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LU students collect and deliver more than 300 books for children in Swaziland

Group with booksAs part of a course on Sub-Saharan Africa taught by visiting professor Sarah Schwartz, a group of Lamar University students worked with Margaret Swope and the College of Education and Human Development to collect more than 300 children's books for Siphilile Maternal & Child Health, a non-government organization based in Swaziland.

Siphilile will use the books as they launch a new effort to promote literacy at daycare centers throughout Swaziland that they are working to improve. Over spring break, students in the Sub-Saharan Africa course traveled to Swaziland to distribute the books at a number of the daycare centers. 

Nokuthula Maseko, the director of Siphilile, coordinated the daycare center visits. Maseko and her staff strive to improve the physical wellbeing of the children in Swaziland’s daycare centers by tracking the children’s physical development and working with the daycare providers to ensure that the children in their care receive adequate nutrition. Making sure that the children are well-fed is a very real concern and it was clear to all of the LU students, that many of the children were underweight.

“We would pick a baby up and say, ‘So she’s six months old?’ and she would actually be a year old, they were that malnourished,” said Schwartz. “There are a lot of problems with these daycare facilities and they don’t have a lot of resources, but Siphilile is trying very hard to improve that, and to provide more resources and training.”

Reading a book to childrenWhile in Swaziland, the students also visited the US Embassy and discussed Swaziland's economic and political situation with Lisa Peterson, the current US Ambassador to Swaziland. Peterson detailed the path that led her to her current position as well as her work with King Mswati III and the royal family. Additionally, students met with Dr. Caroline Ryan, the country director for the CDC and PEPFAR, who explained several of the ways in which American doctors have worked with Swazis to reduce HIV transmission rates in Swaziland.

The trip also included several stops in South Africa which allowed students to experience and observe more of the topics and issues that they’d covered in class. “For example,” Schwartz explained, “we read the autobiographies of Nelson Mandela and Trevor Noah, and then we went to Soweto, a neighborhood that both Mandela and Noah lived in.” Students also studied the positive and negative aspects of safari tourism and went on safari themselves. “We saw firsthand the roads that cut through wildlife habits,” said Schwartz. “Those roads bring in tourists who pay money to see the animals, which can help protect the animals, but they can also be disruptive.”

Additionally, throughout their stay in Cape Town the group was constantly reminded that two years of drought have resulted in a severe water shortage. Signs throughout the city encourage residents and visitors alike to conserve water and in many public restrooms hand sanitizer was provided due to the fact that the water to the sinks has been turned off as a water-saving measure.

Visiting Assistant Professor Sarah SchwartzWhile the students worked hard and learned a great deal about the culture and political environment of the countries they visited, Schwartz said that they also had the opportunity to just have fun during their trip. “When we were in Cape Town we went up Table Mountain. And we saw penguins! South Africa’s not known for them, but they’re there,” said Schwartz. “The students also enjoyed eating at Nando’s. It’s a chain restaurant with franchises in the US, but it originated in South Africa. We went to Nando’s twice.” 

As a visiting professor, Schwartz will be moving on from the university, she hopes that Lamar will continue to offer study abroad programs to African countries and that the university will continue its relationship with Siphilile. During this first visit they learned Siphilile needs other supplies including items like coloring books, crayons, and toys to distribute to the children. In the future, drives focused on collecting these items could be implemented by Swope and the Education Department to benefit Siphilile further, Schwartz said.

“I know that they would love to have Lamar students back and to have another book drive,” said Schwartz. “So there’s definitely the potential for an ongoing relationship and I hope that happens.”

For more information on the course itself, please contact Sarah Schwartz at sarah.schwartz@lamar.edu. For information on the book drive, please contact Margaret Swope at margaret.swope@lamar.edu.