Dancing, Curry and Waterfalls with Eswateam

Mhlumeni team from St Helen and St Katharine School

The Eswateam – Adventures in Mhulmene

This blog was written by Milly, Coco and Cora from the St Helen and St Katharine School ,”Eswateam”, volunteering where they have been building a high school in  Eswatini.

Fun at the supermarket

the eswateam at the supermarket

Our journey to Mhulmene began with a peaceful, tranquil ride from Hlane. Until… we hit boxer supermarket- where havoc began. The fact it wasn’t our usual, beloved Shoprite, meant we couldn’t do just that. With 8 trolleys in hand, one could spy Coco smashing tomato sauce on the floor at the checkout as Peony to her right fell to her knees as Milly rammed yet another cart into her. The esteemed food minister, Orla, attempted to control the chaos but her previously trust yr 11 troops were too drowned in bread to care. 80 cans of tuna later, we were out!! We finally arrived at our home for the next 10 days and no complaints were made as the picturesque location we had now settled into, was absolute luxury for us. We ended the day with a true feeling of peace and tranquillity (read on to understand this witty reference!)

The First day of the Project – The Eswateam

We woke up for our first day of out project feeling confident as ever, until we met the builders. Witnesses recall an eager Anoush struck down by the remark that she indeed ‘was a weak one!’ However, the evident little faith the builders had in us was removed by the end of the day, as they realised, they were stuck with a pack of annoying, yet undoubtedly hard-working girls- and not e-girls. And they enjoyed the fact that we were willing to do the most menial tasks. We learnt the basics on how to mix mortar, grout the bricks and walls and most importantly improve our wheelbarrowing skills, which were physically laughable at first. It only took until lunch for us to gain appreciation and understand the work the builders put in to support their community.

That night we were treated to a taste of the community’s culture, in the form of some traditional dancers who encouraged us to join in. Cora deserves her own sentence here to appreciate the commendable effort she put into the dance circle- legs flew as Cora perfected the high kicks and jaws dropped as we watched her do so. It was truly, truly impressive. The whole camp was grateful for the kindness the community showed us here as the dance allowed us to immerse ourselves further into the SiSwati culture and interact with such a friendly group. We feel it should be also noted, despite us wishing it to be erased from Facebook, that we offered a poor ‘cultural’ (word cultural used in its lightest form) dance back with the infamous, British loved, hokey cokey, which unfortunately would not be its last appearance on this trip.

This day also taught us an important lesson we would love to share, that it’s in fact not a rumour made up by DofE instructors around the country, but indeed if you don’t peg your tent down, it will fly away- learnt the hard way by your happy writers Coco and Milly (members of the snuggly buggly tent).

Building “The Arena”

the eswateam building the arena

As we began to settle into the project, we divided the tasks needed to be done within the high school. These included: clearing a playing field (or as the headmaster so gratefully named it ‘the arena’), construction on the staff room (Harriet would not allow this blog to be published if we did not mention she was head), the making of a fire pit and roof for the kitchen, the painting of the bathrooms, and other landscaping tasks such as careful and attentive tree planting! We all gave a go at each job and discovered our different passions, some more than others with Emily refusing to put down the pickaxe util every rock in sight was gone and with Niamh physically not stopping until her ‘arena’ of stones was complete – a job in landscaping is most definitely awaiting her in the future. During our breaks we were all so excited to get to know the community better and so sourced so much joy when playing hybrid netball with the high school kids- and when attending their local football tournament where we cheered on the self- proclaimed ‘African Ronaldo’. The Eswateam all loved visiting the ladies at the tuck shop because their food and charisma worked in such harmony together.

Curry Night – The Eswateam

On the evening before the rest day the teachers treated us to a curry night. The spice this curry possessed seemed to be too much for the previously noted ‘weak’ Anoush who ate the meal with tears cascading down her face. As critics of this meal, we felt it lived up to the cooking of those in the camp. Except Tali, Milly and Niamh who have managed to continuously butcher every meal- tortilla pancakes being their worst. The morning after we headed to church. The anticipated 3-hour service began as 3… ended as 4. It involved far more audience interaction and energy than any St Helens service. Meaning laughs were given as we confidently took the stage to perform our highly rehearsed and most energetic interpretation of Lord of the dance.

