Autumn Update

The Mountains are looking beautiful at this time of year – there is often snow on the tip of the Berg, Giant’s Cup and Giant’s Castle glow red in the mornings, and volunteers wake up in their cosy Basotho Rondavels (thatched round houses) to a fabulous view and amazing sunrises.  Most days the temperature still rises to the mid-20’s and 30’s, so its lovely and warm during the day, and the sunshine makes any outdoor tasks involved in the day’s work all the more enjoyable.

 Image

We have achieved a great deal within our programme over the summer, and through Autumn:

 

The education support programme has gone from strength to strength, with international experts assisting with syllabus development at Beersheba primary school, and volunteers helping in classrooms working with learners of all ages.

 

Highlights of the past term have been international days with grade 6 – each week, the school class is given a presentation by a volunteer from a different nationality, which involves learning some language (or colloquial terms!), eating a national food and making national flags; the role model programme (which meets on a weekly basis) aims to inspire children of all ages to promote social good in their community, by performing good deeds once a week.  This is important to develop a cohesive community using a bottom up approach.  Even the smallest members of the group have instigated change in their communities, from taking fresh vegetables to elderly community members, to helping clean their communal land.

 

The school and creche are still recipients of vegetables from a feeding scheme, and any surplus is used to support nutrition of elderly and OVC’s (orphan/vulnerable children) from the Mahaque community.  We used some of the surpluss food produced within this scheme to provide a fabulous Christmas lunch for 80 children from Mahaque on Christmas day.

 

The sporting ability of learners is improving, with volunteers running weekly PE lessons that include basketball, soccer, rugby, cricket and netball, and setting up sports days and inter-school matches across our district.

 

We work on a daily basis to promote the good health of our programme beneficiaries.  This involves providing home-based support for treatment regime adherence, family health support and Life orientation lessons at school.  Medical volunteers have set up gastro-health screening and treatment for young children, as well as TB awareness and HIV voluntary counseling and testing services throughout the community. This programme is monitored internally on a daily basis, and our most recent annual impact evaluation has identified strong improvements in general health, family nutrition and particularly TB screening, awareness and treatment completion.

 Image

It is important in the field of international development to not just provide direct support, but also, where possible to provide opportunities and training in terms of sustainable livelihoods opportunities.  A main focus of our work is to provide training for women who are either HIV infected or affected, in previously known crafting and arts skills.  We have successfully identified 20 women for training in these skills, who will participate in a master craftswoman programme in August of this year.  These skills will then be further transferred to 80 more women from Mahaque over the forthcoming 2014-2015 period. Beneficiaries of this initiative will be trained in crafts such as mohair weaving, basket making, sewing and pottery, to produce high quality products that will be sold in our identified outlets in Cape Town, London and locally.  A two-week workshop run by a British artist and crafter will assist with the training programme. A fabulous group of volunteers from Australia made a start on a workshop for this initiative, and we hope to see it completed by the end of July this year.

 

Over the forthcoming months, we are hoping to have lots of international volunteers join our programmes here in the Berg.  Volunteers will have the opportunity to help in classrooms with children of all ages, provide support and child care at the Beersheba creche, work with orphans within the community, help out with the feeding scheme, assist with the promotion of good health, work on necessary construction projects including a new classroom for the school, play equipment for the creche and of course the completion of the workshop.

 

As you can see we are very busy working to promote development within local communities in our district using the areas of education, healthcare and sustainable income generating opportunities.  However, we still leave a little time for recreation.  Evenings are sociable occasions, we light great big log fires in our indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and cook up a storm, serving delicious South African meals to our volunteers.  Zulu dancers entertain new arrivals and Tembeka opens her home to welcome volunteers to enjoy evenings at her homestead, which include lessons in basic Zulu, traditional cuisine and home-made “Utshwala-BesiZulu” (you’ll have to join us to find out what this is…!).  Weekends are free to relax on the riverside deck, do a spot of yoga, enjoy trips into the nearby Kingdom of Lesotho, hot springs and the mountain parks, or even skiing.

 

Image

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Backpacking vs volunteering?

Image

Between us, Bean and Myself (and Bali, mitsles and co) have had many years experience working in the international development sector, running “real” volunteering opportunities for interested internationals, and also, working in the backpacking sector, when it was in the midst of its hey day in the 2000’s.  We got to thinking the other day, how the sector has changed.  Here are our five reasons why Ethical “real” volunteering beats backpacking in South Africa.

