Life for children in Swaziland is far from a fairytale
The children of Swaziland's Ekuphileni Care Centre sit sprawled around Siphiwe Khumalo’s knees in a field of dry, yellowing long-grass outside their one-room preschool.
The valley is widely known as a resting place for royalty, and it is where King Mswati III, who has ruled Swaziland’s absolute monarch since 1986, keeps one of his many luxury homes.
Khumalo, who has been a pre-school teacher for nearly 20 years, begins clapping her hands and the children beam up at her attentively; she reads the title of that afternoon's book, “What You Need to Know About HIV and AIDS.”
The stark reality of life for the children living in "Paradise Valley" is far from an enchanting fairytale. Half of the 30 children attending the centre are HIV/AIDS orphans and several are infected with the virus as well.
Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. Twenty-six per cent of population is living with the virus and the average life span is 37.
“It’s good for them to learn about AIDS now, that way they can grow up knowing more than we did,” Khumalo says, “But what they really need right now is a place to sleep.”
Khumalo and other community members are fighting to have an orphanage built to house the estimated 300 orphaned children in the surrounding area.
“In this area, it’s become so bad, almost every house has taken in an orphan, I have three with me now. Their parents die of AIDS and then they are left with nowhere to go,” she says.
The orphanages in the nearby cities are at capacity and individuals living around the pre-school feel it’s important for the kids to remain in their own area, around family and friends, once their parents have died.
Not far from the pre-school is a community centre that was built several years ago by King Mswati III in an attempt to diminish the number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS in the area. He has opened similar centres in many rural communities across the country.
Vilakati Khanyisile, the secretary at the centre, who also plays the role of mother to four orphaned children, says that Mswati's attempt to hinder the epidemic - through the building of the centre - was not enough.
She says that although providing money to construct the building was a good thing, they no longer receive financial support from their government. The centre’s HIV/AIDS awareness programs run based off donations from foreign philanthropists.
The constant flux of foreign donations has caused major problems, such as unsustainable programming, and the donations are not enough to run an orphanage out of the centre.
“It should not be up to foreigners who come here to give us money, our own government, our own king, should be doing better, says Khanyisile.
Khanyisile has contacted government officials to inform them of her community’s needs countless times, but years of being ignored have made her distrustful and frustrated.
There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.