Shifting the Flow: How Water is Helping Break the Cycle of Poverty in Swaziland Communities
By Beth Luthye, NCM Education
Poverty has no quick fixes. Cycles of poverty move under the weight of their own momentum. Lack of water leads to people’s inability to grow food. Lack of food leads to people’s inability to learn. Lack of education leads to people’s inability to work to support their families. Add to these shortages, waterborne illnesses and high HIV and AIDS prevalence, and the cycle of poverty not only turns but speeds up. In such an environment, children are left vulnerable to hunger, disease, and abandonment. And then the cycle of poverty circles on to the next generation.
But breaking this cycle is possible. In fact, for communities in Swaziland where the church has come together to address multiple needs in multiple ways, it is already happening.
A GARDEN OF CHANGE
In Luve, Swaziland, a group of 50 women has been coming together for a couple of years to tend a garden. They prepare the soil and plant the seeds. They cultivate the crops and harvest the produce. What happens on this plot of land provides more than just their next meal—it gives the group a way to thrive beyond simply surviving.
As individuals, each woman has been affected in some way by HIV and AIDS. Together, they are the Banqobi HIV/AIDS Support Group. Mary Magagula, who runs the Nazarene Home-Based Care Task Force in Swaziland through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, has been working with these women to develop and run this life-giving garden.
Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in the world, yet it has the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS. More than 26 percent of the million people living there are HIV-positive, but this rate jumps to 42 percent for women of childbearing age. Due to the disease’s prevalence, as well as other complicating factors of poverty, 15 percent of the country’s total population is comprised of children who have been orphaned or are considered vulnerable.
In Swaziland, the stigma attached to those who live with HIV and AIDS is unyielding. People typically do not speak openly about their status, but if a woman is known to be living with the disease, she can lose her job and her relationships in the community. She can even be kicked out of her home.
Before the garden, none of the women in the support group had enough food for her family or the means to buy it. Not only were these women desperate for a way to feed their children and grandchildren, but those living with AIDS also needed consistent nutrition to fight the opportunistic infections that often accompany the illness. Through the garden, however, they can now provide meals for their families. Selling part of the harvest at market even creates some income for them to cover other necessities, such as school fees for children. Through pooling profits, they also set aside the money they need for the next season’s planting so that the cycle of growing food and improving their daily lives can continue.
Beyond this, the women use the fruit of their labor to care for others in their community. Some of their produce goes to support ministries for children who have been orphaned or who are vulnerable, and some goes to the Nazarene Home-Based Care Task Force to provide for other families who are affected by HIV and AIDS. The group also uses profits from selling the produce at the market to help pay for hospital care and other needs of group members who are now too sick to work in the garden.
In a country extremely prone to drought, however, none of this would be possible without a water source.
WATER INTERRUPTS THE CYCLE OF POVERTY
Dr. Beauty Makhubela, NCM country coordinator for Swaziland, knows that water is one of the most critical issues in a country where 70 percent of the people live in a rural setting with little access to water.
“Now that the climate has changed and there is little rain again, the crops cannot grow,” she said. “There is a need for water.”
Through a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation, NCM’s Water for a Generation project, which began in 2009, is placing solar water wells in 50 Swaziland communities over three years. Into their second year of work, they have completed 19. These wells interrupt the cycle of poverty in the communities they service.
The Luve garden, for example, could not exist without a reliable water source. Since it sits on land next to a Water for a Generation system, the support group has a way to water their crops. According to Makhubela, the project’s leadership selected solar pump technology for Luve and the other water systems because many in rural areas in Swaziland cannot afford electricity. The Luve group, for example, earned about US $5,000 in their first year from their harvest—a profit that would have been significantly reduced if they had to pay US $10 a day to power an electric pump. Free from electricity costs, communities can pool their resources and save for future pump maintenance costs and repairs.
Access to water affects health in more ways than one. According to Makhubela, Swaziland’s water crisis is compromising the quality of rural health clinics.
“Most of the health workers find it risky to stay in rural clinics because of lack of safe water,” she said. “So though they may be dedicated to going [to the rural areas], they leave early to go somewhere with safe water.”
Without clinics, community members have no access to treatment for HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and other common diseases. For that reason, NCM connects all of the Water for a Generation wells to rural health clinics. Whenever possible, they also connect them to other ministries, such as schools, gardens, child development ministries, or support groups for those living with HIV and AIDS or epilepsy.
According to Patience Dlamini, head nurse at the Bhalekane Nazarene Clinic, before they got a well, they struggled to keep nurses on staff because there was no water at the clinic or the nurses’ housing.
“They would send tractors down to the river to collect water, but it was dirty and contaminated,” she said. “They had many cases of waterborne diseases.”
But people’s health has been better since the well introduced clean water into the community. Among the greatest changes is a marked improvement in infection control. Because of its increased capacity to deliver quality care, this clinic is now a central hub for getting HIV and tuberculosis treatment to rural communities.
Makhebula said that thanks to efforts like Water for a Generation, the Church of the Nazarene in Swaziland is known—and respected—for its holistic Christian approach to ministry.
“The Church of the Nazarene has focused on meeting all the needs of the person,” she said. “It could not be possible to offer preaching when the person was hungry or not learned—so the church built schools when there were no schools and colleges when there were no colleges. It was the same with clinics.”
Now the church is bringing water to the people in the name of Jesus. And in this powerful name, the cycle of poverty in Swaziland is losing momentum. The Water for a Generation wells are bringing healing waters to Swaziland communities—in the form of physical and spiritual health.
“We believe that water presents life,” said Cosmos Mutowa, NCM Africa coordinator. “And as we provide this source of physical life, we remind people that in Jesus, we have a fountain whose water is living water.”