SITEKI – In a community centre for children in rural Swaziland, the Honourable Minister of Health, Sibongile Simelane, stirred a bubbling corn-soya porridge in an aluminium pot over an open fire as if she had been doing this her entire life.
While the elderly women care-givers marvelled at this high government official doing such a humble chore, Simelane dished out the nutrient-rich porridge into plastic bowls for the 34 children who flock to the centre for early education activities and two hot meals a day.
“This is not the first time I am seeing WFP food,” Simelane told the small gathering of community members who had turned out to meet her. “As someone born in Lubombo, I’ve known WFP since I was a toddler. In this region, we often face food insecurity, due to challenging conditions. WFP came to our rescue.”
The Lubombo region is the driest and poorest of Swaziland’s four regions, a place where WFP has been responding to hunger and household food insecurity among the people for more than 10 years.
Simelane was making her first field trip to observe care programmes for people living with HIV and AIDS since her appointment to the cabinet in November 2013. Accompanied by Ministry of Health and WFP staff, she visited the Mzilikazi Neighbourhood Care Point (NCP) to see the food and social support programme for AIDS-affected children in action.
Herself a mother, Minister Simelane is a strong proponent of Swaziland’s NCPs, which have become second home to countless children in rural areas who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
“We’re coming from a period when we’ve lost a lot of parents and those who were also the breadwinners,” she said. “These small children are often alone in their homes. But at NCPs they learn life skills, they learn to share and to be patient, which will go a long way. What they have here is the spirit of sharing. That will make them ready for school and ready for work.”
Her next stop was the Good Shepherd Hospital where WFP is a partner in a Food by Prescription clinic. Food by Prescription provides nutrition support in the form of cereals, beans and cooking oil to malnourished people on treatment for HIV and TB and malnourished pregnant women. This allows them to start and stay on the medication they need to remain healthy.
The Food by Prescription programme is led by the Ministry of Health, Swaziland National Nutrition Council and WFP, and is implemented in 12 health facilities across the country.