Sunday, 12 October 2008

Blog 4 - Goodbyes and Reflection

Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project. See www.tenteleni.org 

It’s October and the majority of us are back from project and subsequent post project travel. Only two weeks ago I was sunning myself on a tropical beach in Mozambique. Yet today I find myself writing this blog in wet and windswept Manchester.  This morning I walked into university all wrapped against the autumnal elements. Whilst dodging the remnants of the night before littered across the pavement I couldn't help feeling that my two and a half months in Africa were some form of surreal dream.

The last few weeks of project were busy. However they have proved to be the source of my fondest memories from Nkomazi. Perhaps the highlight of our time in school was the Arts and Culture Festival which we hosted in the township’s central plaza. After much toil and frustration the festival went ahead with five of the six schools providing arts and crafts to sell in the marquee and a whole host of performers to show their talents on the central stage.

By week seven we had already grasped that South Africans have a talent for song and dance but the performances by the children was truly exceptional. In front of a crowd ten deep the children rapped, sang, performed poetry, danced traditional Swazi dances and modern hip hop moves. It was really rewarding after all the effort put in to see the children let loose and enjoy themselves.

However, just as we were beginning to feel part of the fabric of our schools it was time to say goodbye. It was now week eight and mid- September. Unfortunately jobs and university degrees were waiting for us back in the UK. Our goodbyes were sad and emotional but sometimes just downright bizarre. Most of us were dressed up and paraded around the school whilst others were honoured with farewell dances. Without fail all of the volunteers have returned with some form of traditional Swazi attire. Pride of place in my wardrobe is a pair of sandals hand made out of car tyre and a jersey with the image of everyone’s favourite absolute monarch, King Miswati III of Swaziland. I could pull the look off whilst away but now I just tend to attract unwanted stares walking around Manchester’s Arndale Centre.

Some of the memorabilia and tat may soon have become redundant but the memories and lessons I have learnt whilst on project will last with me forever. How utterly exotic, exciting and challenging my time away was. There are hard moments but with time these feelings of frustration fade and all your toil becomes worth it. I have left Mpumalanga with 13 new friends from the project and countless contacts from South Africa. I posses a modest knowledge of siSwati, I have new life skills that come from living in a foreign culture for a few months and best of all I have a suntan!

South Africa is a truly beautiful country but with pronounced complications and contrasts. I hoped to return from my time away having worked out what South Africa is all about. On the contrary I have left with more questions than I came with. It is a fascinating country and my time away has spurred me on to learn more about it and its wonderful people.

I would thoroughly recommend anyone to volunteer with Tenteleni in South Africa. It provides you with an opportunity for personal self development whilst having some form of positive impact in the community in which you are based. Whilst it is important not to go out with expectations that you are going to “save the world”, realistic expectations coupled with constructive enthusiasm will go a long way!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Blog 3 - Weekends Away

Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project. 
See www.tenteleni.org 

September and spring is here. Formerly mild Mpumalanga is now sweltering and the last lessons of the day are increasingly arduous for volunteers and learners alike. With only two weeks to go we are beginning to take the strain.

In our previous six weeks we have been working hard in school, assisting in lessons and running after school clubs. On the 28th of August Tenteleni hosted its annual sports day, running both soccer and netball tournaments in tandem. It was a highly successful event and after a number of close encounters and spirited comebacks Mgubho came out the winners in soccer whilst Tindzaleni triumphed in Netball. Nonetheless, despite all our hard work more must be done in the final stages before we leave on the 12th. We are still to host the Arts and Culture Festival, which will be held in the township’s central plaza, and assist the external speakers who are coming in to talk to learners of Mgubho and Zamakukhle combined schools.

Our time at school has been tough but interspersed with numerous moments of joy and deep satisfaction. Whether it is listening to the staff and pupils sing or witnessing that moment when something clicks in a child’s mind, we very rarely come back to Spice without something positive to take from the day. However a week at school can be exhausting and progress can be slow. Each Friday we are all ready for a chance to unwind and explore a bit more of Mpumalanga, “The Place where the sunrises”, and its immediate neighbours.

At Nkomazi East we are blessed with a number of major attractions within easy reach, most notably the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Our first weekend was spent exploring its most southerly extremities. Guided by “Uncle Dave” and chauffeured by the ever suffering Themba we entered the Crocodile Bridge gate at dawn and headed north. Within a few hundred meters of entering park we had our first sighting, a white Rhino, appearing black against the early morning horizon. Our good luck was repeated throughout much of the day and we left having seen and photographed four of the “big five”, the leopard seemingly one of the more reclusive animals in the park.

At the end of week five we also visited Mpumalanga’s Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window both situated to the north of the province. This weekend turned out to provide some of the group’s most surreal moments. At our first kombi stop we came across a BBC film crew who were keen to find out our opinions on South Africa. Naturally being the quiet camera shy type Laura readily agreed. After a lengthy interview we were asked to sum up an immensely contrasting and confusing country in a few words. No problem… “Shap Shap!!!”
Nor was that the end of our group’s notoriety, at the Potholes we were confronted by a school trip of South African teenagers. They were armed with cameras and determined to get a souvenir photo with the umlungus. Again, we obliged and as I write my image will be being shown to family, friends and possibly randomers in Limpopo. When in Africa…!

As well as travelling within South Africa we also had a chance to further add to our passport stamps with trips into Mozambique and Swaziland. A personal highlight of my time away was the weekend away in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. Though less than 100km from the South African border the differences between the two countries are pronounced. The legacy of colonisation by the Portuguese and the subsequent two decades of civil war have helped to shape the country’s Latin outlook, leaving them with the envious ability to savour life. Maputo though falling apart at the seams is a place with immense charm. Dilapidated concrete apartment blocks and old colonial mansions line the broad avenues. Whilst downtown the cracked pavement is home to the buzz of street traders selling fish and fresh fruit.

