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Engineering and communication students work alongside HIV/AIDs Task Force

Posted: Jul 11, 2013

07-11-2013 Swaziland Digging

The cistern is taking form. Seniors Aaron Buchanan (psychology) and Matt Smith (engineering) work alongside a member of the Nhlambeni community.

07-11-2013 Swaziland Checking

Is that valve leaking? Engineering majors Taylor Williams-Meyering (in yellow) and Aaron Lucas check the connection while Melissa Bartholomew keeps a watchful eye. The valve is a crucial piece of hardware to get water from the creek to the cistern up the hill.

07-11-2013 Swaziland PBJ

Montana Caise (freshman, engineering – in red) and Aaron Buchanan (senior, psychology) turned their guitars into tables for a while as they work with Andrea Richardson (senior, math education and computer science) and Taylor Williams-Meyering (freshman, engineering) to make 200 PB&J sandwiches for VBS children.

07-11-2013 Swaziland women

The missions team helped coordinate an appreciation day for the East Care Supporters at Southern Africa Nazarene University’s seminary in Siteki. It was the first time ever that these woman had the opportunity to come together to share as a group. Evelyn Shongwe (left), Mary Magagula and Thola Mdluli shared their expertise. Magagula founded the HIV/Aids Task Force with Shongwe in 2002.

07-11-2013 Swaziland Praise

The praise team leading worship during the Sunday service in the Nhlambeni Church of the Nazarene. From left are freshmen Montana Caise (engineering), Brianna Kulhan (math education), Selina Gaines (music), senior Andrea Richardson (math education and computer science), freshman Loren Crawford (engineering), seniors Aaron Buchanan (psychology) and Aaron Lucas (engineering).

07-11-2013 Swaziland Supplies

Jesse Dawson (senior, engineering) and Thola Mdluli of the Task Force unpack food and supplies for a 23-year-old mother who tested positive for HIV infection a year ago. She was not doing well at that point.

07-11-2013 Swaziland Bubbles

Loren Crawford (freshman, engineering) shows a child how to blow soap bubbles during a team visit at the Ntondozi Child Development Center in Manzini.

For two weeks this summer, 20 Olivetians spent the daylight hours working side-by-side with Swazi people, removing tree roots, digging trenches, laying irrigation pipes, and walking dusty roads. Students from various majors used their specific skills and knowledge to support the Swaziland HIV/Aids Task Force that cares for sick and dying patients in the rural areas of the small African kingdom. 

Alongside Ken Johnson, chair of the engineering department, student engineers sorted out kinks in the irrigation system they designed for one of the Task Force’s community gardens. The praise team practiced under the watchful eye of Jennifer McClellan, head of Missions in Action. And the “scribes” lined up next to Thalyta Swanepoel from the communication department to document the stories of the caregivers.

Most of all, the group provided spiritual care and support — not just to the community members they came into contact with, but also to each other. “Jesus with skin on” was their assignment, and they took it seriously.

This is missions in action at Olivet, an experience where students return with a new take on the world and its problems, and renewed passion to live and love for Christ.

Joining forces

And Swaziland has more than its fair share of problems. Despite high-level political commitment and a decrease in infection rates, one in four adults (15-34 years) in the country is HIV positive. Fortunately 80 percent of eligible patients receive anti-retroviral treatment.

It’s been more than 10 years since nursing sister Mary Magagula realized that despite the political commitment, her government would not be able to carry the HIV/Aids burden alone. Together with Evelyn Shongwe, the wife of a Nazarene pastor, “Make” (pronounced ma-ghe, “mother”) Magagula started the Taskforce.

Around 200 caregivers currently work with the force. These women work behind the scenes, each caring for at least six “clients.” Among their services, the Task Force helps deliver the anti-retroviral treatment to patients who cannot visit a healthcare clinic. They also support patients with tuberculosis, cancer, stroke and various disabilities, visiting their clients at least three times a week.

Throughout the trip, the Olivet group supported the work of the Task Force, with the help of ONU alumni hosts Dustin and Amanda Hogan. The Hogans have been serving as on-site coordinators for the Church of the Nazarene since July 2012.

Putting theory into practice

An important aspect of serving on an ONU mission trip is hands-on learning outside of the classroom.

“The trip to Swaziland was the most practical experience I have had in my college career,” says senior engineering student Jesse Dawson. “I learned how to take theoretical knowledge from my fluid mechanics class and use it to solve physical problems.”

But he was also stretched to be much more than “just” an engineering student.

“I had the opportunity to learn what it means to manage a project, work with non-engineers, and work with people of a different culture. I learned quickly that the best solution for one country or group is not the best solution for another. And in order to truly learn what a community of people needs most, it is important to seek out well-respected local experts,” Jesse said.

The group worked with local contractor Babe Simelane who understood the project well. Without this collaboration, Jesse says, “the implementation of our design would not have been precisely what the people wanted and needed. It was in working with the local Swazi people and letting them take ownership of the field that allowed the project to be a success.”

God uses national passions, talents

Engineering freshman Taylor Williams-Meyering says when she realized missions would be her life, she was terrified. “What will it look like? Where will I be?" she asked herself. “It was a thought I didn't want to face for a long time. But, thanks to the trip, I now embrace it.

“Going to Swaziland and working on the irrigation design made me realize that I can use engineering in missions — but not how I pictured it. I still get to love people while I work. It's changed my view on a lot, but thanks to the love from the people in Africa, I've never been more excited about my future and what God has in store for me.”

Senior computer science and education major Andrea Richardson says, “the trip opened my eyes to the need for many different types of professionals on the mission field. I used to think of missionaries as strictly church-planters and pastors.

“But teachers, engineers, computer scientists, researchers, biologists, and business professionals, just to name a few, are needed in countries such as Swaziland and all over the world on the mission field. God can use the natural passions and desires of our hearts as we are seeking after His will, to place us in foreign cultures and use us as part of His Kingdom-building work,” Andrea says.

Brianna Kulhan and Melissa Bartholomew, both freshman math education majors, agree that the outreach to Swaziland has changed their lives.

“I met math students and children whose favorite subject is math, and they made me so excited for the future in my classroom. As I teach junior high and high school kids math, I will have stories of people across the world doing the same things with numbers. I also met a lady who could not afford to go to college, so she had to work in the field. Her story made me very thankful for my opportunity to be at Olivet,” Melissa says.

As a math teacher, Brianna hopes to make a difference beyond the classroom and accept her students as the amazing creations of God they are.

“I want them to have a passion for helping others and be able to fully use their gifts,” says Brianna. “The Swazis taught me that it’s not what you have, but who you have. And that's Jesus as our Savior.”  

Olivet's School of Education is among the top six largest producers of teachers among all Illinois colleges and universities