Aiding AIDS orphans in Swaziland

By  Andre-Joseph Cordeiro, Youth Speak News
  • January 6, 2009
{mosimage}BEACONSFIELD, Que. - At first glance, Sara Brouillette, 18, does not seem any different from other CEGEP students in Quebec, expressing worried chatter about the overload of last-minute assignments and exams.

But as soon as she begins to speak about Swaziland, it is obvious there is more to this young woman than meets the eye.

Brouillette had been invited in November to the St. Edmund of Canterbury parish youth group in Beaconsfield, Que., to speak about her work at the New Hope Centre, an orphanage in Swaziland for children whose parents have died in the AIDS pandemic. She has been a regular volunteer at the centre during her summer holidays since she was 15.

Brouillette’s interest in Swaziland began in 2005, when her mother had organized an AIDS conference with Health Partners International of Montreal. When the director of the orphanage asked her if she knew any teenagers who would want to come and help, Brouillette’s mother asked her if she would be willing to go.

Brouillette said her first response was, “Where’s Swaziland?”

But after a quick Google search, she agreed to go.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she now laughs. “I just wasn’t aware of the poverty. It was a culture shock.”

After working a few weeks at the centre, she had a crisis of faith in her work.

“It seems too much,” she said. “There is so much work to be done.

“It felt as if my small effort wasn’t going to make a difference in Africa. I might as well have sold my plane ticket and given the money to an organization.”

But after serious prayer and meditation, she found solace.

“I can help in some way. We are all a part of the same world.

“It’s like when you are in a plane and you look down from the clouds. You don’t see all the country borders that you see on a map.”

Brouillette explained some of the current conditions in the south African country.

“According to the United Nations, if nothing is done about the AIDS rate in Swaziland, there will be no one left in the country,” she said.

She emphasized that Swaziland, with its population of 1.2 million, has the highest rate of AIDS in the world, with more than 50 per cent of the population infected. She added that there is only a 10-per-cent employment rate, while many of the estimated 200,000 orphans in the country go uncared for, roaming the countryside, scavenging for food, often forced to eat frogs and crickets.

During one of her visits, after admitting to some of the children that she had never tasted a grasshopper, the orphans snuck one into her spinach. But the experience didn’t faze her.

“Even though many of the kids have experienced terrible things in their lives, you would not know it because of the smiles that light up their faces,” Brouillette said.

Once the children are brought to the centre, one of the first steps is to give the child a Christian name. Not only does this simplify life for the workers, but more often than not, the original SiSwati names are curses, given by witch doctors who oversaw the birth.

The children are then treated for their malnutrition through a stabilized diet and vitamins.

For more information on the New Hope Centre or to help, visit www.newhopeswaziland.com.

(Cordeiro, 18, studies media arts at John Abbott College in Montreal.)

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