From March 1st – April 16th, join the Hands at Work family around the world as we pray for 40 Days on behalf of the most vulnerable children in Africa and our work to support them. Thandeka represents one of thousands of children being cared for by volunteer Care Workers across the communities Hands at Work supports. Read her story and join us in prayer by downloading the 40 Days of Prayer Guide.
Bhandeni Community, Swaziland
‘Thandeka, that’s a beautiful name. What does it mean?’
‘Thandeka means someone who is loved by everyone. It means that I am always laughing. There is just no way for me to stay angry.’
‘I think that’s a good name for you, Thandeka. I can tell that many people love you. I’ve heard that you have an amazing story to tell. Could you share that with us?’
‘Oh yes. I do have a story.’
Thandeka sat on a rock in a dusty, dry yard surrounded by four simple huts. She started to share about her life – her struggles, her loss, but also her courage and tenacity to live life to its fullest.
She was born in July 1998 in rural Swaziland. Like many families in this village, Thandeka’s family faced consistent challenges which threatened life on a daily basis. Thandeka shared that her earliest memory was the loss of her mother, when she was only four years old. She spoke of her mother just ‘disappearing one day’ as both a matter-of-fact anecdote, but also with a deep sense that this early experience would go on to shape the rest of her life. Rocked by the loss of his wife, Thandeka’s father abandoned her and has not been a constant presence in her life.
Thandeka moved around to many different homes after she was left without parents. Most people she stayed with did not have the means to provide and support her, including not being able to give her an education. For six years she had to sit and watch other children walk to and from school in their uniforms, but when she turned 10, she was given her very first opportunity to attend school The Swaziland government made primary education free for all, opening the door of possibility and a future for thousands of children like Thandeka. On her first day, she sat in a classroom filled with children four years younger than her. Nevertheless, she was determined to make the most of this opportunity. She diligently set about working hard to read, write and learn subjects she had only ever dreamed of studying; often staying up late at night and waking early to study and review her work. School was a joy for Thandeka, but not always an easy journey. Thandeka recalls, with a deep sense of sadness, when she became sick four years into her schooling, causing her to miss an entire year of school. When she got better, her strong spirit willed her to walk back into a grade 4 classroom at age 15. ‘I’m now good’, Thandeka says, with a courageous smile on her face, ‘I’m now Thandeka, the one everyone knows’.
Thandeka recalls a time when she went to help her friend, Estel, fetch water one day across the border in Mozambique. ‘There was a drought’, Thandeka said. ‘There was no food and there was no water. We would go to Mozambique to find water to wash in and to drink’. While on their way, Estel shared her own story with Thandeka and it was not long before she realised, with shock but a huge delight that Estel was, in fact, her cousin! Estel’s mother, Alice, was Thandeka’s aunt.
When she was 16 years old, Thandeka moved in with her aunt Alice in the community of Bhandeni, Swaziland and Estel brought her to the Care Point in her community. There are no schools in Bhandeni, so Thandeka must walk for 2 hours through the mountains to get to school, rain or shine. She wakes up at 3 am to review her school work, and then leaves her home at 4 when it is still dark out.
Today, both Thandeka and Estel are being cared for by Bhandeni Community Based Organisation (CBO). They are given daily support with food in the difficult season of drought, access to basic health care and education through the provision of a uniform and school shoes. The children are provided with nutritional supplements to eat before their long walks to school – which they have affectionately name ‘potja-potja, meaning ‘squeezy-squeezy’ – as they squeeze the peanut paste into their mouths.
The love and care of local volunteer Care Workers who have a heart for vulnerable children like herself, have made Thandeka feel valued and special. ‘They wait for us’ she says, knowing there will be devoted, mother-like figures awaiting their arrival at the Care Point each day. But as Thandeka fondly shares, it is the visits these Care Workers make to their home that communicates the best message of all.
‘When they come to see us, it shows us that we are loved’, Thandeka says.
Amelia, Thandeka’s Care Worker, visits her at home on a Saturday. Thandeka, now 18, wants to finish school and become a doctor. And her dream?
‘I want people to call me when they need help. I’m Thandeka: the one that everyone loves’