It is a tradition I inherited from my predecessor, Bp Louis Ncamiso Ndlovu OSM. Every year in January I made myself available to meet those asking for financial support to pay their school fees.
I would choose a day, my secretary would tell me how much money we have been able to collect to be of help and then welcome and listen to each one of them.
Last year we made a change. We feared we were not of help to those who might need it most. We needed to get a full picture first and then select those most in need.
Our resources are always limited and we cannot help everyone. On top of that we can only help with a little bit so that children are able to start the year. Families, slowly, would finish paying during the year.
Therefore I asked our "Caritas Swaziland" to give me a hand. People had to come twice. The first time to meet the Caritas team and the second one, to meet the bishop.
This year we decided to do the same.
Having been away for the meeting of the bishops in Pretoria, I had no time to follow the process. Only on Saturday afternoon I was able to see the list of those who would be coming to see me on Monday. There were 202 names… in need of an amount of nearly 900.000 emalangeni!
Many more than last year. Last year, in fact, we had 202 requests and we could only help 150 of them.
Monday, before starting welcoming them (one by one!) I asked the "Caritas Swaziland" team how many people they had interviewed the week before. The answer caught me unprepared… 621!
I had only one day to meet them because I had to leave again the diocese to attend other appointments so I asked Fr Mahazule to help me.
One by one came with their results from last year and a report from Caritas giving me a picture of the family situation and why they had been chosen: single and double orphans leaving with their grandparents, parents alive but left the family, child headed families, unemployed or under-employed, lost everything due to the lack of rains… So much suffering!
In one case a child with brilliant results last year came on her own having heard from her parents they would not be able to pay her school fees this year. She did not want to stay home. Once she heard we could help her start she was able to negotiate with her parents the rest of the fees. Would all the others be able to finish paying…? We can only hope and pray they do.
At the end of the day (nearly 12 hours in the office) I was grateful to all those who in the country and abroad “help us help others”. No one would like to have these teenagers home dping nothing. I was also grateful to the Caritas team who interviewed so many families. Still, it left me wondering why... why the number had increased three times in one year... how many more never know where to be helped... what those we could not help would do now...