Story in Observer Newspaper
It has taken a group of 16 pupils from St Helen and St Katharine High School (UK) to shine the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for hundreds of emaSwati children and young people who reside in the remote community of Mhlumeni, in the Lubombo Region, in the latter’s quest to have their first ever high school. Currently, children from the area travel by foot and some hitchhike to Siteki, about 20kms away, to attend high school.
The community’s dream of establishing a high school, which has been ongoing for a while now, received a shot in the arm when the UK pupils donated E60 000 cash towards the project. The pupils, who were in the country for four weeks as volunteer tourists, courtesy of Sense Africa, were touched by the plight of the community. They hit the ground running in their very first week in the country.
Start of a community project
“The pupils initiated the whole process of making bricks. They had fun as they had not done anything like this back in the UK. What made the whole experience more worthwhile was the community’s involvement. Locals came out in their numbers to work on this long overdue dream. A high school for Mhlumeni community is no longer a pipe-dream, but a reality,” explained Sense Africa director, Jenny Bowen.
Bowen was quick, however, to decry the slow processes by local and regional authorities mandated by government to help the community build a high school. She expressed her concern on the bureaucratic processes that were seemingly stalling the project. Bowen said such aggravated the circumstances that the children and pupils from Mhlumeni faced. She, however, was hopeful that the project will eventually succeed, given that it has since been initiated albeit painfully slow.
Meanwhile, the UK pupils also revamped the local pre-school: rebuilding the chairs and tables; repainting the blackboard; and painting some education murals on the walls.
“Again, the dedication of the community was noticeable and totally humbling. The UK volunteers took with them long lasting memories that they will cherish for a long time” said Bowen.
Student leader (a role that was rotated on a daily basis) Helen Brain said the girls were enthralled to have travelled all the way from the UK, most of them for the first time, and impact young lives.
“This trip has been life-changing in more ways than one. Most of us had no idea what Africa looked like. We are sincerely overwhelmed by discovering how friendly and welcome people here are. Everyone has enjoyed doing all the menial work here, and the community was really helpful. We can’t wait to share with our friends and families back home how precious this experience has been. The team hope that our peers from Mhlumeni will eventually get the high school they so much yearn for. We hope they get the same opportunities that other children from elsewhere get,” said Brain.
Swaziland Tourism Authority
Meanwhile, STA Marketing Manager Bongani Dlamini extended his organisation’s appreciation to Sense Africa, as well as to St Helen and St Katharine High School for their great humanitarian work. There were three different groups from the same school, and they worked at different areas in the Lubombo and Shiselweni regions. The fourth group worked in Nhlangano.