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Northern KZN awash with hope

Steering committee members arrive from far and wide

The trip into the heart of Northern KZN takes you through some glorious scenery – the majestic Amajuba Mountains, carpeted with pink, mauve and white Cosmos as Easter approaches, through flatter, once-rich, coal mining areas into Vryheid. Then deep into the sparsely populated, undeveloped really rural Zululand, steeped in centuries-old traditions and today’s scourge – no water. Here life is unbelievably hard.And here, on a recent trip to The Salvation Army’s Northern KZN Division I experienced the true spirit of Ubuntu.

Often translated as “I am because we are,” its deep-seated, spiritual meaning is “humanity towards others”. The depth of caring by these people who have nothing was absolutely overwhelming. Sharing their happiness and eternal optimism in the face of their unrelenting hardship was also a lesson in loving.

This Division stretches from Vryheid to Nongoma, 300 km north of Durban and includes Ulundi. The three-year drought (2014 – 2017) crippled the area. Water became a luxury few could afford. At times families went for days without. They treasured what little they had for drinking and cooking. Thankfully the recent rains have filled some of the smaller dams and the rivers are fl owing. But these communities have never had clean running water. They drink the river water, dirtied from cattle walking through it and family washing being done in it. It is the most unsafe water there is. And the people walk many miles a day to collect it.

One of the community members who welcomes the WASH project

Introducing the WASH Project

In our cities we understand that clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene are essential for human survival – and for the growth and development of children and communities. But how to bring these essentials to these isolated areas?

Some years ago, the exciting WASH Project (an acronym for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) was developed under the guidelines of the World Health Organisation. It has run successfully in Kenya and Zimbabwe and in 2017 was brought to Northern KZN. Funded jointly by Australia and Switzerland, here the project is being channelled through The Salvation Army.

Five regions and eleven villages have been selected to participate. While the entire project has several objectives aligned to water, sanitation, health and hygiene, the primary aim is to provide clean, running water to the area – a basic right it has never known.

A team of strength

The Salvation Army has appointed a three-person WASH team – Ms Siphiwe Mngadi – Manager, Ms Zama Shelembe – Finance Officer and Mr Mkhanyiseli Mhlongo – Field Co-ordinating Officer. They are engaging with communities, government departments and service providers such as municipalities so that drinking water becomes a basic service. My colleague and I joined the WASH team and our newly-appointed Northern KZN Divisional Commander, Major Thomas Dlamini, to meet the steering committee in the Bhekephi village, one of the project participants.

We left at dawn, coping with rocky, pot-holed roads still wet and slippery from, overnight rain. The journey was slow – bad roads, cattle and goats crossing or grazing unconcernedly, chickens foraging, and people streaming in early to get the freshest possible river water. Many children spend their days collecting water – and miss school.

The state of the roads in northern KZN

Eventually we stop at the top of a hill next to a tree – our venue for the meeting. From far and wide people start arriving. They sit on rocks under the tree, or on the ground. No time is wasted. The meeting is opened with a prayer. Introductions are made, a progress update is given, questions regarding WASH are answered. The meeting closes with another heart-felt prayer, reflecting the hope in everyone’s hearts. The meeting has been attended by community leaders and members.

After the meeting I chatted to Mrs Bongekile Zulu (40), the Chief’s wifewho looks after their three children and is very active in the community. She walks to the river daily for her family’s water needs and is extremely excited about WASH.

I also spoke to Mr Mbongeni Mkwize, a spritely 76-year-old. A now-retired former hospital worker, he and his wife are cattle farmers. They live with their children who’ve given them ten grandkids! Each day it’s an hour’s walk to the river to collect their household and animal water needs. The thought of running water has this gent excited about growing some crops to be self-sufficient.

Mrs Velephi Zulu (60) is proud of her long association with The Salvation Army and tells me how she treasures the blankets we’ve given her over the years.

Heading back to Vryheid, I feel quite overwhelmed. It’s hard to believe there are so many people in our country who still have no access to clean drinking water or toilets. Visiting this community and seeing their struggle first hand makes me realise how blessed I am and just how much we take for granted. Despite their hardships there’s a wonderful feeling of excitement and optimism. Here Ubuntu is a thrilling, living way of life.

Team manager Siphiwe Mngadi with Mbongeni Mkwize (76)

Homeless woman finds her salvation

A homeless woman and her son, lost and not knowing how to cope, found end of September 2020! themselves in Carehaven, The Salvation Army’s Cape home for abused and abandoned women and children.

Their stay in this loving and caring home gave them the strength to go forward and face the future on their own. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, found difficulty in expressing her deep appreciation of what she learned during their stay.

“First things first, all I can say is that The Salvation Army Carehaven has played a huge part in my life. The people have taught me to always put God first, then myself and everything else second. That has helped me and my son a lot! Even though he is a little bit naughty … no a lot… what I learned is to persevere ‘druk deer’… and never to lean on my own understanding. I even found my sense of belonging and without that I was lost. I didn’t know right from wrong. My life began after I spent some time at Carehaven. It’s been a privilege to have been there and meet the people I have. Thank You and Thank You again.”

The WASH project’s ripple effect

With the WASH team and steering committees in place, this project is already making waves. “These communities have become like family to us,” comments team manager Siphiwe Mngadi. “Appropriately we start each meeting with a prayer, taking this wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with our new colleagues on the steering committee. This strengthens the hope that this project has already kindled in the community heart”.

This small waterfall seems to symbolize the WASH project

Zama Shelembe, the team’s Finance Officer, agrees. “Yes, this is an opportunity to serve God differently, she says. “When God says ‘I will make a way’ wherever we go, doors open. Through this project, we see God working His wonders!”

Analysing the options available for Project WASH, ground water from borehole proved to be the best solution as it is less likely to become contaminated than surface water from sources such as dams and rivers.

Nine of the villages will get a total of 20 boreholes. Two villages have natural springs, which will be upgraded. All five regions will together get 100 longdrop toilets; central watering points will include schools. The first borehole will be sunk by the end of March this year. Thereafter, municipalities will be responsible for maintenance. To harvest rain water, Jojo tanks will be strategically placed in communities. Next on the agenda is the installation of toilets and hand basins in schools. A vital aspect of the WASH Project is to ‘build up’ children – give them the courage and confidence to face the world. In addition to kids who miss school to collect water, at ‘that time of the month’ teenage girls would miss it due to lack of toilets. Now they’ll be able to make school a priority. They will also be weaned away from the archaic sexist practice of forced teenage marriage and generally be brought into an enlightened 21st century.

The WASH team (L to R) Mkhanyiseli Mhlongo – Field Co-ordinating Officer,
Zama Shelembe – Finance Officer and Siphiwe Mngadi – Manager, with Major Carin Holmes,
in her role as editor of this newsletter.

Schools will also be assisted by having their kitchens improved: having water to clean, cupboards to store things in hygienically instead of on the floor, getting safety education – like keeping gas outside to prevent fires. The Department of Health will also be brought in to promote acceptable standards – such as the need to wash hands with soap before and after eating or going to the toilet, as this can save lives; how good hygiene can prevent disease. Behaviour change will be a gradual process that will involve considerable hard work with communities.

Fresh food gardens will be established in schools to improve the quality and availability of food served. The education of children will inevitably lead to them passing on new standards of hygiene to their parents. To foster this, school clubs will be formed and ‘hygiene ambassadors’ chosen to promote good hygiene among parents and carers.