16 October 2018
Three teams of St Helen’s students travelled to Swaziland this summer to undertake a volunteering project. Their tasks included refurbishing a pre-school building, helping to build from scratch an old people’s home and building two playgrounds to beside two new schools. As well as enjoying the stunning landscapes and wildlife of this part of the world, all students reported that the welcome they received from the people was extraordinary and moving.
Jemima (Upper Sixth) and Juliet (Lower Sixth) reflected on the lessons learned during their expeditions:
Jemima: For me the most powerful moment of the trip was the night before the opening ceremony of our pre-school while we were making dinner. Just as we began to cook the water stopped coming out of the taps. There was no water left, we had used all the water from the massive tank that they had brought in just before we arrived.
There was still one tap that fed from a different tank and the ladies that looked after us were frantically running back and forth, filling every saucepan that they could. When we thought it was going badly enough the gas cannister that powered our stove also ran out.
We wanted to give up and thought there was going to be no way for us to be able to feed 25 hungry people. One of the ladies instantly set a fire and helped us to get cooking. We had to abandon our pasta as we found it was infested with ants and so we resorted to toast.
In the end everyone was fed and I know I personally felt my eyes were opened to realities of poverty, especially the fact that many people do not have unlimited access to resources like water and gas like we do. All the people we met in the community of Mhlumeni were so positive, determined and helpful all the time even though they had so little. Since I have got home I feel I try to conserve water and I definitely am more appreciative for everything I have.
Juliet: For our group in Swaziland our aim was to build two playgrounds to go beside two new schools. On our first day at the project site, we were all enthusiastic, armed with newly bought work gloves but things did not go as smoothly as we had planned. The land for our playground had been moved to a new plot that was a steep as a ski slope and all uneven ground. We began shoveling a mountain of soil in an attempt to even out the group. Within minutes we were joined by dozens of helpers from the surrounding community. Unasked they all helped us to shovel the soil and like that we have overcome our first hurdle. The Swazi villagers helped us relentlessly, showing us not just how to build but also that everything can be done with a smile on your face.
We felt so privileged to be in their country, yet they were the ones that kept thanking us. It was eye-opening to see the children walking 10 km to school, because that’s how much commitment they have. It was a real reward to be able to see them playing on our playgrounds knowing that we contributed to that. We were also lucky enough to play netball, or a version of it, with some local school girls. It was amazing to be so happy in each other’s company.
Our team learnt that you don’t need electricity or phones or comfy beds. The people in Swaziland are incredibly optimistic and in seeing their way of life it has influenced us to take their attitude home and attempt to share the compassion they have. We were often told that things don’t go to plan because ‘it’s Africa’ but our whole team would agree that the response ‘it’s Africa’ should only be when describing the generosity, kindness and dedication of great people and is something that should be greatly admired and remembered.