Weekends enjoying beautiful beaches, crayfishing, collecting mussels, swimming, surfing, walking…
Weekends are free time for volunteers to spend time exploring the local area, and nearby countries of Mozambique and Swaziland. One popular destination is the Mlilwane Wildlife Reserve between Mbabane and Manzini in Swaziland. Guests can stay in a traditional Swazi Rondavel and wake up looking at wildlife through the window.
I mentioned briefly the Angoras in a previous post. However, I definitely did not do full justice to our 10 beautiful ladies, and one equally handsome gentleman (previously two…) angora goats with a single mention in a paragraph detailing all our animals (domestic and well.. not quite yet domesticated included!).
Bean and I were temporarily banished to our neighbouring country of Swaziland a few months ago (primarily because HA was taking too long to renew my legal existence as a british bird in the bush and my previous permit had expired… instead of offering me a regular extension, we were met with the typical “angaze” * I don’t know* told to hop across the nearest border, and given a highly official looking stamped piece of paper to hand in on return). Anyway, during this visit, we stayed at the stunningly beautiful Mlilwane wildlife reserve, and on exploring the Malkerns Meander one rainy afternoon, we stumbled upon a small shop selling warm, inviting, soft, fluffy, stunning mohair blankets. On further investigation, we identified (super-sleuths that we are) that the origin of the beautiful fluffy rugs we were so taken with was a women’s employment project based in a warehouse in a neighbouring village.
After a visit to the project HQ, numerous stops at various shops selling more of these mesmerising products (mmm warm and fluffy on a cold winter’s day in Swaziland….) we stopped for a pit stop at the equally mentionable Malandela’s restaurant (home of “house on fire” *or washa umkhuku* if you prefer the swazi version [which means wash my chicken… ?!!? don’t ask me!]) for some light relief from frozen fingers with a tempting bowl of soup, a glass of red wine and a table next to a warm fire. After a couple of additional glasses of wine, the foundations of our Angora project were laid.
On return to South Africa, we located first an electric fencing supplier (boring), poles (equally boring) stables (somewhere in the previously overgrown jungle that was our garden) and finally, ten beautiful female angora goats (well, on purchase, perhaps not quite so beautiful, more tired, travel wearied and hungry!).
After a rather interesting delivery episode, involving ten very noisy ladies chattering at the tops of their voices in the back of a bakkie (open backed truck, small), said bakkie getting stuck (whilst still containing said ladies) on numerous occasions, in holes better described as craters that seemed to appear from nowhere in our newly formed paddock of phenomenally long grass and some quite ungainly pushing and shoving the girls were installed in their new home, munching on grass and oranges and seeming, well, to absolute amateur farmers quite happy all things considered.
The next stage was clearly the naming process, as their characters became more pronounced they all quickly acquired the most ridiculous goat names under the sun: Fatty (shame), Friendly (pretty self-explanatory), Princess (beautiful and spoilt), Pretty (pretty face), Sunflower (ummm), Moonflower (previously sunflower’s twin), Steel Wool (fluff of a similar consistency), Dopey (totally out of it most of the time), Ginny (from Chinny, had a lot of fluff on her chin) and Fluffy (also self-explanatory, usually looks like a messy version of an ET styled goat).
Since then, we acquired a male of the species “Grandad” (in the back of the small car), who quickly began his duty, counting his blessings at being launched into such a role as to service ten such stunning ladies, a second male “Seven Fifty” (what he cost) who wasn’t quite as successful until the death of Grandad after his duty had been quickly (and hopefully successfully) performed, * note – we didn’t play a part in Grandad’s demise, we knew when we bought him that he was on his “last legs” so to speak, and let him live out his final months in style.
So, now we get to today, around 5 months down the line, left with 10 stunning girls and 1 curly male, and so far Princess is showing signs of being pregnant with twins, Fatty and Steel Wool have enlarged udders, and are showing signs of unusual behaviour (all clear indicators that kidding is near) and the others are getting fatter and fatter (can’t always tell who is fatty on some days now…!)
Hopefully, within a few weeks we’ll have doubled the herd… I’ll keep you posted!
Then, the next stage is to figure out how to shear them, spin the fluff, weave the wool… but lets take baby steps here, fingers crossed for safe kidding!
So, in the end, this is the first stage of a highly experimental women’s project: Bean and myself have started to understand a full season of progress with the Angoras, we will start to train women from Scom to care for the goats, weave and spin and make (hopefully) the same beautiful blankets that so took our fancy on our trip across the border. Eventually, to be provided with the “micro loan” of their own small breeding herd to expand as they wish…….Wish us luck!
