The Eswatini Nurses Association (ENA) is based in Manzini, Eswatini and provides services for health workers and their immediate families through their Eswatini Wellness Centre. The main aim of the Wellness Centre is to have a healthy and productive health care workforce which will then strengthen the health care systems of Eswatini. They provide holistic support for their clients – ranging from treatment of physical ailments, to psychological services, to HIV testing and treatment, to family planning, to rehabilitative services, and much more.

In Eswatini, the health care system is still experiencing a severe shortage of health care workers (HCW) due to difficult working conditions. There have been a variety of interventions and work across the country to reduce HIV burden, including stigma and discrimination, however, the burden of health workers caring for both clients and family members affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic is not yet over. 

In addition to their services at the Wellness Center, ENA also provides mobile outreach services to reach HCWs in their own communities and in their work places. These outreach services make support and health care more accessible for health care workers and their families.

Photo credit: Claudia Ramos
Photo by Kristina Laukkanen

Walking Together in Manzini, Swaziland 

by Peggy Edwards

When I arrived at the meeting place for the protest march in Manzini Swaziland, all of my senses were tingling. The smells from cooking pots of soup and maize porridge filled the air. The organizers had set up makeshift cooking areas where volunteers were handing out hot food and water to the grandmothers who had spent many hours walking or travelling by bus to the event, often with young children in tow. They were determined and jubilant but they were also hungry, thirsty and cold.  For many of them, it was their first time away from their rural village homes. 

People were chanting, singing and laughing as we got ready to march down the main street. The grannies wore colourful dresses and hats or scarves, wrapped elegantly around their heads. Some of the children wore T-shirts sporting Nike and Disney World logos—hand-me-downs sent in aid packages from North America.

Volunteers were handing out signs with slogans such as “Vive Canadian and African GoGos” and  “GoGos need pensions”. GoGo” is the Swazi word for grandmother.

I fixed my eyes on a tall but slightly stooped grandmother ahead of me, who was carrying a sign that said “No more AIDS” and a large purse. Later I learned that her name was Dembe. When her daughter died from AIDS, she had taken in a sickly infant. Dembe had no running water or medicines, and the health clinic was a 2-hour walk away. Her grandson, who was born HIV-positive, died just before his first birthday.

Now Dembe stood shoulder to shoulder with another grandmother who carried a baby on her back. She wore rubber sandals and used a walking stick to help maneuver the uneven pavement and muddy side of the road.  As we moved forward, I quickly learned that keeping up with them was no easy task. 

The streets were swelling with people now—older women, a few older men, children and teenagers. They had come together to demand their rights, an end to poverty and the HIV and AIDS pandemic, which has taken so many of the middle generation—their parents, children, teachers, nurses and community leaders.As we rounded a corner I caught sight of the main organizer of the march– Siphiwe Hlope, an activist grandmother from Swaziland. She waved us on, shouting encouragement in Zulu, Swahili and English. In organizing the march, she was defying the polygamous society under the King’s rule, the stigma around HIV and AIDS, and the lack of support that the grandmothers and young people needed and deserved.

Peggy and grandmother friend in Manzini

That evening, the African grandmothers read the Manzini Statement. They called on their governments and the international community to help the children who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.  They demanded food security, pensions, microcredit, education for all, affordable medicines, and an end to violence. The Canadian grandmothers in attendance bore witness to their strength and courage.

The closing line was “We are strong and we are not alone”. I knew in my heart that this was true. 

Peggy Edwards, a member of the One World Grannies, was one of 50 Canadian grandmothers who attended the Swaziland march and gathering in May, 2010.

Read the Manzini Statement