Waking up to the mountains… now everyday

The Drakensberg is a place that welcomes you, that holds you in the cradle of its mountains and doesn’t want you to leave.  It is a place that teaches you new things, and cleanses you.  It provides you with new experiences, and shows you how you can live, with just a small change.

Waking up to the view of our beautiful mountain range everyday is a never ending wonder, and something I don’t think I will ever tire of as long as I continue to live.  It is an ever-changing picture, solid and constant there in the background of the living room.  The morning mists make the light from the sunrise shine in an ever changing glow of gold, red, yellow, pink, blue and orange.  It is an amazing experience having morning coffee on the verandah in the still chilly air, breathing the first breaths of the new day and relishing in the cool, clear air clean from pollution of the cities.

In the Drakensberg, you remember how people used to be – our neighbours in the Drakensberg are wonderful people, friendly, welcoming and happy.  Everyone is interesting and interested in everything around them.

You learn how to live a mountain lifestyle, how to ride a pony, how to milk a cow by hand, how to fish for trout in the stream, how to put in a fireplace, and make a chimney work more efficiently, how to cook well on an aga, how to negotiate a mountain pass, how to operate a solar power system, a donkey boiler or a gas geyser.

You learn to live again.

If you want to live again, to leave your office behind, just for a while, join us here at Rivercroft Cottage fibre farm. See http://www.mozvolunteers.com for volunteering opportunities, or contact alex@mozvolunteers.com

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Volunteer with us in the mountains

Volunteer with us in the mountains

Volunteer in the Drakensberg mountains. Leave your office for the outdoors!

Majestic Ukhahlamba

Majestic Ukhahlamba

The Southern Drakensberg. Majestic, powerful, clear, beautiful. An adventure. Come and join us for long walks through the mountain paths to pools filled with crystal clear water, long-forgotten caves decorated with paintings – a relic from bushmen of previous eras. Enjoy the clean fresh air, the beautiful sun as it sets over the mountains, fall asleep to the sound of the Polela river gently running by. Relax and treat yourself to our famous chocolate cake on the deck, or curl up with a good book by the fire after a long day’s work. The mountains are a way of life, not just a holiday.

alex@mozvolunteers.com http://www.mozvolunteers.com
arts, sports, community, health, care, teaching and farming programs. Share your skills and help others in the Ukhahlamba area.

New opportunities

Moving on as we are, this does mean that there are going to be many new opportunities popping up for you, and any other interested and interesting individuals to join us and help with our #globaldev aims.  We are going to be focussing our Drakensberg programmes on women, OVCs (that’s orphans and vulnerable children) and skill development for income generating activities, along with the inevitable HIV/AIDS care, education and prevention.

From December 2013 we will be offering the opportunity to join our community development initiative. This will be a programme that is predominantly funded by international grants anruns such is able to run throughout the year. It is centred on a group of women who we are training to participate in the mohair initiative which is a fibre production business run by our new partner company:river croft cottage. Women are trained to process angora wool (mohair) and their children along with any others in need from the local community are provided with daycare and basic education a the adjacent crèche.  Volunteers will, along with skills development initiatives, HIV/Aids education and child care join in with practical work and teaching at the local government primary school.

During the months of February and June 2014, we will be running our sports initiative.  This is such fun and so rewarding- within a detailed weekly timetable, volunteers teach soccer, rugby, cricket, swimming, wellbeing, yoga and heaps more to different sectors of the community. We also promote healthy living and nutritious eating with AIDS during this program.

In August 2014 we are running the best program ever (or so I think.. and Bean agrees with me) the arts initiative is back! This time with workshops run by acclaimed British artist Gill Robinson, a creative block installation, and sketchbook creation to empower rural women through creativity. Watch this space! This could be the best opportunity you have ever had… if youlike art.

And as usual, health based projects, opportunities for schools and university groups, sports teams and heaps heaps more! We’ll keep you updated as the plans (hopefully) come together, and we really hope to see you here in the little Berg, where the air is clean, the landscape never ending and the people (4 legged and 2) friendly and interesting.  Watch this space for updates!

alex@mozvolunteers.com

http://www.mozvolunteers.com

“Lets play”

Children at primary school in rural South Africa, all wanting to play, and learn gymnastics from a professional coach. Something they had never had the opportunity to do before. Something they did every Wednesday for 4 weeks. Something they still continue to do, and will now continue to do because they love it. #empower

Long time no see…

What a long time it has been since my last blog post. May 2013. That’s 4 months past.  We have been manic – trying to desperately achieve as much as possible during the very busy northern hemisphere holiday season, when students flock to South Africa for sunshine and to help out where they can.

We have run a sports project, community project and medical placement, with lots of achievements including building a volleyball court at Monzi P, smallholding at the Zwenalisha orphanage, teaching, creche help, painting and heaps more. There are just 2 weeks left until the last volunteers for this period depart, then Bean, Bali, Princess Mitsles and myself depart for the Drakensberg Mountains. The start of a new chapter and a new adventure.

