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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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
It has been stipulated that the WASH Project must be self-sustainable by the end of September 2020!
We thank you for being our Salvation Army
We will all think back with horror to those destructive fires that ravaged the Eastern and Western Cape during the winter of 2017. (Our 2017 Spring Reporter carried the tragic stories of how the Corson family lost their home, and brothers Wayne and Garth van der Riet lost their beloved parents who were trapped and killed by the fire.) At the time The Salvation Army helped by providing emergency blankets, food and clothing to those affected.
On December 12 last year, in excellent time for Christmas, both these families received the keys to their new homes provided by The Salvation Army, paid for by funding received by the Army’s emergency service. They were so overwhelmed, there was a general loss for words, until someone said, very simply “thank you for being OUR Salvation Army”
At 109 she’s still marching!
That’s right! Born in 1910, she became an officer in The Salvation Army when still young. Since then, she has devoted her entire life to serving the Lord through this great organisation, with a love that shines through everything she does. A little hard of hearing, she is still blessed with good sight and fine health. The Brigadier lives with her daughter in Vryheid, is a regular church-goer and is still active in the Army and her community, where she is dearly loved. Her grandson, Major Themba Mabasa, works at our Territorial Headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. May this great lady continue marching to the clarion call of The Salvation Army in great spirit.
Vote with your heart to help those in need
Right now, reading or listening to any business programme is so depressing, I suppose it is small consolation to be told that 2018 was the third worst financial year, worldwide, since 1901! Luckily there are glimmers of hope for change in South Africa with the coming elections.
We at The Salvation Army have, of course, felt the crunch badly that cursed the world last year – and like most South Africans are still feeling it – but being part of this incredible organisation, we are blessed with the belief that God will provide.
But for God to continue to provide He needs the vote of confidence from all of us. He needs to know that when we vote our hearts are in the right place. That we will choose those who will work in the best interests of the people of this country – not to enrich a few.
We must make it plain that we choose those who have the same compassion as we have – for the homeless, the poor, the hungry, the abused and abandoned, and often the misguided.
When you support The Salvation Army, you know that you are casting your vote for the Army that fi ghts for the right of these disadvantaged people to have a better life, whatever their age, their colour, their sex, or their background.
With your vote of confidence we can change people’s lives. We can help them renew their faith in a compassionate God – and through Him in humanity. Through the love and care we give unstintingly they, too, can learn to love again and, most importantly to trust again. Thank you for voting with your heart.