When we signed up seven years ago to sponsor two girls through World Vision’s Sponsorship and Area Development program, meeting our sponsored children was the last thing we expected. When an unrelated event was going to bring our family to South Africa, Swaziland was one of the first things on our minds. Could we make it happen? Our two sponsored girls lived in two different communities that were quite far apart. I began to communicate with the World Vision office to organize our trip, and the staff members I worked with went out of their way to get all the details lined up for us. We all completed background checks while World Vision contacted each family to see if they’d be open to having us visit. To our delight, both families accepted! We would be visiting each child and community on a separate day.
Fast forward a few months, and our family (my husband Brian and daughters Josie, 12, and Norah, 14) landed in Johannesburg, squeezed into a rental car with our luggage and some things for the families, and all of our excitement was a good antidote for our jet lag as we made the 3 hour drive into Swaziland.
World Vision Staff
Day One – Visiting Tematimandze
World Vision staff picked us up from our lodging, and then our first stop was a store to buy some groceries and things for the family. This was the part that I was nervous about and felt a little awkward, but Zanele, our staff liaison, quickly did the shopping and knew exactly what to buy for the family: rice, cooking oil, frozen chicken, beans, cabbage, potatoes. We drove way into the mountains (it’s beautiful country, miles of tree farms up at altitude) and toured the Area Development Project established by World Vision, a spread-out community of about 20,000 people. 4000 kids are registered under the sponsorship program, and about 3500 of those are currently sponsored. In the community, they have lots of different development projects going on, and we were glad to see a few of them.
After we met and received a briefing from the Area Director, we toured a kids’ savings group where the kids contribute a small amount every month and pool their money. They can choose to buy things and share twice a year. The idea is to get them thinking about money early on. Some of the kids can’t afford the small amount, so they deal with that by having some of the kids who are able, contribute a little more. The group sang us a song and one of the kids stood up and presented to us what they’re doing.
After-school homework club
We then saw a water project, which I was very interested in. The community water committee had apparently been waiting for us at the top of a hill by the reservoir since 9 AM and it was about noon when we got there! The water is pumped to a reservoir from the government tap at a lower elevation, and the reserved water then flows to the households. They had to purchase and build the reservoir, with World Vision’s help, and pay electrical charges for the pumping. One senior gentleman from the committee stood up and gave us a very impressive speech about the whole thing!
The third development project we saw was an after school/homework club put in place to help the kids further their education.
Finally it was time to meet the family! Unfortunately the girls were really tired by this point. We were all about to fall asleep! Jet lag was kicking in. I was worried, but once we arrived and we all began to warm up to each other, everyone woke up. The family is doing well - mom was a teacher, very friendly, and Tema (age 12, Josie’s sponsored child) was a little shy. Tema’s mom got everyone playing ballgames. We brought all the groceries into their stucco home and gave Tema her special things. Dad wasn’t there because he was working, but he called, saying he wished he could be there and thanked us for writing to Tema and sponsoring her.
Playing games in Tema’s yard
Josie and Tema
Day Two – visiting Sikhulile
Sikhulile’s visit was a bit different because we started out at the family’s home after a long drive through the hills of southeastern Swaziland. Sikhulile lived with her extended family on a farm in a rural, hilly area on the other side of the country from where we were staying. When we arrived, there were huge grins and hugs all around as we recognized Sikhulile and her family recognized us.
Sikhulile pulled out a picture of Norah that we had sent, and after that I don’t think the girls stopped holding hands the whole time they visited. We sat in the shade while our World Vision staff member got us all talking, translated for us, and asked questions to keep the conversations going.
The family kept asking us if we wanted to see their “garden,” and once we were finished visiting, we got up and walked a short distance. The “garden” turned out to be an extensive farm, full of fields of spinach, tomatoes, and corn!
Sikhulile and Norah
Tomato field on the family farm
We learned from staff that the family signed up with World Vision seven years ago. Sikhulile’s father, William, had passed away, and Sikhulile’s mom, Siphiwe, was struggling to feed her family. World Vision stepped in and showed them how to farm and raise goats, and what we saw when we visited was a thriving family with many means for bringing in money, and skill and knowledge to create a beautiful and bountiful farm.
We ended our amazing visit with Sikhulile’s family by sharing a meal they had made. We were served cooked spinach from their garden along with chicken that they had slaughtered and cooked just for us. We were very honored to share the delicious meal.
Sharing a meal in Sihkulile’s home
After leaving their farm, we stopped in for a short visit to women’s sewing and savings group. The women made gorgeous and colorful skirts. We would have purchased some to bring home if they’d had any in stock, but they are in high demand. The women pool their money to buy the fabric and then sell what they make for a form of income. They can also loan money to group members.
Women’s sewing and savings group
We went on to the rest of our trip to South Africa, but these experiences with our families in Swaziland stuck with us. Our trip was amazing in so many ways, and we will be talking about it as a family for a long time to come. Our girls commented how they enjoyed the simpleness of the girls’ lives in Swaziland and on their farms. When we got home, writing to the girls took on a different meaning as we are now about to envision where our letters go and picture the girls receiving them, and knowing that they are benefiting through World Vision’s program.
Sikhulilie and Norah