Beauty, Poverty, and Joy Under the Baking Swazi Sun

Last week I went to Swaziland for a freelance assignment. The assignment was with Samaritan’s Purse UK, a charitable organization that does disaster relief and community development projects around the world. I went to Swaziland to take photos and write stories about the work Samaritan’s Purse is doing in a remote mountain community called Kaphunga.

This assignment meant a lot to me. I love taking pictures, I love telling stories about people doing inspiring work, and I love Swaziland. Basically this was my dream job. If I could do this kind of work every day of the year for the rest of my life, I would happily do it.

I’m still emotionally exhausted after writing my last post so I’m going to keep this one short. I really just want to show you the pictures.

I met this man moments after arriving in Kaphunga. I never got his name. He loved having his photo taken.

The proprietress of a shop in Kaphunga.

Kids outside the school house.

The most beautiful girl in Swaziland.

Samaritan’s Purse has two different projects in Kaphunga. The first, Operation Christmas Child, delivers Christmas presents (slightly belated, in this case) to children in need around the world. The second, the HOPE Swaziland Programme, empowers local churches to help solve problems facing their communities.

I arrived to find the entire village, hundreds of children and their parents, waiting in an open field to receive their gifts.

It was hot in Kaphunga. Like, Africa hot. My shoulders burned to a crisp (SPF 30 is no match for the Swazi sun) and I’m now shedding several layers of skin.

Waiting…

Waiting some more.

Finally the boxes of gifts were opened and distributed. Even once the kids got their boxes, they sat down patiently in the grass and waited for the official go-ahead to open the presents.

I think this little boy was overwhelmed at the size of his box.

Before the outdoor opening party began, I went inside the school where a smaller group of older children were receiving their gifts.

Pure joy. And he’s not even beyond the card yet.

It was unbearably hot last week in Swaziland, but in winter it will be cold. These kids will be glad to have new hats and scarves.

After the gift-opening, we went up the road to visit a family that is benefiting from the HOPE Programme.

This boy lives on a traditional Swazi homestead with his eight brothers and sisters. The children’s parents passed away several years ago and they are raising themselves. The oldest sibling is 20 and the youngest is 6.

While visiting this child-headed household, I spoke with Rev. Percival, the pastor of the local church. Rev. Percival told me that in this community alone, there are 150 orphans who he is doing his best to look after. He and the rest of his congregation are working to create income-generating projects to help the kids with school fees and with clothes, food, etc.

There are thousands of kids living this way in Swaziland. More than a quarter of Swaziland’s population is living with HIV, and most of them are living in poverty. This translates into LOTS of kids without parents. There aren’t enough adults in the country to care for them all.

At least there’s some hope.

Tekugana is 11. He’s also a member of the child-headed household. He didn’t lose that dazzling smile for the entire time I was there. He had just received his Christmas box and was thrilled to get a notebook with pencils and pens, which he was avidly writing and drawing with.

Saying goodbye to those kids was heart-wrenching. It didn’t feel right to leave them. But we didn’t have much choice.

We went from there to the home of another pastor, Pastor Joel, to learn about the bee-keeping project in the community. Pastor Joel keeps several beehives and also helps build them for other members of the community. The people looking after the hives are trained to harvest the honey and beeswax and sell it for income.

Pastor Joel did an interview with the videographers from Samaritan’s Purse.

“When the church started the beekeeping project, we started on a very small scale,” said Pastor Joel. “But already we have widows who are keeping bees. Orphan kids are keeping bees and using the money to pay for school fees and other needs.”

“The bees work so fantastically,” he said. “They are very small animals but they are doing important things in our lives.”

As I sat there listening to Pastor Joel, I felt a small body creep up from behind and crouch next to me. It was Joel’s daughter, Tenkhosi. We snuck a photo together.

I know, I know. I’m sure you’ve all had enough of my blurry self-portraits.

It was a good day, but a hard day. Just like my whole trip to Swaziland.

Kids heading home after the gift distribution.

This was supposed to be a short post. I should have known better.

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33 Comments

  • Reply mrsbr February 17, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Lovely photos – interesting post!

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

      Thanks! And thanks for visiting.

  • Reply Florence February 17, 2012 at 12:18 am

    It breaks my heart to see that this kind of poverty still exists, what guilt and shame I feel. I am glad that you captured these sad moments to remind some of us of the work that still needs to be done. Thank you Heather, the pictures tells a lot of stories. I love your blog and you are an amazing person.

