A shoulder to cry on
24 February 2007
by Angus Crawford

Part guardian angels, part neighbourhood watch, the workers, who are all volunteers are called "shoulders to cry on", in the local language Lihlombe Lekukhalela.

Mr Ndzima is a small, quiet man, with kind eyes and a firm handshake. "When I was growing up my father used to beat me a lot," Mr Ndzima confided.

"I felt that I would not like to see a repeat of such an upbringing, not just for my own children, but for all children."

So he got involved and has become a "shoulder to cry on" volunteer. One of his most difficult cases has been Zandile.

Her parents died and she was forced to go to the city. When she tried to return home she found her own grandparents had given the land over to squatters.

Mr Ndzima has taken Zandile into his family while he negotiates to get the property back. This is a common problem in Swaziland.

"It's very fulfilling to try to help Zandile and help protect her rights, but it has been very challenging to do this work."


Some people in the community see the volunteers as interfering in their private family business.

"I have been threatened, I have been abused verbally", he explained.

Some of his fellow volunteers have given up, but he has continued believing that good will prevail over evil.

"I had even been threatened that I'll be chased from the community"

This is difficult for them, both he and Zandile begin to cry, very quietly. My translator asks me to step away for a moment.

After a pause Mr Ndzima regains his composure and assures me that he will continue, because he believes in the work he is doing.

He explains a plan he has. He wishes to buy a maize flour milling machine. He sees the business value in it, people could come with their crops and pay to use it. The money raised would then go to support children like Zandile.

"I have great dreams - I wish every child like Zandile could grow up and live a fulfilled life like any other child."

His fellow volunteer Henry has a deep voice and a strong laugh. He is burly and intense and carries a bible in his hand.

"As a child of God, I have that heart of caring for each other - it's like a calling to become a 'shoulder'. At the end of the day we get no pay," he explained.

Orphans he says are often at risk of sexual abuse.

"They live with their guardians - sometimes the guardians take advantage and rape them and they become victims," Henry said.

At the moment he is working with 'Cynthia'. She was raped by a stranger on her way to school.

He offers her counselling and support. "We try to motivate her, tell her that she must look to the future, we try to tell her this is not the end of her life."

But he and his team are also helping the police to trace her attacker. He says he now knows who did it and that he is willing to follow the man and give him to the police.

'Cynthia' is grateful for Henry's help and support. "Without him my life would be in danger, I'd have ended up a mess," she said.

This network of "shoulders" now work with traditional leaders and community groups across Swaziland. During my time there I heard only one criticism - a head teacher told me there simply are not enough volunteers doing this kind of work.

'Cynthia' hopes to train as a nurse when she grows up.

Asked if she might become a "shoulder to cry on", she replied simply "of course".

From: BBC News, UK
© BBC News

This page can found at: http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/browse/countries/swaziland/doc/a-shoulder-to-cry.html