NKILONGO - Life is difficult for Mndeni Mlduli, a five-year-old Swazi orphan who is HIV-positive and on anti-retroviral medicines. But thanks to a neighbourhood feeding scheme in his community in rural Swaziland, he has regained the strength and energy he needs to play and be a child again.
Mndeni’s parents both died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2007 and he was left in the care of his grandmother. Mndeni was himself diagnosed HIV+ and began treatment when he was just ten months old.
At two years of age, Mndeni started visiting the Bhobo neighbourhood care point which provides orphaned and vulnerable children with two hot meals a day, psycho-social support and basic lessons. Bhobo Care Point is located in Nkilongo constituency on the Lubombo Plateau in the eastern part of Swaziland.
It is among 265 such centres supported by the Government of Swaziland, non-governmental organizations, community volunteers and UN agencies including the World Food Programme.
"We’re grateful, especially for the food, as Mndeni was in very poor health when he started going to the care point”, says his grandmother, 73-year-old Eselinah Mdluli. “He had sores all over his body and couldn’t walk long distances.”
Gogo (Grandmother) Mdluli, as she is known in the close-knit community, is also on anti-retrovirals. She became infected with the HIV virus in 2007 and is so ill that on some days she cannot get up from the grass mat she uses as a bed.
The family’s only source of income is a government grant that provides a monthly allowance of SZL200.00 (US $29) to elderly citizens above the age of 60. The Mdlulis also share this stipend with seven other grandchildren under Gogo Mdluli’s care.
They inherited these children from two daughters and a son who have left their village homes to seek employment in the main Swazi cities, Mbabane and Manzini.
“I buy food with the government money though it quickly runs out because we are so many in this family”, she says, sitting outside their grass hut. “But at least we can rely on the care point to provide food for Mndeni who is the youngest.”
Before he starts his lessons, Mndeni enjoyds a breakfast of hot fortified porridge. For lunch, he eats maize mash with beans. The caregivers say he is much healthier and more playful than he used to be. Bhobo Care Point provides support to about 55 orphans and vulnerable children.