Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069
 

11th March 2016

Iona Smith: From Namibia to Swaziland

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Iona tells us what happened when her volunteer visa in Namibia wasnt quite as it should beand how she bravely soldiered on with her plan to support education with a new placement in Swaziland. 

After spending several months at Otjikondo school in Namibia, I have had a dramatic change of plan.  I had to leave Namibia and I am spending the rest of my year in Swaziland. The other Namibia volunteers and I were arrested, made to leave as we had issues with our visas and were stuck in the country with no passports for three months while a court case was pending. We are now free with no charges against us, hoorah! And Im now settled into my new project in Swaziland so in this blog I shall be writing about all the exciting things Im getting up to here.

We arrived at our new project on the 16th of February and already feel at home and very settled. Ella and I are working in a community called Ekuthuleni, which roughly translates to peaceful place in siSwati. The community itself is very small and consists of a mission station, a church, a High school and a Primary school. We live within the mission station at Ekuthuleni where there is a pre-school and a Care Centre for vulnerable and abused teenage girls.

Living at the mission station with us are the two pre-school teachers, Dolly and Jabu, who actually grew up here when it was an orphanage; the grandchildren of the pre-school teachers: a nine year old girl called Swa and two five year old boys, Sikello and Phiwo; two deaf girls who are interning at the care centre; five teenage girls who live at the care centre; and an 18 year old boy called Siboniso who is in care here. Our host Alicia and her brother Josh, who are both American, live at the mission station as well.

Ekuthuleni mission station has been running for over 100 years. It was set up by Norwegians and was formerly an orphanage. However, when the Norwegians left the whole place flopped and was left lying derelict for a few years. Two years ago the Evangelical church in Ekuthuleni approached the charity and childrens home Pasture Valley, which is a few miles away to help bring the centre back to life. The owner, Michelle, sent Alicia over to get the place back up and running around two years ago. Alicia is a 28 year old qualified teacher who previously did a placement at Pasture Valley for six months. She has completely turned this place around, setting up the Pre-school, the Girls Care Centre and revamping the whole complex.

Our job here is very varied and we teach a very large range of ages. In the mornings from Monday to Friday we teach at the pre-school which is just at the end of the corridor in our house. We wake every morning to the sound of children playing, quite an alternative alarm clock. We have our own class of three and four year olds who speak no English and love to roll on the floor. At first we found it rather challenging trying to find things to do with such young kids who have no idea what you are saying. Thankfully, we are getting the hang of what activities work with them and have learned some basic siSwati commands which helps a great deal. We enjoying teaching them so much more now that we know them better and are used to working with their age group.

In the afternoons the mission centre runs an after school tuition scheme. Ella and I have a Grade three and four class that we teach during the week. We provide extra English and Maths classes for an hour and a half every day. Some individuals struggle great deal with their work so it really motivates us to try and help them as there is so much progress to be made. It can be frustrating at times when you think they understand and then their work consists of sentences such as Thursday is wall.  But we will get there eventually. Anyway, they are such a nice bunch of kids and I always look forward to teaching them.

Afterwards, we tutor some of the girls who live at the care centre, some other high school students and Sibosiso, who lives at the Mission Station. One-on-one tuition is so rewarding and the two hours always flies by.  We are also teaching extra English classes at the local High school. Some of our pupils are in their twenties so it is interesting teaching such a wide range of ages- from three year olds who wet their pants to adults!

I dont think I had really anticipated how different Namibia and Swaziland would be. One of the most obvious and striking differences between the two is that Swaziland is incredibly green. Having just come from a country of endless savanna and vast expanses of barren land, it was very pleasant to be reassured that green things actually still exist. There are also many hills in Swaziland, whereas Namibia is predominantly flat. Walking on ground of such a sharp incline was also a bit of a shock to the system.

Swaziland also has more of an African feel to it. Namibia is a reasonably well developed country and is a lot more westernised than I thought it would be. There would be many occasions when we were wondering around huge shiny shopping malls and we could have been anywhere in the world. It has often been described as Africa for beginners or Africa lite. I feel as though Swaziland is possibly more of the real deal. The sizes of the countries are also at opposite ends of the scale. Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country on the planet and Swaziland is the tiniest country in the Southern Hemisphere.

At Otjikondo it was a 40 minute drive to the nearest town and a four hour drive to the capital city, so in Namibia terms we were pretty close. Now I am a 12 minute bus ride away from Nglangano, our nearest town and an hour and a half drive from the Capital Mbabane, a bit of a trek in Swazi terms. You can also drive form the top to the bottom of the country in about three hours. It is very jammy to be able to zoom around an entire country very quickly however, I am glad that we were stuck in Namibia rather than here in Swaziland.

Swaziland is culturally very different from Namibia especially in the rural areas where we are living. We have to dress very respectably- trousers, shorts and short skirts are a no go zone. There are many rules which must be followed in order to be respectful. For example, you can never give people things with your left hand and you must greet others, ask how they are etc. before asking them a question. Swazi also has a King and is one of the few countries in the world to still be running under an absolute Monarchy, pretty cool.

The white population is minute in Swaziland whereas in Namibia it was fairly big. In some areas you felt as though you could be in Germany. There is still a huge influence since it was a former German colony. I didnt fully appreciate quite how culturally diverse Namibia was until we left. At Otjikondo alone, as well as English and Afrikaans, there is a number of different tribal languages spoken: Oshiwambo, Herero, and Damara to name a few. In Swaziland everyone speaks siSwati and Swazis are all from the same tribal group. I really miss the crazy mix of languages and cultures in Namibia, its what makes the country unique and a very interesting place. However, the fact that the level of English amongst the kids we are teaching here is fairly low has given us a real incentive to learn siSwati. Being in a place with only one language to learn makes it a lot easier and our attempts at speaking it go down extremely well with the locals.

Overall, this whole situation has meant that we have been able to live in and explore two very different areas of Africa, an appealing 2 for 1 deal I must say. We have had an entirely unique experience and have many exciting stories to tell about getting arrested and deported from Namibia, definitely one for the grandkids. Even though we have been through a ridiculous amount of nonsense and havent been given the exact year we were promised, many positive have come from the madness. I wanted to take a year out in order to do interesting work, travel and obviously have a good old adventure. I feel as though all boxes have been ticked.

Overall, I am incredibly grateful that both projects I have been able to work at are brilliant and for completely different reasons. Lets hope that the rest of my year consists of less trouble, lots of (legal) work and many good times.

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