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Five years ago, I found my father via Facebook.
I had always known he lived in a small African nation called Swaziland but hadn’t seen or spoken to him since he returned there after a short stay in the UK in the 60s.
My father sadly passed away six weeks before I first stepped foot on Swazi soil but I have been lucky enough to visit the country four times since. I have met seven new siblings, gone to my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebrations, taught in rural schools and got to know something of this verdant, undulant, landlocked little nation.
Swaziland is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. The present King, Mswati III, has enjoyed total power over his million subjects since his coronation in 1986.
The 45 year-old has a personal wealth estimated at £65m, two private jets, a fleet of luxury cars and last month, married his 15th wife.
Yet he rules over one of the planet’s poorest nations.
Almost 70% of the population lives below the international poverty line and Swaziland has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates (26%) and the one of the lowest life expectancies (49 years).
Placed strategically between regional powerhouse South Africa and the potent Mozambique, resource-rich Swaziland doesn’t have to be poor.
But it’s hard to swim in a stagnant pool and the monarch’s tight grip on power has led to cronyism and an ineffective government.
The Esigcaweni Nazarene primary primary school is in rural Swaziland near the southern border with South Africa.
The school educates over 300 children from the Lumbombo region of the country.
Swaziland is one of the poorest countries on earth. More than a quarter of the population (26%) are HIV positive, the world’s highest adult prevalence rate and Global Age Watch says life expectancy there is just 49 years, the fifth worse in the world.
Many of the children who attend the Esigcaweni school have lost either one or both parents to HIV or other illnesses and for many, the meal provided by the school is the only one they will eat all day. (more…)