Kay West is concerned about family members who live elsewhere, but she’s also concerned about people in Africa that she also considers family.
The Ahwatukee woman and her husband John worked in Swaziland – now eSwatini – and South Africa seven years before returning here in 2017.
“My heart is just breaking as I hear from mamas and leaders in the communities who say the children keep coming, crying for food because they’re hungry,” she said.
Long-time members of Bridgeway Community Church, the Wests took a leap of faith in 2010, selling their two-story home, cars and possessions to go and minister among the poor in Swaziland.
They founded the nonprofit Swaziserve, Inc. in 2009 before heading there. John is treasurer and Kay board chairman.
So dire is the need that the Wests have posted stories on Facebook, asking for help.
“Every dollar counts and every dollar will go directly to emergency aid in South Africa and eSwatini,” she said.
Schools are closed – as are “care points” where children and elderly get a meal a day. In April, South Africa mandated a military-patrolled lockdown with 57 million citizens restricted to their homes for three weeks.
Swaziserve volunteers and workers in that country racing to deliver packages of maize meal, beans a bar of soap and a snack to more than 145 kids and three cooking mothers at one care point.
Their focus has always been upon helping women and children, who are suffering even more as the COVID-19 attacks the malnourished and most vulnerable.
“Because the population we serve live in extreme poverty, and still have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, up to 75 percent in some villages,” she said.
Getting food and help to others in South Africa during the continued home confinement there can be dangerous.
Kay asked for prayer for six workers “as they continue to venture out to purchase and distribute the food parcels to those in dire need.”
“In some areas, there is brutality from the soldiers enforcing the stay-at-home policy. Such violence is not legally condoned but nevertheless a reality.”
Swaziserve provides direct funding for one feeding site for children and another for the elderly.
“However, Swaziserve is indirectly involved in many more feeding sites through support of the women who feed the kids,” explained Kay. “We have eight project partners in Africa and each one has their own ministry and vision; our role is a supportive, guiding and funding one.”
She told of a project in Salubindza, one of the poorest sections in a poor district:
“When we lived there, I taught a Bible study with the women. When we moved back, Edith, their leader, shared the vision God had given her to continue and we chose to support her in that vision.
“Edith is an accomplished seamstress and now trains other women to sew to raise funds not only to help support their own families but also to sell their creations to raise money to feed the many local orphans and vulnerable children.”
Swaziserve purchased industrial sewing machines for them pays their monthly water and electricity needs.
“Last year the women dreamed even bigger and decided to build a small orphanage. They began making their own bricks using materials bought from the things they sewed.
“When my team and I visited last year, we realized that it could take them years and years to do this, so we offered to raise funds to help. Praise God, generous friends gave enough and the home is now a reality and 18 orphans have a real home and refuge.”
She said they have sponsors so far for 11 of the 18 orphans. A $30 sponsorship provides school supplies, clothing, food and other necessities.
“However, now with the nationwide lockdown, the children are no longer in school and that’s where they received their first meal of the day. Other children in the community who are still living at home but coming to the care point for their second and often only other meal of the day can no longer congregate to receive the food,” she said.
“So Swaziserve is providing funds for the women to provide enough food parcels for those children, as well as soap for their families – hopefully enough to last through the lockdown.”
The continuing South African lockdown confines people to their homes. Outdoor activities are banned.
Most recent changes in South Africa’s Level Four Lockdown allow some food delivery.
Ahwatukee resident Patricia Hughes had a first-hand look at the work Swaziserve has established throughout eSwatini and South Africa when she traveled with Kay to visit various village programs.
“I will never be the same,” said Hughes. “Most of the communities rely on feeding sites that Kay and Swaziserve sponsors. Without that, they have nothing.
“So even before COVID-19, they really had absolutely nothing and now with it, they’re completely depleted. Is there a word worse than having nothing?”
Hughes responded quickly to Kay’s Facebook post seeking donations “because if they’re going to have to stay quarantined in their homes, they won’t get fed.
“Their daily routine is going to the feeding sites. Not only do they get food there, but they get to learn about Jesus,” she said.
”I know they will not get the care they need unless they are able to get to the sites – sometimes not even fresh water, well, in fact, no water,” she noted.
“Many of the communities I went into did not have any running water and had to do all of their daily needs in a creek, sometimes with animals.”
She said the reality can be “hard to comprehend.”
“They leave a special mark on your soul and in your heart,” Hughes said. “They have nothing but they give all they have. They will sacrifice one kernel of corn to welcome you.”
Hughes said the experience of visiting has “made me more sensitive to what is going on around our world and in our own communities.
“It has made me less judgmental of those homeless on the streets, more sensitive to the elderly and more sensitive to the many different ethnicities in our own town. Because of them I am a better person, and it has taught me to love more and harder.”
Hughes encourages others to help the Wests’ mission.
“I give because that is what Jesus has called me to do. I know that without the support of Swaziserve, many will be without food, many could get sick, many will starve and many could get hurt.”
Kay, who authored ‘The Refiner’s Fire’ about her years in eSwatini and South Africa, still hopes to visit Swaziserve programs and partnerships in July.
“Swaziserve has always been, and always will be, God’s ministry. We are a tiny organization by the world’s standards, five board members, a friend who did our ministry taxes until she retired this year, another friend who makes bank deposits, and a 60-plus team of intercessors.
“We are grateful for the monetary support, especially in these trying times,” she said.
To help: send checks to Swaziserve, PMB #46, 4802 E. Ray Road, Suite 23, Phoenix 85044.
Contributions are tax-deductible.