Over the past 10 or so years that Bean and myself have spent in the volunteering (?) sector, we have noticed a huge change in the attitude of the guests who come and join one of our MozVolunteers projects.
When we started our first project in Xisondwe, the idea of “volunteering” overseas in a novel, beautiful location was still relatively new. The majority of our guests were sent to us by an agency, which we were led to believe was benevolent, aimed at creating sustainable development, and opportunities for students and young people to travel overseas whilst seeing the impact of their assistance. In all, us in a nutshell. The reality (as ever) was slightly different.
The guests the said agency sent were in general, of a pretty high calibre, keen to experience whatever was offered, learn, assist and help out and play hard in their spare time, which they expected us to allocate them. They appreciated our agenda, which was (and still is) that we recruit volunteers, who we need for additional staffing and pairs of hands. They pay for no more than the basic cost, and monies left over after providing them with (actually, far over and beyond) the basic level of comfort support our projects in whatever form this may take.
All in all, exactly what we expected (some isolated examples excepted).
The only unrealistic expectations seemed to come from the agency themselves, who sadly, were disorganised, unhelpful, and rude. When they sent a representative to visit us, he got lost, unjustly criticised our organisation when we provided less than positive feedback on their company, refused help, refused to listen to our advice about the local area and onward travel and repeatedly asked us “where does the money go” (answer: well, when we receive GBP 500 per person staying for four weeks, who we have to feed, lodge (IN a lodge where we pay per person per night…!), entertain, insure, provide staff for etc, there is sadly little left to build hi-tech schools, brick housing, fully-equipped computer labs etc! NB. This is what he expected, bearing in mind there is no electricity supply in Xisondwe).
Enough on that. My point is, that the volunteers themselves were exactly what we expected, keen, easy going, motivated and we were exactly what they expected.
At some point over these past few years, it does seem to us as if the definition of what volunteering overseas actually incorporates has become blurry. In our small area (St Lucia Estuary, South Africa), there are at least 6 “volunteer” organisations that have sprung up over recent years. The majority of these charge phenomenal prices, and do not have an NGO registration of any kind, and to the outside eye, appear to provide what is essentially a tour incorporating a few hours of photography at a creche, or token assistance in an on-going CWP (community work project – a government initiative) building project. In fact, in the recent past a new one has sprung up offering horseback riding volunteering. (Pardon?)
Of course, we are far from perfect, but in our view, this is not true volunteering. This is perhaps a voluntour, or volunteerism (not that we are sure of the true definition of these terms either). Tourism using volunteering as a ruse to pull in the punters perhaps?
Many of these “voluntour”(?) companies have also contacted us, suggesting that they send their “volunteers” to our crèches/community centres/children’s centre, to help out. We let them, but after two hours of volunteers taking pictures, and doing no volunteering, our staff supervising the volunteers rather than the children, and countless empty promises of “child sponsorship” we rather called it a day.
In parallel with this change in the company-operation side of things, we have noticed a true change in the attitude of the volunteers we receive. The numbers are higher, but the willingness of volunteers to really assist and help out is, in too many cases sadly diminished. For example, we usually provide volunteers with a timetable, where Wednesday and Friday afternoons are free “when there are no other tasks to complete”. It is, difficult for us to receive any assistance on these days. How is a volunteer not interested in giving an extra half hour, to help out with something extra? (bearing in mind that we organise tours, trips and special activities many times during a standard stay, often free of charge, mostly without payment for our own time and expenses with an aim of providing an extra dimension of enjoyment to our guests).
Also, there is more of an expectation that volunteers are going to be given the opportunity (and I quote) to “see more HIV positive people”. Now, in a community where up to 75% of some sectors of the population are HIV positive, where all the children, adults and young people we work with on a daily basis are so sadly affected by this horrible condition, HIV is unavoidable. Lives rotate around an axis where HIV calls the shots. What did this one individual expect? For HIV positive people to be paraded in front of him so he can observe the differences between a healthy body and the other?
I could list pages of examples.
Volunteering now, seems to be less helping, less giving, less assisting, less selflessly taking on tasks to shed the load of others, and more “what’s in it for me”, often to the financial benefit of large companies often based overseas. This is unethical, immoral and, we feel, demonstrative of the attitude of modern travellers. In the early-mid 2000’s there was a move towards ethical, responsible, sustainable travel and tourism, where tourists travelled to isolated spaces across the globe, to partake in activities to “find themselves”. This has seemingly progressed to another stage, perhaps that can be described as “selfish travel”?
