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Locals on mission for Swaziland children

Poverty poor ... but still a land of celebration for life, song and dance. People live in sod and tin huts not too far from elephants, warthogs and giraffes. Some larger cities have shopping similar to Rapid City, but outlying areas have rows of tin and open barter shops. The poor are poverty poor. LeeAnn Knutson, left, and Marlene Urban display costumes and homemade sale items.

by Del Bartels

LeeAnn Knutson, Marlene Urban and Curt Arthur worked in a school in Swaziland, southern Africa, as part of a mission trip from August 16 through 26.

Urban said, "Traveling to Swaziland to meet my sponsored child, play with all the children and work at the projects was a tremendous privilege. The need is so great." Children are sponsored by individuals, families and groups through the Mission of Mercy organization.

"We worked in a school, a care point, where kids as young as five carried younger siblings on their backs most of the day," said Knutson. "Three-year-olds would do the family laundry. One kid was blind, and the others would help him." Knutson said that the country is beautiful, but sick. An estimated half of the population has HIV and the average life expectancy is 33 years.

"All of our work there included having the kids right in the middle of us and with us," said Arthur. "That's what those kids need, being with them playing and working." Work at the projects included clearing and leveling ground to be made into a soccer field. Arthur said that the major cities in Swaziland have nice stores for shopping, similar to Rapid City. In the suburb areas of such cities as Mbabane where the mission group was working, there are crude tin shops and outdoor fruit stands. There, the majority of people live in sod houses.

"The rich are rich and the poor are poverty poor," said Knutson. "Though there is good soil and the rainfall is good, you have to understand that much of the crops, mostly sugar cane, are owned by the government. The country is a small kingdom, run by a king. To have more control over the people, he does not want them to know how to farm."

Only a few of the children can understand English. The Mission of Mercy school is teaching the alphabet and how to read and write. "You communicate with hugging, smiling, showing, pointing and getting along," said Arthur. "It's heartbreaking when you feed the kids their meal. When you see on TV malnourished kids lined up for their one meal a day, that's exactly how it is. And, if you give too much to some kids, some at the end of the line won't get any. That makes you think. I can't imagine having some kids left in line and having no little glob of rice left."

The three delivered backpacks of school supplies to the children that were sent by local church members. The children did not know about drawing with colors. The kids seemed to be delighted over every little thing. They ate everything, sometimes even the bones when served chicken.

"A traveling nurse, Jesse, visits the school every few weeks, is very taxed, with more to do than she ever can," said Knutson. "One child brought in died. Its mother, who has no means, energy or medicine to care for a sick child, was less upset than the mission team."

A presentation of their mission trip will be given at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, September 27, at the Community Evangelical Free Church west of Philip.