This is a story about one of Kudvumisa Foundation’s staff.
“The situation at home had become very tough such that if one wanted to know the definition of poverty they didn’t need a dictionary but to just visit our home. But while I was wondering where the next meal would come from, I suddenly remembered something: “I think God is telling me something here. HE has allowed all these misfortunes to happen to me just to remind me that I had ceased to rely on Him but now depended on people!” If truth be told, God had indeed been faithful to me and my family before I decided to run away from home. Immediately I made up my mind, packed my bags and went back home.”
Happiness Kunene better known as just Happy is a 34 year-old woman from the outskirts of Mbabane, capital of Eswatini. She is the seventh born in a family of eleven children and was raised by her mother while her father worked in South Africa. Although she is far down the family ladder, Happy saw herself assuming the role of a family leader at a tender age.
Unfortunately her dad passed away in 2002 at a time when Happy had just turned seventeen. His death impacted the family heavily in that they would now solely depend on her mother for sustenance something that was hard for a mere vegetable vendor in a poor community.
In 2004 something that would change Happy’s life happened. The princess fell pregnant whilst in Form 4 a development that would see her drop out of school. To rub salt on the wound, her mother fell ill forcing her to abandon her business, the only source of livelihood for the large family.
Later that year the mother died thus plunging the family into a crisis. The breadwinner and family leader was gone. With no one willing to take responsibility, Happy, a recent mother herself would see herself become a mother to the whole empire despite being seventh born. An orphaned teenager had not only become a biological mum to someone but also a mother to other orphans.
The lack of food at home and more than a dozen hungry mouths to feed did not allow Happy to mourn her departed mother. Before her tears had dried she already found herself at the vegetable market buying stock with a baby strapped on her back.
The young lady showed some courage by taking over her mom’s business. Despite the fact that selling required skill, she had to overcome the stigma that comes with falling pregnant as a learner, dropping out of school and settling for a profession as humble as selling fruits and vegetables to your former classmates. “I just had to be brave, there was no choice or else I would have died of hunger!” said Happy, commenting about the challenges she faced.
Despite her age and the fact that she was the seventh born Happy did a stellar job of feeding more than a dozen people in a list that had her older siblings, their kids and her younger brothers and sisters. In addition, she had to ensure that everyone went to school. Of course there were many occasions where she had to go to school to negotiate that they keep the children in class despite the ballooning school fees debt.
As the days rolled by things became more and more difficult for Happy. The demand for money that was not there continued to rise and it soon became impossible to provide the R20 per day that was needed to keep the family above water. The pressure was so intense such that she ended up failing to restock.
Asked what she did when she failed to get money for restocking her answer was simple: “I asked from the neighbors!” she answered. “But were you not ashamed of borrowing. And did you ask from a specific group of people?” I asked Happy and she gave an interesting response: “I had to be brave and face them. I asked from everyone, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing the people to approach for help!”
As they were living from hand to mouth she would struggle to repay the loans on a number of occasions and here is what she said about facing her creditors: “I would go back to them again and ask for more time. Not only that, I would still ask for more money. I didn’t have a choice. I explained my situation and they understood.”
But it’s the weekends which gave Happy an opportunity to catch up on her loan repayments as the community football teams converged at the local field to play some matches. The crowds that would gather boosted her sales and she would use the windfall to pay her creditors.
Unfortunately the weekend profits were not enough to pull the big family out of the crisis. And one day when the challenges had reached a crescendo Happy remembered a woman from the Salvation Army church. “I had reached what I call the full stop of my life. Things were more than hard to be honest,” commented Happy about the life at home. “There was a lady from the Salvation Army who was a relative of my mum. After my mother’s death I went to her office and explained our situation. Thereafter we got on a list and we started receiving some groceries from time to time. But that wasn’t enough because the quantities were meagre. Furthermore, the supply was also very erratic. So I went back to her with the aim of getting more assistance.”
“So some days later two missionaries came to our house and helped us start a poultry project, an initiative that we believed would end all our economic woes. The donors provided a fowl run, supplied 50 birds (layers) and food for the chickens. And instantly we were in serious business selling eggs to the community. The business only thrived for a while before things started going wrong. The birds started dying one after another. We called in the vet and he said that the conditions in the fowl run were perfect and they was no reasons the birds should die. But the chickens continued to die. So when the batch was down to 25 we resolved to sell all the remaining birds to avoid a total loss,” explained Happy with sadness written on her face. “However, despite the failure of chicken project the missionaries didn’t abandon us; they helped me each year since that time with school fees to send all of the children under my care to school, which has been a huge blessing!”
