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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