Building an Old Age Home – Team Ndlovu

School children behind a breeze block wall

A week later, an isolated square of building foundations outside of a rural village in the Lowveld of the Kingdom of eSwatini has almost become a small 2-bedroom bungalow ready for inhabiting. Our tightly knit group of 17-year old girls have enjoyed (very nearly) every moment of our construction project; building the second old people’s home in the entire kingdom. Whilst it is small, the haunting stories of those elderly members of society who lack a family simply quietly dying in their shacks really moved us all to undertake this particular challenge.

In terms of the specifics, from Day 1 the project has included us breaking an embarrassing sweat from an hour into the working day, when we help the four builders in moving dozens of breezeblocks across the site ready for building. A task loved by some and hated by others has been the infamous cement mixing, involving mixing a handful of toxic dry materials with water into a wet sloppy mix that ‘Chief’ (the boss-man builder) deems acceptable. A spontaneous moment landed our beloved driver Phica (pronounced Peter) in his name ‘Spade Man’ after lifting his spades just like Superman. This has been one of many very amusing moments in our sociable team.

It has been personally satisfying for all of us to watch a building be erected under our own [inexperienced] hands, and despite original worries that we were in the [experienced] builders way, we have learnt to refine our technique of cooperation, involving a rota between the site and two nearby AIDS orphan care points, which I will discuss shortly, and a hefty amount of communication and motivation (shout-out to Ellen Jackson). Even so, we still worried that we weren’t much use, but were pretty chuffed when they assured us that we had in fact been an incredible amount of help, and that we were much better than when the builders had first started their job.

Two volunteers working on a wall

Three volunteers stop for a photo

A group of volunteers work together on a building

At the beginning these tutors were men of very few words, and yet with a few days of our optimistic charm, we all had designated names (e.g. Saucy Suzie; Woman of the Sauce), and poor Bea will be finding it hard to part with her new pal Jabulu, who has told her that he doesn’t want her to go. Our time waiting for bricks to be passed up was often spent having long discussions about our differing attitudes to religion. There was much applause, and even Hollywood-style filming took place when we reached ‘The Last Brick’. However, turns out that particular breezeblock didn’t quite hold true the claim of finality. It wasn’t the last brick.

Meanwhile, we have also juggled time helping out at the care points – surprisingly different places in their own right. There was one conveniently next to the site, where some of us enjoyed valuable time spent playing and teaching young orphans. I personally find it ever so slightly traumatic, as a particularly fun ‘game’ for them was gentle abuse – pinching, secretly poking my back… On a more serious note, the poor health of the children and very simplistic quality of life was very sobering. I found it hard to ignore the disparity between our relatively privileged lives and the poverty of the village, Section 19 – all as a result of us being born into different and more fortunate families.

In contrast, after realising that there were simply too many of us hanging around the Construction site with too few jobs, we phoned up the incredible Pastor La’salette; the unofficial Queen of eSwatini (she has done an extraordinary amount of service to the community for one individual) who exclaimed that we can create the vegetable patch in the other care point. We were excited by this, and the next day boarded the ‘Spade Mobile’ to arrive at a significantly better equipped and more organised pre-school. We all noticed how much healthier the children looked, and how much more advanced their learning. It was based in a wealthier town too – everything about the situation was startlingly different. Likewise, in comparison to the building, the satisfaction of converting about 10 squared metres of practical wilderness to an organised 6-plot ‘Garden of Eden’ was in a way more direct, as the anticipated growth of spinach, green peppers and cabbage will be the children’s future supply of food. This leads to health, that leads to happiness.

We are slightly frustrated in a way that we cannot meet the soon-to-be inhabitants of the building, although perhaps this will be an opportunity in the opening ceremony, which will take place after we return from a short interlude of safari to paint and make the finishing touches.

Back to the present; here we are happily lingering around at our very fortunate camp site of the Christian Family Church (complete with well-equipped facilities and an upbeat Christian service on our doorstep) with spag bol in our stomachs and a collective state of shock that we have just one day of plastering and completion of the roof left. We are greatly looking forward to the next fortnight, which will be spent collecting wildlife conservation data and a little bit of down time. However, I cannot write about the project without our main achievement: the mastery of impersonating Phica’s familiar phrase ‘Oh, wow.’ It doesn’t work without the accent.

We are very grateful to all who have enabled us to achieve what we have, and those we physically couldn’t have done this without. To Phica, of course, for providing us with his endless laughing (and for driving us around). To La’salette, for welcoming us with open arms (literally) into her Church, and her daily supply of cupcakes. To our leaders; Toby, Jane and Jo, for putting up with us and always giving good advice when we are stuck in indecision. To Abraham, for lightening up our evenings with his songs and fires, and for teaching us his haphazard way of playing cards. And last but not least; to Jenny, whom has dedicated so much time out of her busy life to train us in our preparation days, welcome us into the country, and constantly encourage us in everything we do throughout the project. Thank you.

Written by Ruby

Jenny Bowen

Author: Jenny Bowen

I live for travel, whether it is at home or abroad. It is a joy to explore new places, meet new people and to have an adventure. There are so many wonderful places to visit and such fascinating wildlife to see, you never know what is around the corner! Live life to the full and restore you soul.