Southern Africa truly is a place of wonder with so much variety and vitality. I will forever by grateful to Tenteleni for opening my eyes to such wonder.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Blog 2 - A Day in the life of a Tenteleni Volunteer

Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project. 
See www.tenteleni.org 
Four weeks into the project and the Mpumalanga sugar harvest is getting into full swing. As we make our way to school gangs of workers are already busy slashing down great swathes of cane. This is in turn taken to the TSB factory, a major source of employment for Block C/Naas. As harvest gets going all of us at Nkomazi seem to beginning to get into the routine of life at our various schools.

The typical school day begins with a half five wake-up call, usually by an alarm clock though Josh often lends a helping hand. After breakfast and showers Themba picks us up at 6.20 to be at our various schools for seven.

Emma and I are the first to be dropped off, at Mgubho Combined School. After initial customary greetings, “Sowubona?”, “Yebo” and “Unjani?” the entire teaching staff gather to sing. Maria a senior matriarch of the school will spark up the opening chord of a siSwati hymn. Soon all the teachers are responding in perfect harmony. Every morning without fail this proves to be a truly uplifting start to the day.  A vastly different experience to anything I have witnessed in a British staff room. I often amuse myself picturing British teachers, who I met on work experience, having an early morning sing-song.

After hymns and staff announcements the children gather for assembly. At half seven the school day begins in earnest. By now each volunteer has identified which teachers they would most benefit from working alongside. At Mgubho during the day I have tended to work with the Social Science department helping to prepare activities for children in their History and Geography lessons.

As native English speakers many of us have been heavily involved in taking language lessons. However one problem that we have encountered is that British accents often make it harder for the children to understand what has been said. Nonetheless, across the board we have also been able to concentrate in areas where we have the most skill or interest. Dave at Tindzaleni has gained quite a reputation in science - particularly with his gizzard demonstration - and Laura and Nic are honing the children’s more creative talents, working more in drama and art.

Lunch is served early at 10.30. It tends to be Pap and chicken leg. Pap is maize porridge, a staple carbohydrate for much of southern Africa. Though not offensive on the palate a huge white mass of bland can often be a daunting task at such a time in the morning. Just as the day is at it hottest school finishes at 1.15. The volunteers have a window between lessons finishing and Themba arriving to run after school clubs, help with sports or just generally chat with the children. Additional meetings aside we tend to back at Spice of Life some time around two thirty giving us a chance to chill out before preparing for tomorrows lessons and cooking the communal evening meal.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Project blog 1

Blog written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi East Project. See www.tenteleni.org

On the day Nelson Mandela turned 90 the twelve Nkomazi East volunteers arrived in Johannesburg for the start of their volunteer placement in the Rainbow Nation. 

The Nkomazi area is in the border region of Mpumalanga province within striking distance of Mozambique, Swaziland and the Kruger national park.

Our placement schools are in Block C and Naas, a township half an hours drive away from the Spice of life hostel in Komatipoort. Our first week in Mpumalanga was focused on training and getting to know each other. In particular there was a focus on Tenteleni's aims and values and developing useful skills that will be applicable when assisting in schools.

For the few first days we were fully occupied by the Action Adventure team. Divided into The Baboonas and Yebo gogo (yes grandma!) we played a series of logic, team building, athletic and local children's games. Whilst we all learnt to co-operate there was a substantial amount of friendly competition going on. Particularly when it came to perfecting the team war cries! As a Yebo Gogoite for a life, I am positive we just edged it!

The Spice of Life hostel is just off the N4, the main highway connecting Mozambique and Johannesburg. It is run by Kam and Yolandi and Josh their little tare away two year old, who is absolutely delighted to have gained 14 new playmates. Out in the expansive grounds lives Uncle Dave and Rob, two semi- permanent residents. Dave the senior figure in the Hostel is a useful fountain knowledge for life in Southern Africa having been born in South Africa and living in Swaziland and Mozambique. Having friends on the border point just two kilometers- he is also a handy ally to have. Rob, unlike Dave has a rather surprising accent. Upon meeting him I was expecting a gruff Afrikaner accent only to be greeted by a soft South- West accent. Sensibly Rob escapes England for warmer climbs for a couple of months every year.

The most significant day of week one was the teacher observation day on Wednesday. This was the first time that we visited the township and had the opportunity to see our schools and meet our various new colleagues and learners. We were picked up by Themba in his beats machine, a white Kombi which will be our transport throughout the placement. With Afro beats blaring we shot off. Left off the N4, past the border ridge, along the Komati river and out into the fertile plains beyond. As we headed towards Naas farm laborers were already at work in the Sugar cane and Banana plantations. For those of us who had never ventured in a township before the whole experience was a massive culture shock. It proved to be both daunting and exhilarating.

For the first time since we had arrived in South Africa we were truly exposed to the reality of the task ahead.

The Team!

Another significant highlight of the training period was going to Onderberg Lodge on Friday, the home of the closest Tenteleni project, Matsulu. As well as accommodating 16 other volunteers it is also home to three tame resident zebra, the youngest of  which is just a couple of days old. For the days training we were joined by Pienaar and Kanyamazan for a series of talks by other NGOs and the local education board. It was good to meet up with the other volunteers; exchange training week stories and best of all try out the zip wire.

On the weekend we have our own time for relaxation and exploration. As Kruger is only 20 minutes away we spent our first free weekend on Safari with Themba and Uncle Dave. An amazing experience before the real work began!