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February 25, 2021
When you become used to things, it's easier to take them for granted. Whether it's food, a safe home, or relationships that have been in your life for years, it's easy to brush things off as if they'll be there forever. But everything in this world is temporary. What you have today can be gone tomorrow, and that's especially true in areas that already have so little.
In landlocked countries like Eswatini, Swazis struggle with extreme poverty and hunger. Job opportunities are few. People live on less than US$1.90 per day. Most households have no financial resources, and many of the children are malnourished.
What makes things worse, however, is when there's a drought in Eswatini. Droughts are common in Southern Africa. Swazis know that this is a natural disaster that they should expect and prepare for. But sometimes their preparations aren't enough. When severe droughts in Eswatini ravage the land, Swazis go without many of the necessities that you may take for granted.
A terrible drought in Eswatini
From 2015-2016, Swazis encountered the worst drought in decades. Known as the El Niño drought, the natural disaster extended into every part of Southern Africa, and it even hit Ethiopia.
In a country where farming is the primary source of money and food, the lack of rainfall had devastating effects on Swazis. For example, here are just three things that the drought in Eswatini negatively impacted.
The most obvious consequence of a drought is a lack of water. The Hawane Dam, which supplies clean water for Mbabane, the capital of Eswatini, was at 17 percent capacity during the drought. Eventually, the supply became so low that the government had to start rationing.
Starting in August 2016, Swazis living and working in Mbabane had their water turned on for two days and then turned off for four days to reserve as much water as possible. This pattern continued until there was enough rainfall, leaving Swazis little room to practice good hygiene, maintain their health, and have a good quality of life.
However, the Swazis in the capital weren't the only ones affected by the lack of water. Those living in communities throughout Eswatini were also suffering. Many Swazis were literally dying of thirst because they had no water.
During the El-Niño drought in Eswatini, maize production, a staple in the country, dropped by 31 percent in 2015. Experts predicted that production would lower even more during the 2016 crop season, putting a minimum of 300,000 Swazis in dire need of food and water.
This inadequate food supply left many families and children in challenging situations. In 2015, Heart for Africa, a faith-based humanitarian organization providing hope in Eswatini, learned that each of their church partners had noticed a 25 percent increase in the number of children seeking food.
The significant growth in hungry children was a result of bad harvests in previous years. In Eswatini, maize is planted in October and November and harvested between March and April. Afterward, farmers dry and store their maize so that their families can eat it until the next harvest.
However, a decade before the drought, harvests started to decrease, which meant that maize didn't last from one year to the next. Typically, Swazis would use the "early rains" that began in September and October to plant a garden for quick, healthy food. Yet, doing this required Swazis to sell a cow or some goats to buy seeds and fertilizer.
But because the drought was killing cattle, there was no way to buy seeds or fertilizer to build gardens. And even if Swazis could get the money, the gardens wouldn't be fruitful since the earth was dry and cracked.
The lack of food and water in Eswatini led to another challenge. Unfortunately, Swazis are experiencing an HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, Eswatini has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world.
When a drought occurs, Swazis living with this disease have it particularly hard. Many Swazis on antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS stopped taking their medication during the drought in Eswatini. With proper nutrition playing a significant factor in whether the treatment is effective, Swazis with HIV/AIDS didn't see the point in paying for the medication.
Without food, the treatment wouldn't work. During the El Niño drought, Swazis with HIV/AIDS had to first focus on affording food and water before they could put money towards a medication that is only successful with food and water. But without the treatment, Swazis with the disease increased their chances of dying from HIV/AIDS.
Becoming water-secure in a drought
A drought is never easy to go through, and the El Niño drought in Eswatini made that clearer than ever. But what also became clear during that time is that good things can come from difficult situations.
Heart for Africa, which provides children's homes for orphans and vulnerable kids in Eswatini, found a light at the end of the tunnel. And it led to water security, a gift that Heart for Africa may not have had if the organization didn't find itself in a dire situation.
During the drought, two of Heart for Africa's dams went dry, and their third one was too low for them to put confidence in. They couldn't use it to pump water or irrigate their crops, and they had no way of telling how much drinking water was left in their wells.
On top of that, the staff at Heart for Africa had someone survey their property to see if there was any water in the ground, but unfortunately, they learned that the earth was dry as ever. There was no water to be found, which meant they couldn't drill another borehole to get the water they needed.
When all hope seemed lost, Heart for Africa eventually discovered seven natural springs on top of a nearby mountain. Even during the drought, these springs still had water flowing through them, and that changed everything.
Despite the high price tag and tough conversations with board members and donors, Heart for Africa raised $850,000 to build the infrastructure that would get the water from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Of course, the project took a lot of patience, hard work, and perseverance to complete. But it allowed Heart for Africa to become water secure so that it always has the resources to provide for its children, staff, and community.
The beauty found in a drought
Water security wasn't the only thing that Heart for Africa achieved during the drought in Eswatini. The organization also discovered beauty in the midst of turmoil.
When their dams went dry, Heart for Africa didn't just notice a lack of water. They noticed an opportunity. Their dams were full of mud, but the staff decided to use the damp earth to develop the famous SwaziMUD products by Khutsala Artisans, a Heart for Africa initiative.
Using the pottery barn and tools that passionate volunteers had donated a year earlier, Heart for Africa and Khutsala Artisans started making its own ceramic beads straight out of Swazi mud. These beautiful pieces of jewelry are a constant reminder that anyone can find beauty amidst pain.
Even during the worst drought in Eswatini, the staff at Heart for Africa and Khutsala Artisans found a reason to smile. They saw the positive when everything around them looked negative. And today, the SwaziMUD products are still providing light in people's lives.
This jewelry line is a customer-favorite, and when people learn the origin story behind SwaziMUD products, they fall in love with them even more. These pieces of jewelry remind people to look for the good in difficult situations. And if you want to have that reminder with you wherever you go, buy Khutsala Artisans' SwaziMUD products. Not only will you have beautiful jewelry to wear, but you'll also have an encouraging story to share as well.
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