Swaziland: School gates close on orphans
This was the heading of one of the main stories in the Swaziland Observer today. If you are interested in the full article, you can access it here.
Close to 10% of Swaziland’s total population are orphans! According to UNAIDS the number of orphans is somewhere between 45,000 and 77,000 although many organisations suspect that the number is in fact much higher. UNICEF estimates the figure to be around 95,000 (and according to the latest census Swaziland has a population of around 950,000!)
The fact is that many schools are indeed not allowing orphans to attend anymore if someone is not willing to pay their school fees and buy them a uniform. How do I know this? Because just over a week ago one of our home-based care coordinators brought two children to me who had been turned away from school because the government was not providing the necessary funds for the orphans to attend school. One girl was starting school this year and her sister was supposed to go to grade 2. Both their parents had died (described in Swaziland as “double-orphans” compared to “orphans” who had only lost their mother.)
The hopeless expression on the faces picture of these two children broke my heart. The were absolutely at the mercy of other people who were busy taking decisions about their lives – and obviously the decisions that were being taken were wrong. At that point I did what my father would have described as “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” as I told the coordinator to take the children to school and to enroll them and to promise the headmaster that the fees would be paid.
Two days later I received the message that someone had offered to pay for the one child and three days afterwards someone else offered to pay for her sister! We thank the Lord for this, but then, reading today’s newspaper, I realise that there are probably hundreds of children in the same situation at the moment.
Where this will end I do not know. Just thinking of the thousands of children growing up in homes surrounded by death and without their own mother caring for them frightens me. Where will they end up? Is there any possibility for them to educate themselves? Are they going to be different from their parents or are they going to continue the life-style which will inevitably lead to their own premature death? According to UNICEF the life expectancy of a child born in Swaziland today is 30 years!
What hope is there for a child in Swaziland growing up without a loving family and without education?