A happy meal brings joy to kids all over the world. Most kids in countries where McDonald’s has a presence will of course relate to their happy meal. This was and continues to be a very clever marketing program that ties fast food with toys leveraging a popular film, television show or a new sought-after toy. There are also healthy options where a fruit or juice or a vegetables like carrots are substituted for fries.
But then again there are some under privileged children in some countries that have neither heard of McDonald’s nor tasted their version of the happy meal. A team of SAP social volunteers had the privilege of visiting Swaziland over the last weekend, one of those countries where happiness has a totally different meaning to its children.
Swaziland is a small country land locked between South Africa & Mozambique with a population of slightly over 1.3 million siSwati speaking Swazis. Their problem is not really economic indicators like
- over 6% annual rate of inflation
- close to 70% of people are below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 per day
- over 40% unemployment
There are other countries with those sorts of problems. Swaziland’s problem is more to do with health indicators like the following:
- median age of 20.5 years
- life expectancy at birth: 49.42 years
- HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 31% of adults aged 15-49
- nearly 125,000 Swazi children have lost at least one parent to HIV
- over 15,000 households in the country are headed by children raising themselves and their siblings with no adult help.
SAP, our employer, and the SAP Africa business unit had organized a weekend trip for us to visit some of these families in dire need of help. The trip was co-ordinated by Mr. Khulekhani Magongo who is a local Director with the Young Heroes organization that SAP is partnering with. We had the chance to visit families in the village of Dlangeni snuggled high up in the mountains about an hour away from the capital city of Mbabane. We arrived to the very warm welcome of about 150 children, their parents and a handful of village elders near an old village church *** school/day care. The kids initially had a certain look of doubts mixed with high expectations. After a few brief exchanges of greetings (siSwati: Sawubona) and formalities, the kids warmed up to us and engaged well. My colleagues (Julie, Frank & Jan) made it easy for the kids by handing over their cameras to the kids and let them play with it. We were given the opportunity to introduce ourselves and following that we started unloading our vehicles with a lot of toys and the staple food (rice, meat and vegetables) that we had brought for them. I have never seen this level of excitement among kids for simple things like soccer balls and the bubble makers.
Some of the women got to work quickly and started cooking right away. It wasn’t anything fancy but according to the local folks there, it is not an everyday they get to see this kind of a meal. So there was a lot of excitement and everyone including the kids waited patiently while playing soccer (siSwati: ifutbol), blowing bubbles and posing for photographs. Finally the preparations were ready and served to the young ones followed by slightly older kids and finally to all the elders. There was a great sense of satisfaction from the adults but the kids clearly had the expression of having had the Happy Meal of their lives.
Organizations like Young Heroes are trying their very best to come to the rescue of these children and their families in need by providing food, clothes, medical support and hope above all. Young Heroes is part of Swaziland’s National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA). They build a relationship with these families in need by providing food, clothing and earn their trust. Then they offer health screening and medical help where needed to identify those kids that are vulnerable and get them on a path of recovery. To start this process of getting to know the families and set those on the long road to recovery, Mr. Khulekhani Magongo and his staff were quietly working on the registration process with the adults in the families while we were engaging the kids. We left them bidding our good byes with a small sense of relief of having provided for at least one hearty & Happy meal and they parted with a heartfelt and big Thank you! (siSwati: ngiyabonga)
This great personal eye opening experience would not have been possible without support from my employer SAP and SAP Africa business unit. I am here with 10 other colleagues from all over the world, spending the month of October in the southern part of Africa enabling non-profit organizations in the Pretoria region with their social and economic development activities. This is part of SAP’s corporate social responsibility initiative in collaboration with CDC Development Solutions. Click here and here to read more about other experiences from the past 2 weeks.