I will never forget you (Isaiah 49:15)

It has become a tradition. I never asked when it started. I inherited from my predecessor Bishop Louis Ncamiso Ndlovu OSM when I became apostolic administrator of Manzini in 2012. Every year in January, teenagers or their relatives come to the Catholic bishop for some help to pay their High School fees.

Initially, as I shared in the past, I would do this alone. My secretary would let me know how much we had been able to collect during the previous year and I would just help on a first come first served basis.

The system changed over the years. At a certain point I asked for the help of Caritas Swaziland. Those asking to be helped are then first interviewed by the Caritas team who checked their documents and family situation. After some days, they stop the interviews and prepare a report indicating those we should consider first.

This is, certainly, much better than before as it gives me a better picture of the number of people coming and their needs (fees change from one school to another). Unfortunately this also means they have to come twice. First to be interviewed by Caritas and later on to see me.

If the experience of the last few days could give us a picture of the situation of our country, there are real reasons to be worried.

The help we offer is never advertised. We just decide on the days and timeframe and we then wait to see who comes. Year after year the number keeps increasing. This year we reached 1500 requests. It had never happened before. Sadly, our funds could not match their need. We would only help 200 unless more help will arrive during the year. The full fees of these 200 students would reach one million Emalangeni (around US$75.000). We would only support them with a small percentage of that amount.

In most of the cases, their parents and relatives survive on selling vegetables, firewood, sweets, crafts or by doing "piece jobs". When that parent is sick or struggles with disabilities, it becomes even more difficult to support the child.

Though I did not check every single one, in many cases, they belong to big families with many children. If more than one is in high school, it becomes practically impossible for them to pay the fees.

It is the family situation that strikes me always. Hardly ever one finds a child with both parents at home. Most of them are single or double orphans as one or both of them have died ... or left them. They just disappeared. Normally it is the father who is gone but there were cases where even the mother left them. 

When I read in the book of Isaiah: 
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? (Is 49:15)
I always felt the answer was a clear "No. Never". I was wrong! Children are left with their grandparents or other relatives who "add" these children to the ones they already have. It is therefore not unusual to hear that "I am looked after by my sister who can no longer help me because she now has to look after her own children"

Though they had to come twice, this year we were able to help them in a different way. Schools were paid "online" and therefore they had no need to go to the bank (there are very long queues these days) to deposit our cheques.

Another difference I saw is that, while it was an adult who presented the request, it was mostly the children themselves who came to collect them which gave me a chance to meet them, even if briefly. 

Some brought letters thanking for our support. In one of the few cases where they have received helped for some years the letter said: "We are now in form 4 (they will finish with form 5). We would have never made it without your help".

Isaiah's passage does not end with a question. It continues. God says: "Though she may forget you, I will not forget you". This, I hope and pray, is what these few have been able to experience these days. I am deeply grateful to all those who here in the Kingdom of Eswatini and other parts of the world, choose to share with us so that God's loving touch reaches them. Grateful to the Caritas Swaziland team and those working at the bishop's office for all the work done for the last three weeks.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!