle, but no funds or labour to dig a pit etc. The women volunteers run a small pre-school and teach the children the alphabet and basic counting. They did have a blackboard, but it has disappeared and they now draw with sticks in the sandy soil.
The United Society, working with the Swaziland Diocesan Development Officer, Mandla Mdluli, wants to develop the Mpandesane NCP. This will be of benefit to the care point and the children who attend there, but also to the local community. The bore hole will provide easily accessible and clean water. A survey has been undertaken to establish the suitability of the site for a bore-hole. Once the position of the bore-hole has been fixed a pit latrine will be dug. A small building will be constructed to provide a traditional two-pot kitchen.
When clean water becomes available, local people (women and children) will come from up to 5km to collect water, i.e. a roundtrip of 10km.