NEW ROCHELLE, NY & MANZINI, SWAZILAND (Nov. 3, 2015) More than 2,100 youth received better nutrition thanks to a recent shipment of fortified rice-meals to the Salesian organization, Manzini Youth Care, located in the city of Manzini in Swaziland. The donation was made possible through an ongoing partnership between Salesian Missions and Stop Hunger Now, an international relief organization that provides food and life‐saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable.
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. 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 ploughs 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.
Manzini Youth Care was established in the 1970s and 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 works in the communities surrounding the city of Manzini to help local people improve living standards, sanitation and food security.
The donated rice meals are provided to students during the school day and serve as an incentive for families to send their children to school. As a result of the donation, students are thriving. Many have gained weight, suffered fewer illnesses and become more focused on their studies. Teachers are seeing better student performance in class, a decrease in absenteeism and an increase in program enrollment rates as a result of the feeding program. Included in the latest shipment of rice meals was soap, protein and nutrition bars and soccer equipment and clothing.
“Access to nutritious meals allows youth to be better prepared to take part in school activities and focus on their education,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Prepared students are more likely to learn valuable skills that will help them gain employment and break the cycle of poverty in their lives while enabling them to give back to their communities.”
Masekwene Care Point and Soup Kitchen was also a recipient of the rice-meal donation. The Salesian organization provides education and a feeding program that offers morning and lunchtime meals to more than 400 disadvantaged children. Close to 80 percent of the participants in the program are from single parent households.
For Gogo Gadlela, the Salesian feeding program helps to provide nutritious meals for her seven grandchildren that live with her in a two room house. She survives on very little government assistance and the income she makes from selling firewood. Her grandchildren are enrolled in school and appreciate the meals they receive there. During times of food shortage at home, the grandchildren must go to school without having had anything to eat for breakfast and only receive lunch when it is provided at the school. As a result of the rice meal donations, the grandchildren are being fed breakfast at school and attend regularly.
“The poverty situation 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 food donation is making a difference for our programs. We are sharing the rice with all seven of the poorer Salesian associated schools including two high schools and five primary. For many, the school meal is the only nutritious intake most of the children will get each day.”
World Food Programme – Swaziland