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Saturday, February 21, 2015

If you don’t have any way to prove that you exist, do you exist?

One of the many challenges we face here in Swaziland is trying to manage payroll on a monthly basis for 240+ workers.  Everything is done manually including work attendance, sick days, days off, hirings and firings.  At the end of each month, each Supervisor provides Ian with a list of names and payment owed for that month’s work.  Total payroll is calculated and then Ian drives to town (about an hour away) and goes to the bank to take out the cash (with a specific number of each bill and coin needed) and then comes back to begin the laborious job of putting the exact amount of money in each envelop. 

The last Friday of each month is Pay Day and it’s a half day of work.  Each person lines up to receive their envelope and pay slip.  They take the money out, in front of their Supervisor and a witness (usually one of our volunteers), and then they count the money to insure it is correct, then sign a paper saying that they received that amount. 

Every person leaving the farm is known to have cash on them, thereby putting them at risk and when they get home they need to hide the money well from children and others who are in need.

This was driving Ian CRAZY and after hiring a new Book Keeper/Administrator he tasked her with finding a new payroll system and implementing it. One month later, we have a new system ready to roll!

Here is the interesting part … the new system requires everyone to have a bank account so that we can directly deposit the money in to their account (thereby eliminating all of work listed above).  Out of our 240+ workers, only eight (8) already had bank accounts.  We brought a representative from the FNB Bank out to Project Canaan to help get everyone signed up with an account. 

This was a very interesting exercise for two reasons. First, there were many people who were concerned that the money would go in to their account and then just disappear (where to, they did not know).  Education and reassurance was important.   The second was that in order to get a bank account you have to have a Swazi ID card, which is the most basic form of personal identification that someone can get in Swaziland.  More than 30% of our workers did not have a Swazi ID card, therefore they had no personal identification of any kind.  It took each of them several trips to town and full days waiting in line to get a Swazi ID card.  Many of them had to first apply for a birth certificate (requiring signatures from their local Chief to prove that they were actually born there) and then once they had that they could apply for the ID card.

Imagine being an adult with no Identification papers?  Many of our workers cannot read or write so their signatures are made with a thumb print with an ink pad.  

I have learned so much in the past 10 years of working in Swaziland, but many days I feel like I have just scratched the surface of my knowledge of how things work here.  The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.

We believe we made progress this week and next week’s payroll will be simpler and much more efficient.  But to me, the greatest thing that came out of all of this was that 65+ people now “exist” officially here in Swaziland.

Live from Swaziland … living and learning.


PS Since I don’t have any good photos to go with this blog I will just shamelessly promote three new items in our gift shop that are hand made here at Project Canaan.  As always, 100% of the profit goes directly back to help the children who live at Project Canaan.  The link to shop is

Egg holders - the perfect Easter gift.


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