(MissionNewswire) Young girls in Swaziland are among those most at-risk for dropping out of school and being victims of sexual exploitation and prostitution. Salesian missionaries in the country provide education and social development programs to help youth, particularly girls, have access to the shelter, healthcare, and nutrition they need to complete their education.
Swaziland is a landlocked nation almost entirely contained within the northeast corner of South Africa. The country faces numerous challenges including poverty, chronic food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and a climate that is often unpredictable. According to the World Food Program, nearly 25 percent of Swaziland’s children suffer from stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. New research from the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization has rated Swaziland as the unhealthiest country in the world with women and girls most at-risk.
The Salesian Zekhele Shelter in the city of Manzini cares for 14 girls between 8 and 21 years old. The shelter provides safe living accommodations as well as education. Girls in the program are able to focus on their studies, break the cycle of poverty, and live a healthy, productive life. The facility through is in need of some improvements.
The house has one large bedroom for all the girls, which means among other things, that it is very difficult for the older girls to concentrate on their studies. There is also very little space for their personal belongings. Salesian missionaries are in the process of raising funds to build a space that better meets the needs of the girls and offers a more suitable surrounding. Both the ceiling and floor need repair as well as new spaces need to be created for girls to study and for group activities.
Another Salesian organization, Manzini Youth Care, provides services to marginalized youth including free primary school for children who have dropped out of school due to poverty, two vocational training centers for older youth, residential care for former street children and a drop-in school for street children when they first come in off the streets. Manzini Youth Care also serves the communities surrounding the city of Manzini to help residents improve their living standards, sanitation and food security.
“The poverty in Swaziland is getting worse and during my 45 years here I have experienced so many really desperate cases,” says Father Larry McDonnell, director of Manzini Youth Care. “More and more the signs of an ever deepening poverty are knocking more regularly on our door. The programs we provide help to meet the most basic needs while providing the education youth need to find and retain employment and in turn give back to their families and communities.”
With 63 percent of the country’s population living below the poverty line, the risk of food insecurity is high. Swaziland also has elevated rates of unemployment and income equality.
Few farmers in the country own agricultural machinery such as tractors or plows and, as a result, must rely on manual labor and traditional farming methods that require them to spend long hours in the fields producing very little food. Unable to produce enough food to support its population, Swaziland residents are vulnerable to fluctuating food prices from food imports. In addition, many households are coping with the impact of HIV which affects 26 percent of those aged 15 to 49 and 42 percent of pregnant women. The high prevalence of the disease among breadwinners and caregivers further compromises food security.