Buyaphi Mahlalela

Child and Youth Development Coordinator SOS Children's Villages in Swaziland

When everything seems to have failed…

Watch the story trailer

I cannot forget that one Wednesday afternoon when three primary school pupils from the village where I was working came into my office after school and closed the door. These children normally come to my office like any other child in the village, but they usually do not bother to close the door. On this particular day, I could read it from their eyes that something was troubling them. At first they looked at each other trying to make a signal as to who exactly was supposed to start the conversation. As I cleared my voice and asked them “What can I do for you?” Thando[1] surprised me when he said “Anti, we need to talk to you about something that is troubling us and we need your support.”

The children told me of their friend at school who was not under the care of SOS Children’s Villages, but was suffering because of a certain medical condition. They narrated how he misses school sometimes because of the illness and his parents did not have the means to support him as both of them were not employed. What really touched me about the children’s story was when one of them said. “We know that he is not budgeted for as he is not living with us here at SOS, but he is also a child in need.” The children’s action challenged me to use my heart and not my mind, especially in that given moment.

I remember going to the school of this boy with the social worker. My heart was telling me: “You need to do something and you need to do it now!” My meeting with the teachers and the child was very fruitful as I got to understand the child’s situation even better and up to this day, I see my children as heroes to have taken the courage to support another child against all odds. Manqoba[2] told me how the sickness started and how his parents have tried to get medical assistant for him, but in vain. What worried him the most was that he felt everyone around him, including his parents, has given up on him getting better. He told me that he was no longer staying with his parents, but has moved in with his grandparents and that he does not know when they will also get tired because now he is fifteen and has been in this condition from the age of four. These words really touched my heart!

I organised a meeting to see Manqoba’s parents. They narrated how they have moved from one government office to another without getting any help. This statement made me think of my networks and how they can help the child. Together with the parents and social worker, we managed to go to a few government ministries where we know there are resources available to assist children like Manqoba, and from that day on, there have been a number of organisations including the government supporting this child. Manqoba will be going for an operation in South Africa before the end of this year and funds will all be covered by the government. Manqoba’s parents are happy to see what has been done to support their child to such an extent that they have taken him back to their home. My children who reported the case are always telling me how better their friend’s situation is now and looking forward to the operation which we all believe will be successful and Manqoba will live a normal life like all other children.

[1] Original name has been changed to maintain confidentiality
[2] Original name has been changed to maintain confidentiality

Buyaphi Mahlalela

works as Child and Youth Development Coordinator at SOS Children's Villages in Swaziland and is responsible for child protection.

I joined SOS Children’s Villages in 1995. Through these years, I have worked in various departments. I assist, support and offer guidance to SOS parents with the aim of reaching the vision of creating a loving home full of respect for the rights of the child. I work with the pedagogical (childcare) staff to plan and support each individual child’s development programme. Attending the Harvesting workshop is a great chance to learn from other colleagues from around the world and also share my experiences with them. 

I come from a family of six girls and I am the third born. All my sisters have children of their own and some of them are now adults. Myself, I am a single adult. I adopted my sister’s son who has just completed his first degree at the University of Swaziland and is still looking for a job. The greater joy I am blessed with is spending most of my time with SOS children and mothers – all together, a greater part of my family!

Our Swazi society embraces and holds high, the principles of ubuntu – a socio-cultural and ethical value. With ubuntu, we feel being one big family and offer greetings to other persons you meet on the streets is the first sign of recognition of the other as a human being. I love to encourage our children to do the same. It gives me joy to share in the joys and sorrows of the community I live in. I make sure that I attend weddings and funerals because this is very important in our culture.

In my leisure time I like it, taking stock of my daily activities in quiet. This act of self-introspection helps me understand myself and my doings better as well know what others think about me. I enjoy reading books, especially those with happy ends. Reading out short stories to children, observing their concentration at such moments and equally listening to them read and tell short stories, are sources of satisfaction to me.