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!