In Swaziland we helped out at a community center, probably one of our bigger challenges during our trip. The poor families in the town all lived in some old mining homes, built by the Brittish, which were small and sparse to begin with but were now quite run down, many of them having broken windows or none at all and none of them equipped to truly keep out the cold. In this neighborhood there were many parents who would go off to work every day and leave their small children home alone by themselves with no supervision and nothing to eat, cold and alone for the entire day.
When we first went to the community center, it had only just started around a week before. It took in these 3-5 year olds and gave them 2 meals a day, some medicine for those who were sick, a barebones preschool education and some love and attention. It was our job mainly to give them that love and attention, spend time with them, play with them, hug them, talk to them. Early on there were many children with vacant stares on their faces. They were uncertain of us at first, but after a couple days many of them were instantly excited to see us and would rush up to us for hugs, to be held and loved. They were starved for it, so much that they ended up fighting one another for our attention, clawing at one another and hitting one another. The ones who were not fighting were often staring off into space, unresponsive. It was psychologically and spiritually very draining and it was very difficult to bear more than a couple of hours of it each day.
Snethemba, in the picture with me, was one of the younger ones, and he was one of those vacant stares. If he wasn't vacant, he was whining or feeling sick or in some way miserable. I would help feed him sometimes, for he would often just stare at his food. It took him more than the usual couple of weeks to begin to look lively, but when he did I couldn't help smiling at it. Toward the end of our stay, he was standing with the other kids, getting into the songs they were singing, listening to the lessons, eating and often feeding himself, and playing a lot, even with other children. I don't know why my memory of him affects me as it does, but he just seemed special to me. There was such a great contrast between Snethemba when I first saw him and Snethemba when I said goodbye. The picture is from when he was first starting to warm up to people, a couple of weeks after arriving. It wasn't until then that he would even accept being held, let alone seek it out. That change was especially beautiful to me.