Cool Cash Changes Lives in Swaziland
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Cool Cash Changes Lives in Swaziland

A refrigerator donated by Ingrid and Sherman Bartholomew helps schoolchildren with HIV

In January, the Fontein Social Care Center opened in Swaziland, an independent kingdom set within the borders of South Africa. The daycare center serves about 40 preschoolers, many of whom are infected with the HIV virus and have even lost parents to AIDS.

At noontime, the youngsters are joined for a meal by up to 350 more children, ranging in age from roughly six to 16. There are no cabinets to keep rodents from the rice and beans that are the staple of the lunch—often the children's only meal of the day. There are no chairs to sit on. There is no glass on the windows. Outside the school, the fiberglass awning over the patio, which provides the only shade from the hot sun, is ripped. And until April, there was no refrigerator, which meant that the children had no dairy or produce beyond what could be consumed immediately.

On April 7—the day before Easter Sunday—a group of travelers on Grand Circle's Highlights of South Africa vacation paid a visit to the center. En route, they stopped at a market, where their Program Director, nicknamed "Beauty," gave travelers the opportunity to purchase fruit and vegetables for the children. The group then continued on to the center, where they helped serve lunch.

"It was an eye-opener," declares Ingrid Bartholomew, a member of Grand Circle Corporation's Traveler Support team, who was also traveling on the Highlights of South Africa program with her husband Sherman and her Traveler Support colleague Marlene Santamarina. "There were no eggs, no milk. There wasn't anything we take for granted," she says. "It was heartbreaking to see how people live."

The Bartholomews and Marlene were so moved, they decided they wanted to do something to help rather than continue on the sightseeing tour that afternoon. A social worker, Fikile Mathunjwa, took them into the downtown area, where Marlene hoped to buy a printer for the computer. Unfortunately, many shops had closed early for Easter, and she was unable to make the purchase.

Ingrid and Sherman, on the other hand, had better luck. "I said to my husband, 'Why not get a refrigerator?'" Ingrid recalls. They were able to find a store that was open and could sell them a refrigerator for "$200 to $300, U.S.," according to Ingrid. Sherman negotiated a deal that ensured that the refrigerator would be delivered to the center, and Beauty volunteered to verify. The Bartholomews paid cash for the refrigerator, on the spot. It was delivered the day after Easter Monday.

The Bartholomews did not stop there. "My husband wanted to get a cow, so the children could have milk," Ingrid says. Despite their inquiries, they were unable to find a milking cow, so Ingrid decided to purchase chickens instead. The center now has a dozen chickens, so the children can have fresh eggs.

Even that is not the end of the Bartholomews' contribution to the center. Sherman, who works for a gas company, will soon be returning to Swaziland with some coworkers to spend two weeks fixing up the school, enlarging the facility, repairing the toilets, running a water pipe into the kitchen, and rewiring the electricity—all simply in exchange for room and board.

"Ingrid and Sherman deserve high praise for what they have done," says Marlene, who explains further that children who are HIV-positive need food in order to take their medications. So if they are forced by circumstances to go without food, they not only go hungry, they also get sick. "Getting a refrigerator is the best thing they could do at that time," she says.

Ingrid, on the other hand, is modest about the couple's generosity. "My grandmother always said that need is greater than want," she says. "If you see a need, you just take care of it. It was something that needed to be done, and if we hadn't done it, someone else would have."

She extends that attitude further, to the philosophy that underlies Grand Circle Foundation. "Now I understand why Grand Circle gives back to the places we visit," she says. "You have to do what you can. One person can make a difference."

Featured in our July 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.