In 2004, I began working at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College in Swaziland. This is a school about five hours drive from Johannesburg set amongst the mountains of a small landlocked country the size of Wales. WK, as it is known, was the place that Nelson Mandela chose to have his children educated. As a United World College, it recruits its students worldwide and they come to Swaziland to take the IB Diploma, the international alternative to A-level. These students get academic scholarships and come from far and wide. It also recruits younger students for the lower school from nearer home. Most of the students aged 12 to 16 are from South Africa and neighbouring countries with a sizeable number coming from Ethiopia and some from Europe.

A large proportion of the students boarded. In fact, most of the IB students did as most of them came from outside Africa. I lived on campus which was outside the capital city Mbabane on a hillside. The weather was hot in summer and cold and misty in winter.

In 2006, I began fostering two boys aged 5 and 9 who had been living in the paediatric ward of Mbabane General Hospital. The younger child was there because he had been beaten round the head with a frying pan by his step-mother. The older child had been resident there for about two years and had serious health problems. There are over 100 000 orphans in Swaziland, and if you know anything about the health crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, you will know why. I’m not going to elaborate. The only place for these orphans is the street or some underfunded government institution. There are multiple Church run orphanages in the country, mainly funded by American evangelical churches. However, there are far too many orphans. There is no culture of adoption in Swaziland. People rely on an extended family network and orphans tend to be looked after by distant relations but usually in an exploitative relationship.

Beketele, Sakhile and Paddy on my veranda at WK

There was another teacher at the school who had adopted a baby so I knew that adoption was a possibility. I had been working with the school on a community service project at the hospital. I discuss the adoption in more detail in another post.

Beketele was a woman whom I employed to look after my two boys when I was teaching. She also cleaned the flat and did the washing. I paid her well compared to other teachers and I treated her well as she did a great job. There were some staff who underpaid their workers and that did not impress me.

After I left Swaziland, I lost touch with Beketele. I enjoyed the chats I had with her. I would ask her how to pronounce certain words and she would tell me about Swazi culture. I was sorry to lose touch with her when I left Swaziland in 2007. I returned on holiday in 2013 and tried to locate her, placing an advert in the Swazi Times. I then heard from the housekeeper at WK that she was living in South Africa. I never did find her but I hope life has treated her well.

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