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Out of Long Beach, Into Africa : Family Leaving for 3 1/2-Year Swaziland Adventure

January 19, 1986|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

The Newtons seemed to have it all. Terry Newton had forged a well-paying career as an assistant administrator at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Anaheim. His wife, Mary, enjoyed her job as a secretary at the church they attended.

Their two children were enrolled in good schools near the family's spacious home in the upscale Naples section of Long Beach. The Newtons owned comfortable furniture, nice cars. Theirs was a life filled with the trappings of prosperity.

But they've given it all up.

On Tuesday, the Newtons left for Swaziland, a tiny kingdom in southeastern Africa that will be their home for the next 3 1/2 years. The family is undertaking the adventure as part of a missionary program run by the Church Of The Nazarene.

Terry Newton, 41, will serve as an assistant administrator at Raleigh Fitkin Hospital, the principal medical facility in Manzini, a city of about 35,000, the second largest in Swaziland.

$700-a-Month Salary

The family will move into housing on the hospital grounds, living on a $700-a-month salary paid by the church, about a quarter of what Terry Newton earned at Kaiser. The children, Elizabeth, 13, and Tyler, 9, will get their education through a tutored correspondence course.

For Newton, a journey to a far-flung land to help others is nothing unusual. After graduating from college in the mid-1960s, he served as a member of the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka from 1967 to 1969.

Although Newton had settled into his career in the health field during the past 15 years, he has never lost his desire to aid the less fortunate of other countries.

"It's hard to get a sense of materially improving someone's life by flying a desk all day as I did at Kaiser," Newton said. "Working in Swaziland will be a tremendous opportunity to contribute, to walk away and see you've done something that has had a lasting impact."

The family has traveled for weeks at a time to Ecuador, Mexico and Martinique in the West Indies to help build churches. Nonetheless, the idea of moving to Swaziland--a country of about 650,000 people that is only slightly larger than Delaware--took Newton's wife and children by surprise.

'The Right Thing to Do'

"Terry was certainly more ready for it than I was," said Mary, 39. "But we're sure it will be the right thing to do."

Despite their parents' enthusiasm about the trip, the children were upset. While their parents billed the trip as an enriching experience with memories to last a lifetime, Elizabeth and Tyler were reluctant to leave their friends and the comforts of life in Southern California.

"At first, I thought the idea was crazy," Elizabeth said.

After several months of debate, however, the children came around.

"We weren't going to drag them off yelling and screaming," Terry recalled. "But they eventually began to see the trip as something they wanted to do."

"I'm really excited about being able to travel and see other cultures," Elizabeth said. "Knowing we'll eventually be coming back makes it a little easier. I'm thinking of it as a long vacation."

Something of a Gamble

The trip is something of a gamble for the family. When Newton left Kaiser early last December, his bosses were unable--because of hospital policy--to promise that he could have his job back when the family returns to the United States in June, 1989.

"You can't make a decision like this strictly on rational terms," Newton conceded.

Nonetheless, he admits to having some profound concerns about the journey. In particular, Newton is worried that unrest in South Africa or Mozambique could boil over into neighboring Swaziland.

Also, the decision to work in Swaziland, which has close economic ties to South Africa, posed a philosophical problem for the Newtons--the couple is steadfastly opposed to the system of apartheid practiced in South Africa.

"It was tough," Newton said. "On the surface at least, we were going to aid and abet a small country that is closely associated with South Africa. But for us, the struggle to help people transcends the political issues."

In his role at the hospital, Newton will work with an American-born chief of staff. The administrator and head nurse, however, are Swazi. One of Newton's principal tasks during his tenure as assistant administrator will be to recruit and train a Swazi to assume the post when he leaves.

Little-Known Country

The Newtons know little about the country that will be their home for the next three years other than what they have read in books.

Most of the residents of Swaziland, which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1968, eke out a living by farming corn, sugar, rice, cotton or citrus crops. The annual per capita income in Swaziland is less than $500.

Although the country is blessed with a substantially higher annual rainfall than drought-stricken African countries like Ethiopia, food shortages and diseases such as typhoid fever and tuberculosis are common.

Ongoing problems with malnutrition have fueled the country's infant mortality rate, which is 156 per 1,000 children, nearly 15 times the infant mortality rate in the United States. Life expectancy in Swaziland is 47 years, compared to 74.7 years in the United States.

While many hospitals have been built throughout the country, there is still only about one doctor per 8,000 residents compared to one for every 455 people in the United States.

It is because of such problems that Terry Newton and his family abandoned their life in Southern California and traveled to Swaziland.

"I see this as a real opportunity to serve," Newton said.

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