You may have seen the West family, who are longtime Ahwatukee Foothills residents, at the grocery store, in church or walking their dogs, but in April the family will leave their lives as they know them behind to move to Swaziland, Africa, to help a population that has been ravaged by AIDS.
Parents Kay and John will take their son Jeremy, 17, along with them to Swaziland while their son Zack, 21, will stay in Arizona to finish college and pursue his dream of becoming an English teacher. Kay made her first mission trip to Swaziland two years ago with a friend, and John has made the journey once.
“I fell in love with the people in Swaziland, and I told them that if they wanted me to come back they would have to pray for my husband to come as well,” Kay said.
When John traveled to Swaziland, he was able to see the devastation first hand that his wife Kay had described from her trip. According to the United Nations Development Program, 50 percent of Swaziland adults in their 20s are infected with HIV, which is the highest rate in the world.
“Never in a million years would I have told you that we were going to go and leave all of our comforts here,” John said. “But the Lord put it on our hearts to go.”
The West family plans on selling their home and almost all of their possessions, excluding their two dogs, at a church rummage sale before leaving for Swaziland, a country that is about the size of New Jersey with a population of one million.
Once the Wests arrive in Swaziland, they plan on establishing an orphanage.
“Twenty-five to 40 percent of the country’s population has died of AIDS in recent years, and the kids are left with extended family or, in some cases, teenagers become the heads of households,” Kay said. “In school the children are taught AIDS prevention as well as how to take care of their dying parents.”
Currently, the Wests have funding to erect one building at their orphanage, with plans to build three more. Each building will be run like a family with one Swazi widow acting as a mother for 32 kids.
The high number of people affected by the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland may seem unimaginable, but according to John the disease keeps spreading because of deep-rooted cultural practices.
“Their culture embraces serial monogamy. Men will marry one woman and have several children with her, and then move on to a new woman,” John said.
Animalistic beliefs also permeate Swaziland’s culture.
“We had one mother with a baby who was about to die, and she took her child to a witch doctor before bringing him to a medical doctor to get treatment,” Kay said. “They are finding that tradition doesn’t work.”
When the Wests make their move to Swaziland, they plan on remaining in the country indefinitely. Their son Jeremy is home schooled, and whether or not he will stay in Swaziland after he completes his senior year is completely up to him.
“I’ll be doing school half the day and then helping in the orphanage the other half of the day,” Jeremy said.
Zack, the West son who will be staying behind in Arizona, will miss his family, but plans on staying in touch through the Internet.
“I’m excited for them, but I’ll obviously miss them,” Zack said. “It’s what God wants for them right now.”
A roundtrip to Swaziland for one person costs $1,800, and the Wests plan on keeping that amount in an emergency fund at all times.
To support the Wests in their move to Swaziland, residents of Ahwatukee Foothills are welcome to attend their rummage sale, which will be held at noon on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 at Bridgeway Community Church, 2420 E. Liberty Lane. To make a donation or follow the West family in their quest to Swaziland, visit. Swazilandk.blogspot.com.