Tag Archives: Children

How Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affect Children

Singing pre-schoolers helped launch the Day of the African Child.

This year, the international theme for Day of the African Child, celebrated June 16th,  is “Eliminating harmful social and cultural practices affecting children: Our collective responsibility.” Swaziland has taken the commemorative day a step further and the entire month of June has become Children’s Month: “Kukhulisa umntfwana yinsayeya yetfu sonkhe.”
SWAGAA, prides itself on its services and programs for children, including the Girls Empowerment Clubs which are in 33 schools in the four regions and have a total of 1320 members. Children are the lifeblood of the nation and consequently the organization has adopted two messages for this special month. Aimed at children, the first message is “Take pride in yourself. You are Swaziland’s future.  Live with joy, but also take care. Don’t accept gifts, rides or invitations from strangers. Be safe, make friends, share information and make sure you report any incidences of abuse.”
The adult message is “Our children are our future. Protect, love and nurture them and they will grow up healthy and strong and be positive influences in our lives. Harm them and you harm yourself, and the nation.”

Lungile Shongwe with Swaziland Deputy Prime Minister Thembe Masuku.

At the Children’s Month launch at Esibayeni Lodge on 10 June, the entire audience was in tears after a young girl spoke. Lungile Shongwe, a 16-year-old student at Mplume High School, is a Girls Empowerment Club member and a shining example of confidence and poise. And yet, half way through her speech she broke down. She was speaking out about social ills that children experience. Referring to polygamy, she talked abut competition among wives to gain favour and financial assistance from a husband, how children are neglected when money is not forthcoming, and how, when the father/husband dies, there is vicious fighting among the family for inheritance.  “I know, I am a product of a polygamous family,” she disclosed.  Turning away from the audience, Shongwe tried to hide her tears.

Emotions overcame her.

The audience was silent as she composed herself. Taking a deep breath she continued, speaking of young girls forced to marry men the age of their fathers, and how their lives are a risk because their bodies are not mature enough to carry children. When a teenage girl is married by a boyfriend by surprise and the red ochre is smeared on her forehead, Shongwe noted, “Her wings are cut off, she can no longer fly.” Education, career, and opportunities are not in her future. Other practices with negative effects that she mentioned were Kulamuta (molestation) and Kuhlanta (when a husband can marry his wife’s younger sister if his wife cannot conceive). She also talked of the degrading of Swazi culture, when men rape their own children, and parents give away their offspring for financial gain. A solution, she noted, was activating the culture of Umchwasho where young women are respected and not attacked sexually.

When Shongwe was finished, she received a standing ovation. Her performance was noted by the rest of the speakers at the launch, including Deputy Prime Minister Thembe Masuku.  “She spoke from the heart, turning negatives into positives,” he said, adding “The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act states that it is the duty of every community member to report abuse. They must inform the chief, the police or a social worker if a child is abused in any way. I’m asking you to report these vultures who prey on children, our most precious asset.”
SWAGAA counselors see many cases of child abuse, covering all the situations Shongwe mentioned in her speech and more. For instance, relatives will sponsor a child so she can attend school. The family then turns a blind eye when it becomes apparent the child is being sexually abused by the sponsor.  The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act must be put into operation to deter these perpetrators. Swaziland needs to become a safe place for children. Young people are this country’s future. Anyone who harms a child is harming the nation.

Palaces and Children in Gondor

Children play with balloons as Ethan captures the fun.

Debre Tabor was next on our itinerary. Angela Williams, a British education volunteer with VSO, took us on an excursion through the local market where I did a lot of smiling and pointing at vegetables and laughing with the local women. We spent that night in the historic city of Gondor, which is famous for its palace castles, built in the 15th century. The next day was Sunday and during our photo shoot at the palace with Judy Price, a VSO education volunteer who had recently relocated there from a prior placement in Debre Behar, and Fonda Ruiter, a volunteer physiotherapist, we had to compete with about five wedding parties. One was a traditional Ethiopian celebration with loud singing, dancing and women wearing beautiful woven dresses. Another highlight in Gondor was going to the pediatric ward at the university hospital where Fonda worked. The 31-year-old physiotherapist bounced between beds, inflating surgical gloves like balloons and blowing bubbles with the children. Even though it was a chronic ward and the kids were suffering from ailments such as burns and TB, the room was filled with smiles when she left. “My job is to make children happy. It’s simple,” she explained.

Report From Harar

A blonde woman in a white lab coat lifts an x-ray up to the window and six similarly clad young people gather round. Below them on a small iron bed lies a motionless child. Doctor Joanna Laycock is on her morning rounds at Hiwot Fana Specialized Hospital in Harar, surrounded by her students. “What are the signs of viral pneumonia?,” she asks. A student points to a clouded area of the x-ray. “And bacterial? What about tuberculosis?” An answer is murmured as Laycock nods and flicks away a fly.

The 31-year-old, British-born volunteer is six weeks into her one-year placement at the hospital’s pediatric ward. “This is completely eye-opening for me. I’m seeing things I’d never see had home,” she says. The most common cases are rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and malnutrition. There have been two fatal cases of tetanus since she arrived — something unheard of in the western world where vaccines have all but eradicated the bacterial illness.

My teammates (photographer Ethan Baron, and Catherine Beach, CUSO-VSO recruitment) and I have been on the road for the last few days, visiting volunteers in various placements in the east of the country. After speaking with Laycock, we meet up with Susan Davies-Jones in the medical school building adjacent to the hospital. From Northern Ireland, the 31-year-old midwife has a placement as an instructor. This morning she’s excited. “My furniture has arrived,” she says triumphantly as a desk and computer are loaded into her office. Although her project is to take students into communities and assess health needs and apply her knowledge to practices such as breast feeding, she hasn’t been able to get started yet. “I’ve spent the past month sharing offices and sitting in the hall.” A big smile spreads across her face. “Now I have a home base. It feels fantastic.”



•  Ethiopia was never colonized, but Italy occupied the country during WWII

•  Pizza and pasta are on just about every menu

•  An Ethiopian red wine that isn’t too bad is Gouder, costs around 60 birr for 750 ml (around $4 US)

•  Restaurants have 2 prices – local and Ferengi.