My good friend, Bryan Mosell, who frequently comments on this blog, recently sent me a documentary DVD which he had purchased in the USA. The name is Dear Francis. This is part of the story of the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. For those who are interested on getting a glimpse of what Swaziland looks like and what AIDS is doing to this country, I can recommend this DVD. It can be purchased directly from the producers here. For myself, the part which probably touched me the most was not in the movie itself, but rather in one of the Special Features called The Hospital Visit. This is an uncut scene and shows the reality inside one of the large government hospitals, The Mbabane Government Hospital. This is exactly how I also find it when I visit hospitals in Swaziland, with the smell of death literally hanging around in the wards.
The DVD received two awards and is really of a good quality. A number of the people speaking in the documentary are known to me and it was great to hear their concern but also their realistic approach to the problem. We all know that there is no quick fix for this problem.
But as I watched the documentary, I also had a number of concerns. First of all the documentary was made when a group of students from Texas were flown out to Swaziland to take part in a program to teach school children about abstinence. One of the students did build a relationship with one of the Swazi school children who was concerned that he may be HIV positive. The student eventually convinced his new friend, Sipho, that both of them should go to be tested and obviously (otherwise it would not have been shown) both of them were negative. This, for me, was a great part of the documentary. What concerned me was whether a group of wealthy (and lets face it, you need to be wealthy to fly out from the States for a short-term outreach in Swaziland) students from the States can really change people’s life-styles on the long term, without realising the challenges these people face in their normal day-to-day living. In the documentary one of the students actually say something like: We have to try and change in a week’s time what had been taught to them over a period of eighteen years! And in fact it’s not really a week, because the group moved from school to school, spending a few hours at the most at each school. I don’t want to be small of faith, but personally I wonder what difference this will make. This is why I try and work so hard on building relations when we have short-term outreaches from groups to Swaziland rather than trying to cover as much ground as possible in the shortest period of time.
Another concern I had was about some emotional things which were said and which I don’t believe to be quite the truth. Swaziland, at present, does have about 80000 orphans. That’s about 8% of the population and the numbers are increasing. But one of the people at one point made the remark that one out of ten homes are run by children. Even after intensive surveys which we did from home to home in two of the worst affected areas in Swaziland, I still have to find a home actually run by a child. Furthermore, after a question why there are only two girls at a certain orphanage while there are many boys, it was said that female orphans are snatched up by neighbours so that she can become a “slave” in their household and eventually she will be sold to someone who wants to marry her for the price of 15 cows. This is highly debatable, as it is normally only girls related to the king (girls who come from the Dlamini clan) for whom a bride’s price (lobola) as high as 15 cows will be paid. And in my contact with other orphanages I found that the ratio of girls/boys is close to 50/50. As often happens with this type of documentary, I had the impression that things are said to obtain people’s sympathy for a cause and in the process it may happen that the truth is stretched a bit.
But other than these remarks, I really felt touched by this DVD. It is permitted that this DVD may be shown in congregations so if some of you who have been following this blog wishes to use this to inform other Christians about the situation in Swaziland, you are free to do this. (Just take note that I am not involved with any of the projects actually shown on the DVD. The documentary was made in the northern part of Swaziland while our work is focussed on the southern part of the country, which is also the poorest and most infected part of Swaziland.)
One of the people, I think it was the American Ambassador to Swaziland, made the remark that we are losing an entire generation. This is the truth. The only hope which I personally have is that the new young generation will make decisions about their life-style so that they do not get infected with HIV. Otherwise it may well be true, what was said in the documentary, that Swaziland will no longer exist in fifty years’ time.