Looking back, we should have read the dance filled room before performing and swiftly backed out as the only comment we received after performing was ‘that it wasn’t our best’. However, we would like to emphasise the truly welcoming and compassionate atmosphere to the church as every member so kindly allowed us to dance with them and feel included in their house of worship. The only slight set back in our church experience was their choice of microphone in such a small room- we do all fear our ears will never recover from the cacophony that was shouting + a full room sound system.

Visiting the Primary School

Alongside the project, the eswateam offered to help put at the campsite, making signs, leaflets, and a map of the camp to help aid tourism within the community. Our efforts were gratefully appreciated, which surprised those of us who deeply struggled with the seemingly basic task of painting rocks. Special mention to Annie’s ‘laundry sink’ rock and Cora’s equally disastrous ‘tent-parking’ rock. We also painted a mural reading ‘peace and tranquillity’ for the entrance which was entirely carried by Emily and Niamh despite other camp members trying to take credit (see the picture capturing the injustice below). One of the highlights of everyone’s trip was the visits made to the primary school, where we interacted with the kids whilst teaching them games and aiding their English. To put it nicely, the energy of the kids, which appeared never-ending was overwhelming yet, undoubtedly entertaining. The visits included an abundance of love notes, back-combing of hair and deep fascinations with touching hands. A general feeling of gloom hung in the air on the day we had to say goodbye to the children as their bold personas brightened up every day for us.

Quiz Night Controversy – The Eswateam

Some of the Eswateam other activities to pass the time included a waterfall trek and a quiz night. Milly’s quiz night is a touchy topic for the group as it left with some in uproar due to an unjust scoring system and others pleased that Milly favoured their team much more. There was a strange mixture of questions, some of which being very subjective, much to the distaste of the esteemed hair braider Anoush as the best hair braider was controversially awarded to Claudia. But Karma came for Claudia during the waterfall trek as she took a mighty tumble down the cave, leaving her and our guide in a pile up. The views of the Baboon cave, Leopard cave and waterfall were extraordinary on this walk. However, the best view was that of Peony and Josie as they fell into the unexpectedly deep stream.

The days of the project flew by and before we knew it the opening ceremony was upon us; this bought the daunting task of both choreographing a dance and singing! We decided it would be useful to consult the campsite worker John in hopes of advice on what song would woo the crowd but the only comment we ended up receiving was that our music makes him want to sleep, which he indeed did. In true Eswateam spirit we did not let this get us down and we began to livelily panic rehearse the night before we were due to perform as John slept peacefully away in the corner. When the opening ceremony arrived the next day nerves where high and Coco and Peony frantically rehearsed their speech. However, the nerves only drove them to deliver a seamless and heartfelt speech that captured our deep gratitude and admiration towards the community, despite the inexplicable laughs we received.

The Opening Ceremony

The ceremony included speeches from the headmaster, a member of the community, the minister of education, Jenny and more. We also performed a dance with the high schoolers that they had taught us earlier before we performed our dance to them. We were quickly put to shame however by their heart-warming cultural dance of thanks directed towards us. When the ceremony came to a close, we were disheartened to have to say goodbye but greatly overwhelmed by people’s gratitude towards us, we bid our final farewell and took our final pictures before making our way on to the bus to continue our travels.

We had such an amazing time with the community and were inspired by how welcoming the were. We are all so proud to have been involved in such and important project within the community which we hope will continue to provide opportunities for the students there and allow potential for the school to continue to develop not only the foundations for the school but allows students access to further education.

The eswateam in all its glory

Writers: Milly, Coco and Cora


students on expedition

Author: Student

Students on expeditions love to share their experiences and show their achievements. We enjoy sharing them too. An expedition with Sense Earth gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves, to support local communities and to learn new life skills for later life. To do something different.