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From Yellowknife to Africa - with love

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 24/06) - Orphans in the impoverished and AIDS-ravaged African nation of Swaziland got a helping hand this weekend from the other side of the planet - a group of Yellowknife parents and schoolchildren.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Children from the tiny African nation of Swaziland pose with Yellowknifer Jennifer Stroeder, who spent six months volunteering at an orphanage. Stroeder's parents helped raise $3,000 to buy the orphanage a plow, which will be used to clear paths and till soil in the mountainous country beset by AIDS and poverty. - Photo courtesy of Allyson Stroeder

Members of the St. Joseph elementary school community raised $3,000 for a plow that officials in Manzini, Swaziland will use to build a pathway from their hill-top orphanage to a nearby school. About $2,300 of that total came from a 15-family garage sale Saturday.

"What you see on television does not do the poverty there justice," said Allyson Stroeder, whose 21-year-old daughter Jennifer spent six months volunteering at the orphanage.

Stroeder and her husband Kevin went to Manzini, Swaziland's biggest city and industrial centre, in March for a first-hand look at one of the poorest nations in the world.

Swaziland is a droplet-of-a-country carved into the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Almost 220,000 thousand of its 1.1 million residents have AIDS, the highest infection rate on the planet, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

About 40 per cent of adults have the virus and the average life expectancy is 32.

The devastation has left tens of thousands of Swazi children homeless and destitute.

"They don't have toys. They don't have their own clothes. There were a couple of kids sleeping in a single bed," Stroeder said of the 33 children in the Manzini orphanage. Almost all had lost their parents and other relatives to AIDS.

The one thing officials wanted most was a plow for the front of their truck, Stroeder said. They could use it to clear a path through several kilometers of mountainous jungle, from the orphanage to a joint elementary/secondary school coincidentally called St. Joseph's.

The kids now walk, often alone, along a narrow path crowded by trees and thorny bushes.

Farmers could also use the plow to till the terraced fields around the orphanage.

"The best way to further advance a nation is through education," she said. "This could do exactly that."

But at over $3,000 Canadian, the plow was an "impossible dream", until St. Joseph teachers, parents and students stepped up, Stroeder said.

"It is really important to teach our students how to give to others," Campbell said.