AIDS TRAINING - 23-27 JANUARY 2006 - Dwaleni

During the week of 23 - 27 January 2006 the first volunteers were trained at the Swaziland Reformed Church (Dwaleni). The training was given by three representatives from PSA (Project Support Association) which specialises in Home Based Care (HBC) projects. Logistically it was not a good time to have the training, as the Swazi schools were due to start on 24 January and many of the potential attendees have children who had to be enrolled at schools. However, this was the only time that we could arrange for the training without postponing it for too long. What we did not tell the potential attendees is that I was secretly relieved that the training fell within this week as I had received reports of a growing number of people wanting to attend the training and the 36 who had given their names were just too many to start with a HBC project.

On Monday morning the people started arriving and as the morning progressed the total number of attendees stabalised at 21 - more or less as many as I had prayed for and which I believed the Lord wanted there. The official opening of the training was done by the member of parliament for the Maseyisini region, Mr Magwagwa Mdluli, who, together with his wife have shown a great passion for caring for orphans (mainly due to AIDS) and vulnerable children.

During the course of the training a vast number of diverse topics were discussed with the group of trainees, including:

  1. What is home care?
  2. What to do when you are getting into the home
  3. Qualities of a good care supporter
  4. What is HIV/AIDS?
  5. How is the virus transmitted
  6. What are ARVs?
  7. Why is HIV different to other viruses?
  8. How does the body defend itself?
  9. Palliative care
  10. Orphan programmes
  11. What causes trauma and how do we handle it?
  12. Why do so many people with AIDS also contract TB?

Judging by the response of the group and the way in which discussions took place within the larger group, it was clear that the trainers had succeeded in catching and keeping the attention of the trainees. One of the trainers, a young girl with the name of Bongi did all kinds of strange things with the group when she felt that they were getting sleepy, playing ball games, playing "Sam says" games and it was a treat to see the old amagogo (grandmothers) jumping up and down and running races. This was all the more necessary as the ceiling of the church structure in which the training took place had collapsed a few months ago during a hurricane and we still had not been able to repair the ceiling, which meant that the boiling hot corrugated iron roof reflected its heat directly upon the people, making some of them very sleepy.

On Tuesday a storm broke over Swaziland and it was pouring with rain. I really doubted whether many people would turn up for the training, as all of the trainees had to come by foot, some travelling several kilometers in the rain. Not 21 but 26 people turned up! The story had started spreading in the community. Throughout the day it rained while the training continued.

On Wednesday we were very privileged to receive a high-profile visit. (By the way, overnight the attendees had grown in number to 36!) This was something of God's providence, I believe. On the Friday preceeding the start of the training, I received an e-mail from a Christian friend in Swaziland with the following words: On the 25th a team from the US government is coming to Nhlangano to assess what HBC people are doing. I will keep you updated as to the time and everything. I had extremely mixed feelings about this message. We urgently need funds to proceed with this project. Was this God's provision to supply the funds? At the same time I am still not convinced that God wants us to depend upon funds from secular foundations and governments for this work. Many secular organisations have some "strings attached" to their funding and as Christians we cannot always accept some of these conditions. I therefore decided not to say too much about this to other people, but rather to leave this in the hands of the Lord to show us the way forward.

To our surprise, when the team arrived, consisting of a delegate of Interchurch Medical Assistance, we found that this was an organisation representing a great number of churches in the USA who had also become convinced that the answer for churches working with AIDS projects did not necessarily lie with secular foundations and governments and they had decided to form this organisation to give help from a Christian background. There was also a representative from USAID as well as representatives from Swaziland's Department of Health present. I had asked our local member of parliament and his wife, mr & mrs Mdluli, to be present in order to welcome the visitors and on his side he had also arranged for someone from Swazi TV to be there to give media coverage to what was happening.

A number of people, including a trainer, some of the community leaders who were attending the training and some of our church members who were also trainees were then asked to go with the visiting team to complete some questionnaires. The response we got from the visiting team as a whole was very positive, but we also received extremely valuable advice to avoid pitfalls and mistakes which other people had made in the past - advice which we carefully took note of. The question of course remains whether this visit will lead to financial support for our HBC project. We have learnt to trust the Lord in this regard and we sincerely believe that He will provide as the need arises. We were informed that a program of approximately 15 minutes would be broadcast on what they had seen happening at our church. Our wish is not to promote ourselves or our church, but to make people aware that a small group of willing people can make a difference in Swaziland.

On Thursday we were honoured with another visit from a member of Parliament, this time from an area known as Zombodza. Mr Titus Thwala had also heard about the training of volunteers and he wanted to see first-hand what was happening but also came with a request that the project be eventually expanded into his area as well.

What is the next step? We now have to determine how many zones can be serviced by this group as well as to appoint zone leaders. We will also be planning a celebration service at which time we will hand out certificates to those who attended the training faithfully. And then we have to start working!

The three trainers of PSA: Thoko Mtshweni, Judy Colyn and Bongi Shongwe
Thoko giving a lecture to the trainees
Mr Magwagwa Mdluli, the local Member of Parliament for the area in which the Dwaleni church building is situated, together with his wife, Futhi
An attempt to keep the trainees awake within the hot and stuffy church building (in the middle of a typical African summer!)
A photo taken on the final day of the training with all those involved, including the trainers, the trainees and those who cooked for the group