Having been appointed "apostolic administrator" of the Diocese of Manzini in August 2012, I tried to make sure the diocese would not stop the projects being run in the country.
At the beginning of 2013, I was told that every year the bishop would make himself available to receive parents asking for financial support to pay the school fees of their children or relatives (HIV/Aids has affected badly the population of Swaziland and many families look after nephews, nieces, grandchildren...).
Being new in the country and, at that time, only the administrator looking after the place until a new bishop would be appointed, I felt it would be good for someone else to do it. "I do not know anyone..." I explained. "In most cases, neither the bishop knew the people. Just let us know when you can be available and we'll inform the people..." was the answer and so I did.
At the beginning of the year I remembered "our tradition". As the SACBC plenary would be held in Swaziland, I would not be available until the end of the month. People started coming at the beginning of January and they were told to wait until the 31st.
Early on Friday 31st I left the bishop's house to go to the office and from a distance I saw a crowd crossing the street. I thought they were going someone in town. Hardly could I imagined the fact that they were all going to my office and... they had slept outside all night. It seems they even organised themselves and, to avoid any problems among them, the distributed numbers according to the time they arrived.
I stayed in the office for eight hours, until our resources were finished. One by one they came and shared their story with me. At the end of the day we had helped 75 children to pay part of the fees. The rest would probably be paid in small instalments during the year. Some won't even make it and their results will be held by the school until they would finish paying.
School fees remain a challenge for our families. Unemployment is high but parents remain committed to sending all their children to school. As I request to see the results of the previous year I was amazed at a case of a couple of children who had "A" in nearly every subject but could not get a bursary to continue studying.
There was still a long queue outside the office by 5.30 pm. We explained we did not have any more money... People understood it.
Our resources come not only from friends and benefactors in other countries but also from the "Lenten Appeal" of the diocese, the collection made during the five weeks of Lent every year. It is a great sign of the commitment of Catholics in the country to share with those who need it most: in this case, the education of our children.