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Building Hopes & Dreams in Swaziland

Mar 22, 2010
by Liz Daube, '05

Peace Corps Alums working with HIV/AIDS children in Africa

Making a difference in Swaziland is no small task. Roughly 25 percent of children in the African country have contracted HIV/AIDS. In the rural area of Gamula, about 70 percent of the community is unemployed, most living on about a dollar a day. As Peace Corps volunteers, Tristan Estes and Rachel Manring are doing their best to make everyday improvements there.

Now the 2008 graduates live in a stone and mud house without electricity or running water. At Flagler, Manring studied communication and Estes was a theatre major. To prepare for their move, the married couple completed two months of training on topics like health, culture, safety and language — a particular challenge, Manring said, because siSwati is “full of clicks and sounds that don’t exist in English.”

They have also battled frequent illness since their departure to Gamula, including Manring’s bout of swine flu in September. But despite the challenges they face, Estes and Manring are enjoying the chance to stretch their boundaries, live with a host family and become part of a new community. Manring’s main tasks are working with school health/anti-AIDS clubs and running self-confidence building workshops for orphans and other vulnerable children. Estes primarily works at a clinic and a preschool, in addition to helping with the workshops.

“These children often feel unloved, hopeless and depressed,” Manring said. “Confidence building is vital because if children feel good about themselves and know that people believe in them, they are more likely to believe in themselves … A better value of life leads to hopes and dreams for the future, which leads to positive decision making.”

Estes said sustainable development work is never a quick fix; he and Manring hope the workshops’ most immediate effects will be improved grades and school attendance.

“Development work isn’t just about building huge structures and throwing money at problems,” he said. “It’s more about interpersonal and small-scale things that can empower people to change their lives.”

The resilience of the community has surprised and sustained Manring during the tough adjustment to life in Gamula.

“Most of the people in our community have been through so much … death of family members, disease, hunger, drought, lack of clean water, emotional trauma, the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS, and abuse,” she said. “They make it through another day, support each other the best they can, and simply try to enjoy their lives. They genuinely want to improve the quality of life for themselves and their community members. This is what inspires us and makes us glad to serve.”

 

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