Lynda Hetrick is driven by the thoughts of her native Swaziland and the orphans the mission she founded cares for.
PALM HARBOR – Lynda Hetrick’s native land is a country of 1.2 million people where 500,000 are under age 15 and the average life expectancy is 28.
“There is an entire generation missing,” Hetrick said. “The whole generation between 20 and 45, missing.”
What drives 43-year-old Lynda Hetrick of Tarpon Springs is the orphans.
Hetrick is the founder of HopeAlive268 a mission of rescue for thousands of children in Swaziland, South Africa.
“Our philosophy,” she said, “is to teach but to work along side.”
Through Calvary Chapel, her church in Palm Harbor, Hetrick collects about $200 a month for the children, much of which goes toward food staples.
She was born to missionary parents; her grandparents emigrated to Swaziland in 1947. She is a single parent of five who now counts another 45 as her family.
“We are five and one half generations in Swaziland now,” she says. Some of her charges are young enough to be her own grandchildren. “Worldwide,” her voice shudders quietly, “33,000 children die of poverty every day. That’s one every three-seconds.”
She doesn’t want any more of the dead to be among her generation of Swazi orphans.
“It snowed there this past year, did you know that?” she said. “And you know they live out in the open, under bushes for warmth, with no one to care for them, no one to give them so much as a blanket.”
Hetrick has returned to Swaziland several times, beginning in 1979 following her divorce.
“My first instinct was to go back to what I knew,” she said. She returned again in 2006, then in 2009 and finally in 2010 accompanied by 26 volunteers for HopeAlive.
She saw things were getting worse for the children. Swaziland has the highest rate of AIDS exposure in the world, 26 percent of the adult population is infected and among those in their 20s the rate is 50 percent.
HopeAlive268 is a mission of hope for food and medicine and shelter. The Swaziland government is based on a mix of colonial English administration and historic tribal law. The country was formally emancipated from English rule in 1968. It has been a kingdom ruled by the hereditary monarchy, Mswati III, since then.
“The king set up a series of shelters called Care Point Centers throughout the country,” Hetrick said.
It was one of these near her hometown of Siteki that HopeAlive has taken over as its mission location. Little more than a roof with barn-like walls, the Care Point Centers offers no food or water and little if any shelter.
“Most of the missions bringing food into these centers from outside the country have stopped now because of the economy,” said Hetrick. “I don’t know if they’re coming back.”
It costs Hetrick and her volunteers 37-cents a day to feed one meal to a child. They do that six days a week.
“It’s an amazing thing to see,” Hetrick said. “A 9-month-old sitting on the floor at Center Point holding a chicken drumstick with one hand and eating out of a bowl of porridge with the other. Even at that age they know how to eat. They never choke on a bone.”
Hetrick seemed to be searching for something.
“You see them (the orphans) coming across the field, like from here to that building,” she pointed to a building about 40 yards away, “and sometimes they just fall down. They died of starvation, just like that, in an instant and no one even notices. If that happened here today in America every newspaper and television station in the country would just go wild.”
“They sell little coffins everywhere,” she said. “You see them on the street next to refrigerators for sale.”
Hetrick’s mission provides more than just food. It helps school the orphans who have fallen behind their classmates, those fortunate enough to have a parent.
“In the schools there you have to pass a test to move forward a grade,” Hetrick said. “You have to pay a fee to take the test. So we have orphans that should be in their sixth or seventh year, still in first or second grade because they have no way to pay for the test.”
Hetrick is not sure when she can go back, but the volunteers left behind continue to feed the orphans, school them and provide clothing sown by volunteers at home. She thinks she may be able to return as early as September.
She is worried that there is so much to do to prepare at home, administrative and advanced work. “But, we’ll have more people there as early as May,” she said, “doing groundwork.”
There are some plans however, few of which she wanted to mention this early. One she did mention is to erect fencing around Care Point and add a few farm animals.
“Maybe some chickens and goats,” she said. “Goats are low maintenance. They can eat whatever grows wild.”
She has no explanation for what drove her to this mission, other than it was as though someone opened a door and she walked through.
“It’s like we are doing things far beyond us, God-sized things,” Hetrick said. “We’re non-denominational but there is no way we can do these things on our own.”
On a side note, Hetrick is planning to marry this month; She was hesitant to mention it and seemed amused that anyone would note it.
“But the thing is,” she said, “with or without that part of my life. I know now what my mission in life is. Besides, I can’t wait to introduce him to my friends in Siteki. They’ll love him.”
Hetrick, concluded the interview with a little story she heard from an elder in her village, one who knew her parents before she was born. Hetrick’s given name in Swazi is Lindiwe.
“Do you know what that means?” the old lady asked. “It means the one we have been waiting for.”