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Wed May 27 07:55:19 SAST 2015

Soldiers report for smile duty

Graeme Hosken | 07 February, 2013 00:40
A Mozambican woman displaced by floods collects food parcels at a feeding station set up by Gift of the Givers and the SA National Defence Force near Chokwe, southern Mozambique Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

With children hanging onto her, smiling as she claps and sings, Major Faith Sketane laughs.

"This is what it is about. It is about making these children smile, about bringing them hope," she says.

Around Sketane are dozens of Mozambican children, clamouring for her attention.

"They are just like my own . they really make me miss my little ones," she says, swinging a little girl in the air, to screams of delight, in the Licilo displaced people's camp.

Sketane is one of 12 SA National Defence Force soldiers and medics who came to flood-ravaged Mozambique to help humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers distribute aid worth millions of rands.

Her team has been here for 10 days.

Theirs is one of several from the South African military that are providing vital assistance to nearly 200000 people displaced by the floods.

More than 80 people died in the storms.

Wiping her face of sweat as she puts the little girl down, Sketane laughs at her colleague Corporal Makhiwandila Gara as two boys jump on him.

"It is absolutely heartbreaking to see these children living like this, everything they know - including for many their parents - gone," she says.

"It is soul-destroying, but being here and making them smile is like winning the Lotto."

For Gara, playing with the children is just as important as providing them with food and shelter.

"Shelters can be built by anyone but very few can make children who are hurting, like these ones are, smile. It is great to see the smiles between the tears.

"Though we are far from home, it is an honour to be here . to be making a difference, even if it is a small one," the corporal says.


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