Being part of the Kaya team, a love of travel and volunteering goes along with it. What really kick started my love of volunteering was my experience in Swaziland when I was 18. It was my first time out of Europe, and I was going with friends. What could make that better? The fact that I was going to help out at orphanages and teach English, and our goal was to raise £500 each.
The best thing about going volunteering in groups is that the fundraising is so much more fun. Putting our heads together over the course of a year we did car washes, bag packs, collecting at our local football ground and many bake sales! After the money was raised, it was time to pack. We took with us clothes that we didn’t need anymore (you’d be surprised how much you don’t actually wear), games, sports equipment, colouring books and more. My first long haul flight was interesting; the two drunk business men behind me suggesting a plane game of eye spy was definitely a highlight, but we finally arrived in Johannesburg. The airport is huge, and after finding our way to our gate, we boarded the smallest plane I’d ever seen, with one seat either side of isle – that was something I won’t forget.
When you arrive, you are greeted by a sign ‘welcome to the Kingdom of Swaziland’, being the only true monarchy left in Africa, the king here rules absolutely and is not shy to remind people. I remember being told to breathe in the smell, as African air has a totally different feel, and every time you go back you’ll feel how you felt the first time.
We headed to Manzini, the biggest town where we were staying and teaching in the local schools. My first day was unforgettable – the children had organised a welcome assembly for us, holding up a welcome message they’d painted for us and singing a song, their voices were amazing! After that it didn’t take us long to fit right in.
The singing never stopped, the kids love to sing and dance at any opportunity, even in the classroom. They also took great pleasure in asking my friend and I to share a song from our culture, we panicked and decided that the only song we both knew the words to was Mamma Mia, so we began our awkward rendition to applause. The teaching was fun, they are very eager to learn. We went through some basic grammar, animals, numbers and also some science. The most important thing is that your lesson has a clear aim and something they can take away from it, and you will need to speak very clearly, so for a northern girl I found this a struggle initially.
Other things we got involved with was community work. We did painting at two different orphanages and spent time with the children, playing games and making them dinner. During our time in Swaziland we also wanted to see all the culture we could. We went to Mantenga cultural village, where a group of Swazi’s show you around what traditional Swazi camps would be like, talk you through the history of the monarchy and then do a wonderful dance show, which you can get involved in. They have drummers and colourful costumes, and pull you up to dance, which believe me you will want to!
The other experience I will never forget is of course safari. We went to Hlane National Park, and 8 of us piled into a small jeep. Our guide was hilarious, telling us tonnes of things about the animals there. At one point he let us jump out and told us to approach the Rhinos slowly. We were all of course nervous, and on the slightest movement of the rhino we ended up running back to the jeep, much to his amusement.
Another thing you might want to try before leaving is the famous ‘pap’. It’s made from maize and made in bulk in a huge pot in the school year. It’s not much of a palette pleaser for you and I, but trying it and realising that is the only meal some of these children get all day really hit me. It definitely makes you appreciate how lucky you are, and how little can make them happy. One of my favourite memories is watching three boys in the street playing with marbles over a drain. They looked so happy, despite all their hardship and I really respected their ability to find happiness in something so simple.
Overall, my experience in Swaziland was one of a kind. For one, it definitely made me want to head back to Africa as soon as possible and explore further. But most of all, the thing you can’t fail to take back with you is how far your help and time can go. Some people have so little that even something as simple as some sports games can make them happy, and even if that doesn’t last forever, you still brought them happiness.
My advice for anyone travelling to Swaziland would be to go with an open mind and heart. Don’t take too many valuables, you can’t expect children with very little to resist something sparkly. Naturally be safety conscience, as long as you go out in groups you should be fine. Definitely try safari if you can, and if you can manage to arrange your trip over the time of the reed dance, it’s supposed to be one of the best shows on earth. Thousands of men and women dress in traditional clothing and perform dances, marches and parades. This takes place every year and is where the king picks a new wife, surely something you’d never see again in your life time.