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 7:05 am

      Thanks Flo. You are an amazing person too 🙂

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough February 17, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Amazing photos, Heather. Samaritan’s Purse did a lot rebuilding in Haiti. Guess the organization was started by Billy Graham’s son or is associated with him in some way?
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Hi Kathy, yes, Samaritan’s Purse was founded by Franklin Graham. I was working with the UK arm of the charity, not the US arm, but they are all affiliated. It was very interesting to work with them — I’ve never worked with a Christian charity before. I was impressed with their work and really related to it even though I am not a ‘Christian’.

  • Reply 1cruzdelsur February 17, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Wonderful story and best photos, like I wrote earlier in another comment. Rescued the smiles of children, very good post.
    Sorry for my English basics.
    A greeting…

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Thanks Cruz. Glad you’re coming back 🙂

  • Reply Sine February 17, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Hi Heather – agree with above, the photos are as always excellent and make the story come alive. I can imagine it was hard to leave that household of kids. We really don’t think of the reality of such lives until we see real people living them.

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 7:09 am

      Thanks Sine. Doing work like this is always a wake-up call. Puts everything in perspective.

  • Reply Tenney February 17, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Photographically, this is your best post to date. Dynamite stuff.

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 7:41 am

      Wow, thanks Dad. Think how much better I’ll be once I learn to use the selection tool!

  • Reply Debra Kolkka February 17, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Those children are extremely photogenic.

  • Reply Mark Wiens February 17, 2012 at 8:53 am

    All of these photos are simply gorgeous! One thing that will stick in my memory after living in Africa for so many years is the giant genuine smiles of kids (and adults) that sometimes never seem to fade. Great photos and an incredible experience!

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 9:10 am

      So true. Photographing people is different here than in other parts of the world. I never would have gotten into photography if I hadn’t come here, and it’s really because of the people.

  • Reply Tiny Bubble February 17, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Wow!!!! great work you have here. true pictures tell a story much better. thank you once again for the work you did for the Swazi community. IT was great working with you and the rest of the SP team. I really hope we could work together once again. Kaphunga will always remain in my heart after this. and yes, I too am peeling off skin even though I’ve lived in Swaziland forever, it was just way too hot there.

    Keep up the good work hey.

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Thank you Tiny, it was great meeting you last week. Glad I’m not the only one with sunburn.

  • Reply laurenbarkume February 17, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Amazing photos- I agree with your dad 🙂 I’m sure the organization was thrilled with the results, you really captured stories and the editing is great

    • Reply 2summers February 17, 2012 at 11:57 am

      Thanks, Lauren. I really appreciate that, especially from you.

  • Reply Owls February 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Fabulous.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish February 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Such incredibly beautiful children — you have a gift for catching their spirit. Just on a tech level, how do you get those highlights in their eyes? Is it just reflection?

    • Reply 2summers February 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks! It’s mostly just reflection in the eyes. But I’ll let you in on my little secret (learned from Jon): I pull the image up to 100% and then dodge the person’s eyes a little bit using the PhotoShop dodging tool. It brings out the reflection and brings out the highlights even more.

  • Reply Nina Neubauer February 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Heather, Thanks for sharing about other people around our world. It is always good to see and hear and to see how easily we can impact people’s lives and they can impact ours. Beautiful pictures and story telling. You are a true professional in every sense of the word!

  • Reply Munira February 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    What good work, bringing happiness into the lives of so many people. Sad, yet heartwarming post, this. I’m glad it wasn’t short, as I didn’t want the pictures to end…they were dazzling. And it’s lovely to see a self-portrait, blurry or not 🙂 I feel I should thank you for spreading the love!

    • Reply 2summers February 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm

      Thank you, Munira. I’m glad you enjoyed it and didn’t want it to end. That’s a really nice compliment.

  • Reply Lu February 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Simply beautiful work, Heather. The most beautiful girl in Swaziland sure is photogenic 🙂

    • Reply 2summers February 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      Yep, she sure is. Thanks Lu.

  • Reply sheryllrea February 25, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Amazing story, amazing pictures.

  • Reply Bongani July 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    1. God bless u.
    2. Thank u much for coming down to SD and helping, also making the world be aware of our crisis and maybe the Swazi government will take responsibility too.
    3.please don’t ever get tired of us poor Africans.
    4.Thumbs up.

    • Reply 2summers July 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment, Bongani. I love Swaziland and I’ll keep coming back. I’ll never get tired of Africa and its people, either. But I will also never think of you as poor 🙂

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