HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on Swaziland. The consequences have been vast and wide reaching, but none is more alarming than the massive abundance of children who have been orphaned as their parents’ generation slowly vanishes. The facts are bruising; these children are trapped in poverty with few available resources to assist them, most notably no means to pay for or access to education.
Today out of an entire population in the Swaziland of 950,000 people, there are an estimated 120,000 OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). The striking amount of orphans is a direct result of death from AIDS, and the hollowing out of economically productive citizens aged 15 to 64.
To date, charitable projects in Swaziland have focused on the injection of foreign aid. Meanwhile, sustainable businesses that can remain in Swaziland have been scarce – and for children – non-existent. Although donations have alleviated and improved the effects of HIV and food shortages, they have not created an environment where Swazis themselves are taking ownership of their problems.
For students who are able to afford education, once graduated, jobs are hard to come by.
The challenge YEF faces is to help Swazi youth escape an idle state where they are uneducated, unemployed, or both.
Economic stagnation, drought, and lack of access to capital have created a long-term downward trend in the Swazi economy, manifested by a negative GDP growth rate per-capita. Much of this decline has been due to a diminishing agricultural sector, which the country depends on for a strong economy. In rural areas, agriculture employs over 80 percent of Swazis.
With a limited food supply to import from South Africa and political instability and food shortages in Swaziland’s other surrounding countries, the country is running out of options of how to feed itself. And internally, poor irrigation systems and erratic rain patterns have led to declining food production, leaving many Swazis malnourished.