Hearing Africa’s Cries For Help
Wednesday - July 27, 2005
Can you hear their cries? Cries from halfway around the world? I couldn’t until just two weeks ago.
It wasn’t until I was there, in the remotest regions of Swaziland, a tiny country in southern Africa about the size of Hawaii, that my ears heard. And my heart cried back.
“I am struggling,” she uttered in barely intelligible English as she approached our team from Dream for Africa, a program that, in part, plants and distributes seedlings to the HIV/AIDS and disease vulnerable populous. She was a “gogo,” or grandmother, layered in rags, who came upon us as we paused our planting to have sack lunches under a shade tree. We gave her parts of ours and one whole lunch, composed of an orange, a turkey sandwich, bag of chips, a candy bar and a drink. She ate a bit, expressed deep gratitude in Swati and broken English, and went on her way.
Afterwards, our 10-passenger van, bulging with plastic bags of various seedlings, gardening tools, a “neighborhood care mother” and a local pastor, carried us a mile up a mountain over so-called roads — really rock and dirt dugouts — to a “homestead” of a widow, her four children and a passel of extended kids. She had prepared her garden for planting, no cinch in the hard-pack red turf of the Shiselweni region.
The children, shoeless and ragclothed, noses and eyes crusted with dust, shyly and curiously approached. One was drinking our drink. Another eating our candy bar. Another peeling our orange. What? Then, out from one mud hut came the “gogo” of our encounter, who had scaled the arduous hill on foot ahead of our vehicle. In reality, she was “struggling” for these hungry children, not herself.
The tiny Kingdom of Swaziland is struggling — as is all of Africa. HIV/AIDS, 70 percent unemployment, a growing population of widows and orphans, and regressive cultural practices produce not only a provoking myriad of socio-economic problems, but also despair. A despair that cries to be heard.
If the continent of Africa is the “storm” the world finally recognizes as devastating, Swaziland is the “eye.” Ranked No. 1 in HIV/AIDS infected (per capita), optimists say one in three adults there is infected. Doctors in Swazi hospitals believe it’s one in two. King Mswati has asked the world for help and a swarm of NGOs (non-governmental agencies) have descended on his country, including religiousbased organizations like Dream for Africa, which brought me there. If the tide can be turned in this small microcosm of Africa, perhaps success will spread.
Until I heard renowned Biblical scholar and author of (among others) the best-selling book The Prayer of Jabez, Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, speak last spring, Africa was a distant, haunting spot, beset with devastating, seemingly solutionless problems. I prayed for the women and children, the starving, sick and persecuted. I gave it to God, not understanding how I could personally help. Wilkinson, Dream for Africa (DFA) founder, assured that money was not the answer. Billions have been sent there over time, yet the HIV/AIDS infections, starvation, economic crisis, war and disease have flourished.
“Bring your heart to Africa,” he challenged, admitting that his own was now firmly planted there. “The people of Africa are praying for help and Americans are praying to help. The prayers are converging.” Wilkenson believes in practical yet lovebased solutions. He starts with the notion (I paraphrase) that to give a person a fish, you feed one person. Teach him to fish and you feed a nation. Dream for Africa’s Never Ending Gardens component to its four point plan teaches and gives at the same time.
Seedlings of immune-boosting vegetables — spinach, cabbage, onions, beet root — are prohibitively expensive to destitute widows and orphans, but vital to ongoing health and nourishment of children susceptible to a variety of diseases: Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, malaria and, of course, HIV/AIDS. The Never Ending Gardens program provides the seedlings, volunteers to help plant and distribute them (that’s us), prayers of encouragement and follow-up monitoring. The goal is to feed a nation by this Christmas. Our group of 90 people, more than half from Hawaii, planted and/or distributed more than 26,000 gardens in only one week.
There are needs all over the world, it’s true, but statistics from USAID say that there will be 45 million orphans in Africa by the year 2010 if something isn’t done — now. Some needs are more desperate than others.
The people of Swaziland I met are beautiful, grateful and desirous of a better life. And, they are dying in mind-blowing numbers. Only a few of the children I met will reach the age of 30. Most are now ready to face the truth about HIV/AIDS, which shame, misinformation by chiefs and witch doctors, and fear have thus far stifled. They cry out for a helping hand. Can you hear?
During my Swaziland gardenplanting journey, I experienced much to share with you in the next few columns. Ngiyabonga — thank you, stay well.
For more information on how to join Dream for Africa log onto www.dreamforafrica.org
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