“So with the egg project gone we went back to zero and I restarted selling vegetables. When asked about the whether she ever got tempted to fall for a man that offered to rescue them financially Happy explained, “Men would come with their proposals but I would say no. Some would offer a lot of money but I refused. For example, during the weekends when selling our wares at football matches.”
“On one occasion a player left his wallet with me while he played soccer. It was full of cash and he would ask me to take money and buy him some refreshments. I didn’t steal his money and after the match he came and said to me, “Let’s go there in the bush and have sex and I will give you some money!” But I turned him down because I believed that it wasn’t right and that my help would come from God. Besides, I also believe that people should fall in love for love and not because of things. In addition, do you know that some money can cost your life? I stayed pure for 8 years and my companion during that time was Christ and my friend was the Bible!”
Yes life wasn’t comfortable but God continued to provide for Happy and her large family. But one day things would turn sour. Her brothers’ wives decided to gang up on her because of envy and she had to leave home in a huff. With few options available Happy landed in Manzini, Eswatini’s largest urban settlement, where she shared a room with one of her sisters.
That very year (2014) Happy met some prince charming who promised her the moon. After 8 years of solitude she had finally found someone to share her life with and make her come alive (happy). Because he promised marriage having a baby was not a problem for the couple and she soon found herself pregnant. Unfortunately her future husband didn’t take time to exhibit his true colors by being rough, mean, absent and uncaring. Working in Nhlangano about 90km south of Manzini, he would seldom visit and at best would come only once a month.
With the one that is supposed to be the breadwinner playing hide and seek, problems started mounting for Happy. Now with a little child to care for life became harder and harder with each sunrise. Firstly it was the landlord that knocked on her door daily asking for his rent. Secondly the pantry was empty save for the empty food boxes. Last but not least the baby was hungry all the time.
You may be asking yourself why she never left this man. Here is what she said: “Occasionally he would come with some groceries and I lived with the hope that one day he would come around. I thought things would soon improve.”
But things didn’t improve. What improved was her body mass when she fell pregnant again. Now with two kids crying for food and attention, she plummeted farther into the abyss of desperation such that getting the next meal needed nothing short of a miracle. “We would pray as a family and start crying all of us and from nowhere someone that we didn’t even know would knock on the door and say they have brought us some food.”
“That is when I suddenly remembered something: “I think this suffering is a message from God. HE has allowed all this misfortunes to happen to me as a reminder that I had ceased to depend on Him but on people!” If truth be told, God had indeed provided for me and my family before I decided to run away from home. I quickly made up my mind, packed all my belongings and went back home.”
When Happy got home nothing had changed for the family economically ever since the day she left but there was something special about being at home- she had peace. For the first time in years she wasn’t worried about rent. It was indeed good to be home.
Another thing, the day that Happy got home is the very day that her envious in-laws left. These are the people that had forced her to leave home back in 2014. It was an interesting but pleasant coincidence.
But the relief that she was back home would soon fade as the baby’s napkins needed to be washed but there was no soap. Staring at the Red Sea of desperation she cried out to God in prayer: “LORD you have been with me through thick and thin. Please change my life!”
God would hear her prayers and change Happy’s life when one of the ladies that was working at Kudvumisa’s Mantenga crafts shop went on maternity leave. Teresa Rehmeyer one of the directors at Kudvumisa Foundation remembered Happy and contacted her to offer her work. She agreed and began working in 2018. And by the grace of God the lady that went on maternity leave declined to return to her former job after giving birth. What this meant was Happy had a substantial job.
“The Rehmeyers are good people. They are nice to me. Now God is restoring us as a family. Now our gardening project is blossoming and we had a bumper harvest last year. We have enough maize for food!” said the ecstatic mother of three.
Although Happy’s life has improved after returning home, she is still finding it a huge responsibility to take care of 17 people with ages ranging from 2 years to 60 years of age. She is both the mother and father to all these people ensuring that everyone’s needs are taken care of. Her prayer is that she gets funds to expand the horticulture project so that the able bodied men and women she is taking care of can be able to stand on their own. Happy believes that one day God will make a way and the burden she has borne for more than 15 years can be lifted.