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Supporting self-sufficiency in Swaziland

Bringing up her six grandsons alone was a tough task for Nester
Bringing up her six grandsons alone was a tough task for Nester

At 68 years old, most people are thinking about retiring and slowing down. But not Nester. At the age of 68, Nester is ‘mum’ to her six grandsons. She cooks, cleans and looks after them, all whilst working long days to put food on the table.

Over the years this family has faced many struggles, but thanks to SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening programme in Siteki, they are now thriving. Our Family Strengthening Programmes offer vulnerable families, like Nester's, the pratical and emotional support they need to get back on their feet.

Struggling to survive

Nester Nkwanyana’s house is a busy one. When they aren’t at school the youngest boys, 9-year-old Phiwa and 10-year-old Njabulo, are always running around making mischief with their friends. But it wasn’t long ago that the house was a quiet place – there were often days when Nester and the boys went without food.

“My family joined the Family Strengthening Programme in Siteki when the oldest boys were still in primary school. Their father had just died from AIDS and their mother left the children with me. It was a big struggle,” remembers Nester. “Some of their school fees were taken care of, but I had to make up the rest, pay for uniforms, food, medicine – everything!”

A generation of orphans

There are many thousands of grandmothers looking after their grandchildren in Swaziland. The country has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world and many children have lost their parents - in 2014, UNAIDS estimated that there were 56,000 children orphaned due to AIDS. Life expectancy is just 49 years old. Many other children are left in the care of grandparents when their parents move to towns and cities to find work.


Nester, a beneficiary of our FSP in Siteki, Swaziland
Nester with five of her grandsons

To make ends meet Nester worked several jobs, from ploughing fields to selling firewood. “I must say that life at that time was very tough and some days we would sleep without food,” she says. Things continued like this for several years until, with the assistance of community members, the family was identified as needing the help and support of SOS Children’s Family Strengthening Programme.

“I remember the day when the coordinator of the Programme came to visit us,” says Nester. “I had this immediate sense of relief.”

After ensuring that the boys were able to continue going to school and had enough food, Nester as enrolled on the Programme’s dedicated farming project. Known as the Buhle Bemntfwana Cooperative, the project is designed to make local people self-sufficient whilst also giving them a stable income. Many of the other women in the Cooperative are also grandmothers caring for their grandchildren, creating a real community where every participant feels supported.

A bright (and healthy!) future

“Every morning after I’ve seen the children off to school, I go to the farming project,” explains Nester. “Now during the winter we only grow vegetables, but we have many types – beetroot, spinach, onions and tomatoes. Depending on how sales go, we will be planting more varieties.”

Recently electricity was installed in the village and the Buhle Bemntfwana Cooperative has gone from strength to strength. Water is now able to be pumped around the farm, making irrigation much easier. Since enrolling on the farming project, Nester and her family have had a steady supply of fresh vegetables and their health has improved. “I am so grateful for the project,” beams Nester, “I have learnt all about crop production which is such a valuable life skill. I am very lucky!”

We have been supporting vulnerable communities that have been devastated by HIV/AIDS in Swaziland since 1990. In Siteki, where Nester and her family live, we run a medical centre that offers specialist counselling and treatment to HIV/AIDS sufferers. Find out more about our work there.