The crux of the matter is, we are an NGO, we are short staffed, we are under-resourced, we have an agenda to assist with empowerment and development through education, healthcare and trade. We need volunteers to both staff and fund our activities. However, there is perhaps going to come a day when volunteering is totally overtaken by voluntouring. When we have to take a good look at the benefits and the costs, and make a decision between remaining a volunteer project provider, or using our time (more wisely?) and becoming pro-papershifters, applying for grants and donations, thus closing off what is truly, an amazing opportunity for the people who come from the four corners of the world to join our organisation for any period of time.
And so I continue my sojourns into the unknown world of social media, blogging and online advertising through storytelling…
Next week will mark the one year anniversary of our return from beach to bush (with a trip to the drizzle of London in between). Bean and I have spent the weekend looking back on our two years spent living a beachcombers life in Mozambique: our permanent residence a beach shack made from reeds and thatch, the shining waters of the Indian ocean just a stone’s throw away from our verandah, and our staple diet of oysters and fresh fish.
Our days were spent dodging between the waves for an early surf, working amongst the coconut trees, and transforming fascinating wax print capallana cloth into interesting, but mostly quite bizarre products to sell to raise funds, such as bean bags that pop when someone sits on them (covering the sand in a kind of squishy white snow), quilts (never needed in such a hot climate, but a nice idea non the less) and cushions (make great beach pillows for tourists). Evenings were a culmination of busy days, sunburnt skin and salty hair, stories exchanged and drinks chinked beside a roaring fire overlooking the moonshine on the darkened surf.
Paradise? Pretty close.
That is the best way to remember what was, for us, a remarkable experience and inspiring two years, that brought us closer, helped us grow as people, both emotionally and intellectually. However, as we trawl through our Monday morning here in Monzi, Bean and myself are also reminded of the sadness, the trials and tribulations, the difficulties, the impossibilities of living in a village such as Xisondwe, next to a South African resort such as Zavora.
Our working days are now, typically, a struggle with education, childcare, attitudes, sickness and ill health on a backdrop of severe struggle, poverty and disadvantage caused by both circumstance and (current, not past) regime. This was also the case in Xisondwe, slightly less sickness, slightly more prejudice, slightly less problems caused by regime, more by circumstance, bureaucracy, hatred, illegal activity, and jealousy. These are the memories we try to hide.
Rather better don’t you think to remember the paradise, and leave the sadness to the company who has now taken over the day to day running of our beautiful school in Xisondwe, and the guardianship of the children who gave us so much pleasure.
Moving onwards and upwards: Bean, Bali, Angoras, Mitsels and Myself have now entered the world of real, full scale blogging (not just the micro-blogging option offered by Twitter etc).
After nearly 4 years of blogging, tweeting, facebooking and website editing our adventures from various corners of the world (particularly about our work: MozVolunteers based in South Africa and Mozambique – more to come!) and trying to keep up with the fast-pace, quick-moving technological advances of the 21st century, we have finally found wordpress.com and aim to keep the outside world up to date on the trials and tribulations, successes and dilemmas of our life while we try to succeed at running a self-founded NGO and volunteer project called MozVolunteers all from the beach, the bush and of course beyond.
So what do we have to talk about? Beach? Bush? Beyond? Who are we? what actually do we do?
We are as mentioned above, the founders of MozVolunteers (www.mozvolunteers.com) NGO that was founded by Myself (…), Bean (pro-surfer/intrepid ranger) and Bali (dog) with a later addition of Mitsles (pampered princess) and Angoras (11 goats). Each of whom deserve an individual blog post and will get one! We live in Monzi, a “picturesque, golf estate in the heart of Zululand” (reality: a selection of farm houses from the second world war, with dodgy water supply, a fence with holes in it and sporadic electricity connection from Eskom). We try to help communities in our area, who are sadly afflicted by HIV/AIDS (more about that later too) through education, trade and healthcare initiatives. This also means that we have volunteers, mostly from the UK/Australia who become welcome (or otherwise in some isolated cases…!) house guests for prolonged periods of time.
Clearly, MozVolunteers is not a fortune-making industry, so we each have our own sidelines (side being the operative word in most cases!) myself: trying to complete a PhD in women’s health, Bean running safari and golf tours (Zululand’s premier provider of course: http://www.safariandgolf.com )
Consequently this blog is a mixed bag of assorted amusing (hopefully) inspiring (definitely) exciting (occasionally) truly bizarre (myself = a British bird in the bush) hints and titbits to keep you occupied when you should be working, cooking, looking after children, working on your dissertation (students) and may hopefully inspire you to one day book a volunteer place on one of our projects and come and join us for a period of time to enjoy the beach bush and beyond of Zululand, South Africa.