1. Affordability: If you wanted to volunteer in South Africa with MozVolunteers for one month, the costs would be far less than if you backpacked around, say with the Baz Bus, or personal hire car.  Volunteering also provides opportunities to travel, in free time, around our province, to Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and further.  Backpacking is expensive, you have to factor in travel, accommodation, meals and extra activities.  With us, these are all included in your volunteer placement.

2. In-depth travel, and immersion: Many backpackers complain that they try and cover too large an area of the country in too little time, meaning that they spend most time on the road rather than actually making memories.  When you volunteer with us, you get an in-depth experience of our area, and travel opportunities around to locations and destinations that are “off the beaten track”.  This means, best of both worlds, and a real South African experience.

3. Safety: Hands down, volunteering with us is a far safer experience than backpacking around.  We offer reliable and safe accommodation, and provide in-house, expert advice, and support 24/7.  When you are backpacking you can often end up in undesirable places, at the wrong time, and open yourself up to personal risk.

4. Community benefit: Volunteering with us provides an opportunity for the communities that you are visiting to benefit, as a large proportion of your fee goes to them, either directly or indirectly.   You are also given the opportunity to share your skills with others. When backpacking, you are participating in the commercial sector only.

5. Cultural experience: When participating in a volunteer placement, you will spend large amounts of time immersed in a local community and exposed to local culture for a prolonged period of time, giving you a better understanding of the way of life, and hardships of local, previously disadvantaged people.  Backpacking, on the other hand, you may book on a day tour to a cultural village, this is usually set up just for the benefit of the tourists.

Tragedy of Mozambique

Perhaps you have heard about the recent growing concern about unrest in central Mozambique.  Last week, we heard in the national media that after 21 years of peace, Renamo and Frelimo (the opposition and ruling party respectively) are again at loggerheads and are beginning to involve civilians, tourists and vehicles in transit in their political clashes.  Does this mean that there is going to be a recurrence of civil war? Hopefully not.  Over the past few days it has been reported that two transport vehicles using the corridor road in the north of the country have been held up at gun point with Frelimo soldiers battling to hold onto their life, and worryingly an overland truck heading through the country into Zimbabwe has also been caught up in terrorist activities.  Numerous British owned companies have repatriated their ex-pat workers, and the US has warned its citizens against travel.

Cause for concern?

We ourselves have suspended our operations in Inharrime province, as we are also concerned for the safety of tourists and our own staff. Although the unrest appears to be isolated to the North of the country, with occasional demonstrations in Maputo, the capital, we would rather be safe than sorry.  We’re holding thumbs that this political unrest is a temporary matter, and will be resolved swiftly, perhaps with international mediation.  This should mean that Mozambique will yet again become the peaceful country of palm trees and sunshine that we all know it to be.

What about Ponta D’Ouro?

As Ponta D’Ouro is situated in the South of the country – really, only a 10 minute drive into Mozambique from South Africa, we have no concern about our volunteers here.  All projects are continuing as usual, as there has been no reports at all of any problems in this part of the country.  Don’t forget, that Ponta D’Ouro is highly reliant on South African tourism for income and revenue, and is also isolated from Maputo by the harbour.  This means that it is highly unlikely that any political unrest will be felt in this small village.  This has always been the case in the past.  We will, however, reassess the situation in the new year, but until then it is all systems go in Ponta!

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

What is Africa?

What is the ‘real’ Africa?

Ask this question to any one person, anywhere in Afrixa and you will get a different answer each time.

For me? The real Africa, well, that’s easy.

Africa is certain sounds, or absence of sounds: the silence of the dawn, early morning waves of the Indian Ocean, too loud African house music- we call it ‘jelly legs music’ because young children dancing to it have legs wobbly like jelly, melancholy church gospel singing, cicada beetles and frogs lulling you to sleep and the gentle rumble of a lion’s call in the darkness.

Africa is also the smell of the potato bush.

Africa is the taste of fresh fish, the taste of salt on my lips and above all, a cold beer or glass of wine from the West coast.

Africa is hot and cold. Sunshine and snow with open fires and warm soup.

Above all, Africa is happiness, love, smiles, friendship, a struggle, but one that is truly worthwhile. Why? Because the rewards you get are better than anything else ever could be.

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