Our experience working with communities in the St Lucia Estuary area has been varied and interesting, we have made many friends and had our eyes opened to a great deal of new ideas.  However, we are now going to be concentrating our efforts for this program on a once-a-year intensive help session, which will help (and test how) the creches run more sustainably, by women from the communities they serve. It will also mean that the two orphanages that we work with receive an intensive burst of help (and financial contributions) once a year, when we assist with painting, building, maintenance and the purchase of necessary items.  It will also mean that we, as an organisation are liberated from the constraints that have been imposed upon us through working day in, day out, with a faith based organisation (more on my perhaps rather controversial views on this topic in a blog post for another day).  

After a year of this, we will run a full evaluation, send the usual culprits on training courses, gain funding and grants to extend the programs sustainably and learn from mistakes made to move into a more successful year.  After a five year plan of working in this way, we will hopefully have achieved our end goal – the production of a sustainable community based and community run organisation that helps many and consists of local people who are there to help and be helped by each other.

So where next?

We are heading up in altitude, into the Southern Drakensberg Mountains, to run our mohair initiative and related programs. Bali and Princess Mitsles will need Ugg boots, and Bean and I will huddle around our newly-purchased aga, looking out into the beauty of mountain winter.  Until summer returns and we will bask in the bright sunshine reflected by the many beautiful rivers and lakes, ride through the majestic mountain range and live each day in the fresh mountain air.  We have started an NPO called sizabantu to work in collaboration with Mozvolunteers so that we can more successfully fund initiatives, monitor and evaluate our progress (both internally and externally) and move onwards and upwards in the place of all our hearts: the Drakensberg.

A time to think – world AIDS day.

World AIDS day is coming up, and for us that always means a time to pause and reflect, to think about our community and those around us who are less fortunate.

As many of you will know, South Africa has one of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world.  In particular, the small, rural, Umkhanyakude district and surrounds, where we are based is possibly the highest infected populations in the country.  Women of reproductive age have an infection level of between 70 and 75%.  When you think about this in real terms, 3 out of every 4 women aged between 16 and 26 are HIV positive.  Reasons for the phenomenally high infection rate are not clear, but high levels of labour migration, low income levels, low education attendance and high desired levels of young pregnancy (resulting in a high birth rate) all have an influence on the overall infection levels.

I could fill you in on the stats and perceived reasons behind the infection levels for hours, but it is far better just to describe the reality of the situation to you as told by those who know.   This is a description of the real life, daily reality faced by a lady called Zihle (name changed to protect identity) who is typical of around 75% of the women from the poorest, most neglected community we work with and alongside.

Zihle’s Story

I am 30 years old. When I was 24 I was diagnosed HIV+. That was in 2006.  I am not a South African, I am originally from Mozambique, that means that I have never been able to apply for an ID book.  This means that I sometimes have a problem getting my ARV drugs from the local clinics. If this is the case, I have to travel very far to another clinic to see if they will help me.  Luckily, the usual clinic gave me a patient card, which tells other doctors what pill combination I am on.  If this is changed, it makes me very, very sick for a long time.. About 6 months.

I live in a small community far from any large town. I have no children and I have no boyfriend.  Every morning I wake up, and fold away my bed, which is three blankets and a pillow. I prefer to sleep on the floor, others prefer to sleep on old wooden pallets that they make into a kind of bed, but I find that it hurts my back.  I light a small fire outside my door, and, if it has been raining, I clean the drips on the floor that come through the leaky roof.  I make tea, and get dressed then, if I am feeling well enough I will walk the 3 KM to the store, to find out if there is work for me on the banana farm today.  If I work, I share lunch with a neighbour, and finish about 4pm. I will get paid R35 for the day.  If there is no work, I usually go back to my house, and clean a bit, have a sleep or talk with my friends. Maybe if one of us is feeling sick, I will go and help, bring her water from the river and try and make some food with high nutrition like morvite or soup.

I ache a lot, my bones in my back, my legs, my arms, my head.  I can’t walk very fast, because my legs don’t seem to want to work properly anymore.  I can tell that my eyesight is going a bit, because I cannot see very well anymore.  If I eat a lot I usually feel sick, and I get stomach infections about once a week. I get cold very easily, and I lose weight. I am losing weight very fast now, I am very very thin, none of my clothes fit me anymore.

But, I have good days and I have bad days. I enjoy singing, going to church and talking to my friends, going out to socialise at a little cafe next to the store when I have some spare money and cooking traditional, Zulu or Mozambican food.  I love clothes, getting my hair done (although a lot of it has fallen out now) and my nails painted at the salon – really, I’m just like you underneath it all.

Sometimes when I go into town, people stop and stare, although, nowadays there are so many people like me that it doesn’t happen so often.  I would love a child, but for me, it is not sensible. I know I don’t have much longer left – I can’t afford to look after myself as well as I would like, I need vitamin supplements, mineral tablets, protein, lots of very fresh fruit and vegetables, anti-nausea tablets, strong painkillers and I can’t afford it every day.

I make an effort to help educate others about this condition, and how to avoid it, or how to live positively with it. Mostly I am positive, but my positivity comes from being realistic. I have no false hope, no silly thoughts, I am just living each day as fully as I can and making an effort to help others in the same situation as me where and when I can.  I know it is not fair, I knew nothing about HIV when I was younger, I didn’t understand, but it has happened and I am living with it inside me as best I can.  Day to day.

 

To volunteer with us visit http://www.mozvolunteers.com or email alex@mozvolunteers.com