Stories From The Field

Aid, Dignity, Sustainability, PDI Team

From Swaziland, 2016

stories maithri.jpg

Stories from Swaziland
by Dr Maithri Goonetilleke

"'These are my children' she pointed to three photos on the wall. 
As she delicately removed each one from its hanging place she told their stories, Mduduzi her gentle boy, Ncasine the girl whose laugh was louder than the thunder, Bonsile the one had her mothers eyes. She cradled the frames in her hands and pointed to my camera "Shoot! Shoot!". Tell anyone who wants to hear - " 
Bebabancane, babahle futsi, ngibatsandza"

"They were young, they were beautiful, I loved them so".
Mduduzi Mkhabela (1979 - 2003)
Ncasine Mkhabela (1977-2013)
Bonsile Mkhabela (1976-2005)
Rest in Peace.
AIDS is not over."

(Names and photograph used with permission)

Aid story: Spihwe's story

Sphiwe welcomes us and slowly drags out two buckets and a mat for us to sit on, deaf to our protestations. She leans her crutches to one side and softly answers our questions. 

Sphiwe is HIV positive and has peripheral neuropathy, resulting in leg weakness, decreased sensation and a constant burning pain in her feet. Her brother-in-law has noticed that her health deteriorates when there are food shortages.

Sphiwe and her four children were taken in by her brother-in-law as they had no place to stay. Their current house leaks and they can’t sleep when it rains. Her children often get stomach cramps from drinking unclean water. They eat two meals a day but this will dwindle when the World Food Distribution scheme stops. 

Her brother-in-law is a motivated young man studying education and does his best to support his family and Sphiwe’s family.
After PDI met Sphiwe, our team provided mattresses for her children, referred Sphiwe to the local hospital, paid for tests and medications, and encouraged HIV testing for her children.

In the long term, we hope to provide farming equipment and maize seeds for Sphiwe’s brother in law to plant and harvest, new housing, a clean water source, and explore options for Sphiwe to generate an income (e.g. mat making).


Dignity: He did not consider if or how or why he loved them

*Name changed. Photo used with permission

By Dr Nishani Nithianandan

“(S)he did not consider if or how or why (s)he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence (s)he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.” – Zadie Smith

Gogo Dlamini* is a grandmother whose 7 grandchildren have all died from AIDS or TB related complications.

There is no time to mourn the tragedy of this statement, because there is no rest for Gogo, who commenced anti-retroviral therapy in 2011. Under her care is a thirteen-year-old child with severe cerebral palsy. She has severe contractures of the arms and legs, intellectual disability, an overbite, scoliosis – her spine and hips jutting out at awkward angles – and urinary incontinence. On top of this, she has just started menstruating. This child lies silently on a hole-ridden, dirty foam mattress surrounded by flies in a dark hut, with wide darting eyes.

Gogo’s pension is meagre and cannot cover menstrual pads, nappies or new bedding. She cannot access multi-disciplinary care – physiotherapy, nursing, OT, social work, surgeons & speech pathology – that would be the standard of care for similar children in Australia.

And yet, Gogo’s grandchild is immaculate. Gogo defies old age to walk to the dam (a 1 hr return trip) three times a day to fetch water. She moves her grandchild’s limbs, and lifts her twice a day to wash her outside. She grows maize, potatoes and vegetables to supplement the food she buys. She reaches out for her grandchild’s hand and smiles lovingly. She does the best she can.

PDI’s Dignity Project aims to provide comfort and human connection, and restore dignity to those who are suffering. Our Swazi team bathes and dresses the wounds of those with disability or terminal illness. They provide mattresses, soap, menstrual pads, nappies, housing, and wheelbarrows to collect water. Our PDI choir sing to them to lift their spirits.

PDI celebrates the humanity of the suffering and reassures them that they are not alone.


Sustainability: Swazi innovators for change

From mid-2017 onwards, Matsetsa women began gathering at the soup kitchen to create crafts. Some women had learnt the art from their mothers, and a few teachers emerged in the group. Soon the women approached PDI with a proposal to upscale this enterprise: Swazi Innovators for Change. We are thrilled to be able to support them.

This project involves a group of 50 grandmothers and women at the soup kitchen creating jewellery, hats, bags and grass sleeping mats on a large scale and selling these in bulk to generate income. The project enables financial independence, increased access to food, medication and housing, and increased agency for Swazi women. The ripple effects of economically empowering women include benefits for their children, families and communities.

Jewellery are worn by Swazi women and men for decorative purposes, as well as at cultural events such as the Reed Dance (August-September) and weddings. Grass mats are used t eddings, or instance, as a gift rom he ride’s amily o the room’s amily, or at funerals.

Swazi Innovators for Change represents the transition from emergency food aid to community ownership and sustainable economic empowerment, by building on the success of the Matsetsa soup kitchen and established community relationships.


Meet the Team: Sibu


Team member: Sibu Sibusiso Thobela

How did you get involved with PDI? And why do you love it?   

I had volunteered and sung in the choir for PDI for a few years before I started working here. Over time, I fell in love.

For me, I was a person in need at that time, and someone was able to assist me, so I feel better whenever there is a need and I can help.

The work keeps on growing and growing, and we see great need. Every day we try, even though PDI doesn’t have the kind of money to help everyone, we still try and do what we can to help others.

Tell us about a really good day you’ve had with PDI
Every day is a good day with PDI, but one that stood out for me was when we met a client, a very old Mkhulu (Grandfather). When we met him, he was living in a very old falling structure. He was a very nice man, but he was sad and each time we went there you could tell he was bored and would want us to sit there, and just tell us stories - stories about his family and how they used to live in the past.

After some time, PDI was able to get some funds to build Mkhulu a house. Straight after the project finished, Mkhulu was happy. You could tell that he was grateful. The most important thing to him was dying with his dignity intact, in a well-built structure, a home. His children were able to come back and now when we visit, as his grandchildren run around outside, we find him sitting happily, telling stories to his family. He turned the small thing we gave to him into something much bigger. He died a happy man.

Female Empowerment

By Debbi Long

"I asked Sibu (one of the PDI Field Team Members), if we had more resources, what would you like us to be doing? 
What do we need?...

One of the things he talked about was empowerment programs for women out in the rural villages. 

"Women can do so much. But sometimes they don't know that they can. It would be good to teach them how much they can do when they work together and take power for themselves."

In many rural communities men are away for long periods of time working in the mines. Women's empowerment programs are not a theoretical model here, but a practical strategy to help communities thrive.

Thembi, one of our PDI team, models female empowerment. 
She navigates washed out roads and rugged terrain in her PDI truck with calm competence. She lifts heavy bags of mealie meal, inspects building work, assesses housing and health conditions of vulnerable clients and supervises the digging of pit toilets. And like all the PDI team, she does so with grace and enormous compassion.

One of the things that makes me so proud of the work PDI does is how we all learn from each other. And even if we don't have the resources at the moment to run empowerment programs, we at least have female team members modelling how to be strong, empowered, warm, opinionated, compassionate women."


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