From Swaziland to Cabrini: the journey

By Jenay Smith
January 21, 2013


Students looking through photos with Sr. Grace Waters, MSC at her home in Havertown, PA.
Students looking through photos with Sr. Grace Waters, MSC at her home in Havertown, PA.


“In 2002 my mother’s sister took me to Cabrini,” Celemusa Cleanboy Ndlangamandla, a 22- year-old recent graduate of Nazarene High School, said. Celumusa was referring to Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland. “At that time it was not called Cabrini; it was just an organization formed by the sisters.”

Cabrini Sister Diane DalleMolle in 2002 went to Swaziland and changed the lives of many of its children. Among the first to enter Cabrini Ministries at St. Philip’s hostel was Celemusa.

“She took me there and they promised that they were going to pay for my school fees,” Celumusa said.

Cabrini Ministries was opened to take in 50 orphans but ended up taking in 98 orphans its very first day.

Sister Diane took on the Swaziland mission almost single-handedly, along with her fellow Cabrini sister, Sister Barbara Staley, and it was no easy task. Everyone the sisters were working with in earlier years died or was on their death bed. All their work was unraveling.

“They took me to the hostel in 2002. Later that year it was opened and then it was officially called Cabrini hostel,” Celumusa said.

Fanana Sibusiso Gamedze is 19 years old and also a graduate of the high school. He is an outgoing, talkative and insightful young man who aspires to be an engineer.

Fanana remembers first coming to the hostel. He was homesick but was motivated by a woman at the hostel. She told him he was going to push to do better.

Many of the students needed motivation but some knew from the start that being at the hostel would help them a great deal.

“So although I was young I have that feeling they’ve made something great to me,” Celumusa said, “because once upon a time I went to school when both my parents were alive. I was age 7 at the time.”

Celumusa’s mother passed away when he was only in the first grade and he had to leave school after that. He explains going to the hostel as a “second chance.”

Some of the students didn’t know the importance of an education. Many wanted to run away because of homesickness and were too young to realize what schooling could mean for them.

Celumusa shared the same feelings.

“I feel like, why [didn’t] they pay for [schooling] while I was home?” Celumusa said.

He wanted to leave. He missed his family. One Friday, that’s what Celumusa did. He ran away with a friend of his.

“I told my friend, ‘let’s escape so we can go home’ and luckily I was able to escape from the hostel,” Celumusa said.

That Sunday, Celumusa returned to the hostel. He had to attend school Monday so Sunday was the ideal day to return.

Unlike other young boys Celumusa never intended to stay home. He was always coming back.

A majority of the children in the hostel were boys. They cried when they came because many of them lost their mothers. The young boys realized they were being helped but some were not old enough to withstand the homesickness, so they would run away and not return.

Most of the students who ran away were teenagers, especially the ones who could not understand that education was important.

This is just a small snapshot of Celumusa’s early life in the hostel. Since then, many more children have come to the hostel and are in school.


The teaching staff is limited in the hostel. There are three grades taught in the primary bridge school: fourth, fifth and seventh. Each grade has seven subjects and only one teacher for all the grades and subjects.

Nonhlanhla Thoko Shongwe is the only teacher for the primary bridge school. This school is for students who are far behind in school and need to catch up. Before coming to St.Philp’s Cabrini mission, Nonhlanhla taught at a primary school for 10 years and had another teaching job as well.

“In 2009 I went to Cabrini Ministries looking for a job so I was hired because I had experience in teaching,” Nonhlanhla said.

Nonhlanhla is married with four girls whom she was delighted to talk about. Her oldest daughter, who is 19, wants to join the police force in Swaziland and “keep peace,” Nonhlanhla explains.

Teaching this many subjects and looking after this many students is no easy task. Especially when the students need individualized attention.

Some of the female students are not able to finish school because they become pregnant and need special arrangements so they are able to attend school. Students would go as far as laughing at girls who are pregnant. This makes it harder for girls in this situation to continue schooling so they drop out.

More teachers for the bridge school sounds like a big help for the bridge school. The only problem is finding teachers to teach.

“It would be difficult because when you see the number of students, there are not many like me. Last year I was teaching only five students. Yes, there are few but the work is too much. When you think of the subjects, seven subjects in each class teaching different levels,” Nonhlanhla said.

Every year the number of students in the class vary. In 2009 there were seven, 2010 there were three and in 2012 there were five. Like Nonhlanhla said it wouldn’t be easy to find another teacher to teach seven different subjects on more than two different levels com binding two grade levels at a time.

Despite how hard the job is she loves her job and wants to continue teaching.

“I enjoy teaching,” Nonhlanhla said. “Last year when we visited we were told different activities that will help the children in Swaziland. As I’m teaching I become more skilled at this job. So I will proceed teaching.”

Coming to America

“This was a great experience most especially because none of my forefathers’ generation ever been into this world,” Fanana said. “I call this a new world because this is so much different from where I come from.”

A different world is what America seems like to the students from Swaziland. Although they have heard many things about America from school, experiencing it firsthand is very different.

Sebenzile Khetsiwe Dlamini, a 19-year-old recent graduate of Nazarene High School, enjoys the classes at Cabrini and “the talk around the college” as she describes it. She was also surprised by the number of cars in America.

The students voiced how they felt about the help they received from America. To them Americans are goodwilled people who are always helping.

“Most of the help that we receive  when we’re in Swaziland it is help that comes from America,” Fanana said.

Fanana hopes to establish strong relationships with the people he meets here in America.

“I was very excited,” Khetsiwe said. “To me it came like a dream, I didn’t believe I would come here… In fact this was my dream country but I didn’t know how I would get here.”

Khetsiwe has many questions for Americans.

“I just want to hear from them how they are able to reduce the rates of HIV and AIDS because in Swaziland a lot of people are infected with HIV and AIDS,” Khetsiwe said. “I would love to know how they are able to do that.”

Celumusa particularly enjoys getting to know the people of America and seeing the development of the University. He also benefited from the discussions in class. In Swaziland most of the time they are told they only have time to observe, not to express what they feel about what they’re being told.


All three of the students want to pursue higher education. They understand there is much more to learn and they continue to thirst for education.

“I love design so at school I used to do design and technology; I think I’m just good when it comes to drawing and when it comes to implementing things and inventing things,” Fanana said.

Fanana wants to continue his education and pursue his studies in engineering. All he really wants is to look at a design and say he had a hand in that.

Khetsiwe wants to help people and become a doctor. It will take her two years but Swaziland does not have the resources for her to pursue this. She will have to go to nearby South Africa.

She’s very excited to go back home to Swaziland and share her experience with her friends. Khetsiwe also enjoyed hearing from the students.

“I just can’t wait to go there to just tell them what I’ve seen and also what I’ve just learned from the students and their ideas,” Khetsiwe said.

Going to school for medicine to be a medical doctor is what Celumusa aspires to do.

“I love helping people who are ill and I also like sciences,” Celumusa said. “Since in medicine I will have enough time to deal with physics and chemistry and also applying it.”

The journey these students have come through is a long one and continues on. Being given the opportunity to come to America was beyond their wildest dreams. They understand education is key to their success and won’t stop at a high school degree but will push for more.

“[Before the hostel] I wasn’t that mature but I felt great,” Celumusa said. “Along the way I realized [the sisters] made my life more simple because without education we are nothing.”

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Jenay Smith

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