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Dream For Africa: Never Ending Gardens

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John Saunders and his wife were among the thousands of church goers who listen intently as Bruce Wilkerson author of The Prayer of Jabez and other inspirational authors painted a wonderful picture of the kingdom of Swaziland.

Dr. Wilkerson described Swaziland’s beautiful landscapes which are rich in natural resources and filled with wonderful people. He also recounted how almost 50% of Swaziland citizens are living with HIV/AIDS and are also starving to death.  Many hearts were touched and there was a call for those interested in going to Swaziland to come forward. John Saunders looked into the eyes of his beautiful wife Sol as she said, “I can’t go, but you can go!” John went forward and greeted Dr. Wilkerson.

This trip did not immediately come to fruition, for some unknown reason John was dropped from his church’s group of volunteers. Nevertheless John was able to join with the People’s Church an Assembly of God Church in Fresno California. He was among the over three hundred people who volunteered to go o­n the humanitarian trip called “Never Ending Gardens” at their own expense.

“Never Ending Gardens” is an organization started by Bruce Wilkerson—who is also a world renowned missionary.  Mr. Wilkerson has noted that many people in Southern Africa are hungry and while the U.S. and other countries will send food it is not enough. It makes the people of Swaziland depend o­n outside sources for food.  The Never Ending Gardens Program helps the people of Swaziland to grow and replenish their own food supply.  Each volunteer paid more than $3600.00 for their hotels, food, and transportation.  The trip began o­n September 21, 2005 with a night’s stay in Washington D.C.  When John saw that he did not know any of his group members from the People’s Church at the beginning of the trip, he wondered if he was doing the right thing, but by the end of the orientation he had made lasting friendships.

The next day the entire group took off in a South African Airways 747.

Once in Johannesburg, John embarked o­n an eight hour bus trip to Swaziland, an independent kingdom surrounded by South Africa.  As they traveled John saw along the roads, hilly areas, nice homes, industrial plants, and other modern infrastructures.  John notes that “The landscape looked just like areas we have here in Southern California” another difference being that he did not see any graffiti and little trash along the road. John also noticed that all along the roads of the city are billboards advertising the dangers of HIV/AIDS, promoting safer sex, marital sex o­nly or warning that sex can kill and the benefits of abstinence.  More than half of Swaziland’s population is infected or affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Under the guidance of Enoc Shagangu, John’s team went to Malkern Valley in Manzini to meet with the chief and local officials and to ask permission to go in their area to plant gardens. In the Swaziland nation all the land is owned by the king. Therefore, it is the King who assigns land for each homestead.  This is in part why the King and his government officials know the needs of each household. The houses of each homestead were built with lots of craftsmanship featuring the traditional thatched roof round house which was usually used as the family room. The area John’s team was to work with were mostly in the hill regions with dirt roads leading to them.

His team spent the rest of the day going to different homesteads talking to people asking if they want a vegetable garden.  The first day more than twenty gardens were planted after it was determined that the families meet “Never Ending Gardens” Program criteria.

Gardens were planted at no charge to families and individuals if they had a proper lot of land that could be fenced off to keep animals from eating the plants and have someone there with the ability to water the garden as needed.  Watering the gardens proved to be very difficult for some families who had to carry water for 30 minutes or more o­n their heads or in their hands. Yet the gardens were in much demand by young women and children.

At the end of the week (8 days) more than 2500 gardens were planted.  John, who is a Rotary Club member here in Riverside, attended a Rotary meeting while in Swaziland and is still working with them as well as a Swaziland elementary school.  There are plenty of ways for others to participate if they are interested. John, who is a local realtor, can be contacted for more information at 951.818.5052 or 714.661.1954.

The “Never Ending Gardens” Program assisted more than 5000 Swaziland people at no cost to the locals. Each garden was filled with vegetation rich in vitamins and minerals.  These gardens are especially important to the large population living with HIV/AIDS as the plants have immune boosting properties.  John states that “I will never forget the wonderful people of Swaziland, the hugs, love, and my team members”.  He is in contact with all of them now through e-mail and planning more projects.  John would be happy to talk to anyone about this trip and the projects being planned.

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