Tribute to Volunteer Workers In Swaziland:

Annemarth Hiebendaal and Robyn Smyth  In Swaziland

I wish to pay tribute to two wonderful young ladies - volunteer workers from Project Trust - who have recently spent a Gap Year in Swaziland.

Firstly, a short introduction to the volunteers, Annemarth Hiebendaal is from Holland, and Robyn Smyth from Birmingham in England. They are attached to the Gap Year Organisation named Project Trust.
Project Trust places volunteers to work overseas for a year, it is aimed at 18 19 year old school leavers in full time education. Types of work include social services, English teaching, outdoor activity and community development schemes. There are projects in over 25 non-European countries. Volunteers are given assistance from Project Trust to raise a proportion of their costs through fund raising. Young people are given the opportunity to do a useful job and become immersed in a new culture, develop their skills and learn new ones.

These two young ladies arrived in the very hot and humid village of Big Bend, in August 2007, slightly bewildered and homesick ! However, they immediately began to make the most of their year, and involved themselves in ( what seemed to me ) an endless succession of work projects.
Their target was to help the Big Bend Community, and surrounding areas, most especially the children.

The Volunteers Hosts in Big Bend were Mr and Mrs Richard Thompson, who cared for them and provided them with a base. Their base being Sisekelo High School Hostel, where they lived and performed the duties of Hostel Boarder Mistresses.

Disadvantaged children were of utmost importance to Anne and Robyn, and visits to local orphanages and daily care/ feeding centres played a big role in their settling down days. I was amazed to watch these two young girls form an instant rapport with the children. Within moments of saying hello , they were down on their knees, cuddling and playing with the children. Language was a very temporary barrier, superseded by love and caring.

 A rural daily care point for children Clapping Ring Games

Both Volunteers were very interested in Art, and an ART CLUB FOR DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN, was formed. This took place on some afternoons, and gave some children much needed supervision and education. Their initial ideas included the making of Board Games, Jigsaws and Simple Toys to play with at home. The focus to be on the younger Primary School child who did not get the opportunity to be creative.

With the valuable help of the Webmaster at a website was quickly formed, and hundreds of e.mails sent to companies in and around Swaziland asking for donations. The response from several businesses was wonderful, and paint, paper, crayons, beads, and pieces of material were received. The website also provided the volunteers with a whole new circle of friends from various cultures. Amazingly, one of the businesses who responded to the plea was owned by a man who many years ago, was himself a Volunteer with Project Trust. He eventually settled in Swaziland with his family and owns a business here !

At the very first Art Club afternoon, held at The Edu-Care Centre, not quite knowing what to expect, we catered for 40 children and ended up with over eighty !! It was SO amusing the children just kept coming, more and more ! Suffice to say that first afternoon was a wonderful experience for the two Volunteers, and the children and teachers and parents who offered to help !
Making Christmas Trees with Anne A picture for mom - Robyn and child

The Volunteers spent many morning hours at one of the Government Primary Schools, helping the Grade One and Two teachers with their large classes. They listened to the reading of English reading books, and assisted with the teaching of phonics. This school is approximately a 30 minute drive on a very dusty road - away from our main village and surrounded by cane fields. I am sure that this must have seemed quite a challenge to two modern young ladies on their first visit !
After eleven months of enjoying the benefits of the two Volunteers in class, helping with English language and reading, and sports, the change in the children is remarkable. The teachers in this particular school are talented and kind, very good at their jobs, but in large classes it always helps to have an extra pair of hands or two !

Other afternoon activities included the coaching of hockey ( Annes special talent ) and swimming ( Robyns special talent ), to Primary School aged children.

At The Edu-Care Centre we were lucky to have the Volunteers coach beginners swimming to our Grade O Class, and assist with extra spoken English. The extra English afternoons were great fun, as games were played and stories dramatised.
Beginners swimming was amazing fun, and after the initial shock of getting in the water and surviving the experience, all the children had a wonderful time. Emphasis was on breathing techniques, staying afloat and water confidence and safety.

Almost able to swim ! I am a Starfish !!

Arrangements were made, and the Volunteers were also taken out into the rural areas, where they were able to see first- hand some examples of desperate poverty and human suffering. One particular family of 6, was made up of 5 children who were cared for by a dying grandmother. The children ranged in age from 4 to 20 the eldest being retarded and in a wheelchair. I think this was their first sight of such terrible suffering, I know they were deeply upset and were motivated to collect food and clothing for this poor family. Sadly, only one of many such scenes they saw and stories heard.

Anne and Robyns enthusiasm and energy was endless, and I cannot possibly manage to write about all of their good works, and my apologies for any errors or omissions made.

They made a big difference at the local Moriah Christian Centre, where small children are fed daily and given a basic education.
When they heard about a grass-roots feeding scheme held some 17 kms. from Big Bend, off they went to see just how they could help. With the assistance of Sisekelo pupils and the Hostel, food was collected and taken out to the feeding point fondly known of as the Soup Kitchen - twice a week at 4pm. Forty + children were served food from plastic boxes in the boot of the car! The children quickly became very friendly and grateful as they lined up with their broken plastic plates and tin mugs. They were so grateful for any item of food that was distributed.
Eventually, the Volunteers managed to secure a sponsor to build a small kitchen to warm up the food, and for the children to sit in during the cold Winter months. The Community are very thankful to Annes family for their kindness.

The new "SOUP  KITCHEN " at Enhlabeni. Children from the feeding programme singing their thanks.

Sadly, most good things come to an end, and in August we bade farewell to these two fantastic young ladies, who returned to their homes and families.
They are already so sadly missed I have been often asked, but why did they go away, we want them here ? .

The staff and pupils of The Edu-Care Centre thanked Anne and Robyn in a small way by having a dancing party great fun was had by all ! Two beautiful volunteers in their colourful new Swazi Mahiya's No party is complete without a cake and candles !!!

Anne and Robyn, on behalf of all the children and disadvantaged people whose lives you touched during this past year, I want to say an enormous and heartfelt THANK YOU !! You have made a very big difference in all our lives. You can truly go forward with pride, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job very well done. I know that your reward was painted on the faces of the children who all love you.

May God Bless you both. Hamba Kahle! ( go well! )

Shirley Bradford