Siteki, SWAZILAND—Nester is a 68-year-old grandmother who is raising six of her grandchildren by herself.
Before joining the SOS Children's Villages family in Siteki, Swaziland, Nester struggled to feed and clothe all six of her grandchildren. She tried to earn enough money by ploughing fields and selling firewood, but it wasn't enough. Some days Nester and her grandchildren went without food.
"My family joined the SOS family strengthening program in Siteki in 2008," Nester said. "At the time, my grandchildren were registered with the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Fund, which meant that at least part of their school fees would be taken care of by government. I was still responsible for the difference, which I had to pay in installments. But I also had to buy school uniforms and food from the money I earned doing part time jobs like ploughing people's fields and selling firewood. I must say life was very tough and some days we would sleep without food," said Nester.
Her six grandchildren—all boys—were placed in her care for different reasons. The mother of the two eldest boys, Mzwandile and Alex, left them in her care seven years ago after her husband, Nester's son, passed away. The mother of three of the other grandchildren, Nester's daughter, is unemployed, and her husband is not in the children's lives. Her youngest grandchild, who is 9 years old, was left in Nester's care after the boy's father, Nester's son, left Swaziland for South Africa never to return.
Abandonment is not uncommon for children born near the SOS Children's Village in Siteki, Swaziland. Many children are orphaned by diseases such as AIDS or simply left in the care of their grandparents as their parents search for work outside the country.
The SOS Village in Siteki has more than 100 at-risk families in its family-strengthening program, which was established in 2009. Once Nester joined the program, the SOS village immediately paid for the grandchildren's tuition and their school uniforms. The family was also provided with food.
As a means to help Nester become self-sufficient, she was soon involved in a business cooperative that grows vegetables and other crops. The project provides income to Nester and other caregivers like her.
Photo: Nester works in the community garden as part of a business cooperative that SOS Children's Villages developed to put caregivers like Nester on a path to self-sustainability.
"I am participating fully in the farming project for the benefit of my boys, but I am also learning so much, Nester said. "Our life as a family has greatly improved as a result of the program and I am now hopeful that one day I will be able to face life without the help of SOS Children's Villages. I can see us getting there. We are able to have a balanced meal every day and the children are really doing well at school."
Nester's oldest grandchild, Alex, 22, has already completed college and now teaches at a secondary school in Siteki. He will soon be able to support his grandmother, his brother and his four cousins.
"It's a pity that I have just started working and have not received my first salary yet," Alex said. "I am prepared and ready to support my family. I would not be a qualified teacher had it not been for SOS Children's Villages. It also pleases me to see how well the other boys are doing and I can see a bright future ahead of us all. I am so grateful, even for the fact that from the garden project we have learned about crop production, which is a valuable life skill."
SOS Children's Villages has been active in Swaziland since 1989, when our first SOS village was built in the capital city of Mbabane. Today, there are three SOS villages in Swaziland where 420 orphaned and abandoned children are growing up under the care of a loving and trained SOS mother. Across the country, there are 439 families—including about 1,400 children—who participate in SOS family-strengthening programs. SOS also runs three kindergartens for about 300 children.