With only 4 days left of being a Peace Corps Volunteer I wanted to take time to reflect back on this three-year journey that took me places I would have never imagined. I experienced some highs, some joy, some sadness, some frustration, some anger, some happiness, and all those feelings in-between. When joining the Peace Corps you never know what to expect and just have to go into the adventure with open arms and letting God lead you. It all comes full circle, “All my life I have seen where you’ve taken me. Beyond all I have hoped and there’s more left unseen. There’s not much I can do to repay all you’ve done so I give my hands to use.” I am going into this next chapter of my life the same way I started my Peace Corps journey. Letting God lead and giving him my hands to use because I know he has a purpose and a plan for me, it will not be easy, there will be challenges, struggle, but in the end I trust and enjoy the life God has given to me each and every new day.
I recently finished my close of service interview with my program manager and one of the questions asked was what am I most proud of from my service. I was thinking backing to my youth clubs, the preschool, libraries, relationships built and my new family here in Swaziland. It is hard to think of just one but one thing does stand out during my time here. I have realized it is not the number of people you reach but the quality and relationships built during your service. There are two people who particularly stand out and have been a blessing to me and seeing them succeed and grow. These are their stories:
Lindokhule approached me one afternoon when I was home washing clothes on a hot Swazi afternoon. Those over 40 degree days when your fan isn’t working, there is not water and you want to wear as little clothes as possible. She was a friend of my make from the community; a young woman aged 24 who was living at home taking care of her brothers and sisters. At the time she was living with her uncle as her mother was passed and her father was away unable to contact much. She completed her Form5 (Grade 12) studies but was unable to continue on with her studies due to grades and financial struggle. For the last five years she has been trying to provide enough money to take care of her siblings. We started talking and she wanted to return to school to upgrade her marks so she could get a scholarship and go to university. The problem was exam and school fees to retake Form5. It always seems to be an issue with money here in Swaziland for education purposes. We are very lucky in the US to have free education and many opportunities for scholarships to attend University. School should not be taken for granted, as there are millions of girls and children around the world who do not have the opportunity to go to school. After talking more we came up with a plan.
I was able to create an online fundraiser to help her with the exam fees. I thank everyone who supported that cause and how much you helped change a life. We were able to raise the fees required in just a few short weeks and then went to register her for the exams. She still was unable to attend school so we worked with a few other students after school and had tutor sessions on English, Biology and Math. The high school was very generous in allowing us to use a classroom after school and to work with some other students as well. Finally she was able to start attending classes there and complete her Form5. We also got some of the past exams for her so she was able to review those and practice taking the exams.
|Lindo on the far right with her brothers and sisters and uncle's family|
She worked extremely hard and was motivated to improve her marks and get into university. She was always the first one to show up and last one to leave the classroom and focused on her studies. While all the others were out at the soccer pitch or hanging out at the shops, she was in the classroom focusing on her studies. We made flash cards for some of her subjects, which she would review on her walks home or the bus rides to town. I could tell how much she wanted to succeed. I moved from my community in July 2016 to Mbabane to start my new position with Young Heroes and working in the Peace Corps office. She would be taking her exams in November of 2016 and would not receive her results until February of 2017. It was a long wait and was praying for her success.
I started work, went back to the US for the holidays and then returned to Swaziland and got even busier at Young Heroes. My life in my community seemed so long ago and the next short chapter of my Peace Corps journey was underway. It wasn’t until April that I receive a text message from Lindo saying that she got accepted to continue her studies and will be starting them in March of 2018. Lindo got accepted into Bradford school for a teaching diploma, which is a private college in one of the main towns in Swaziland. It was so great to hear from her and learn that she is pursuing her dreams.
The other story is about one of my closest friends and most motivated counterparts from my community. Without her the preschool would not be where it is today, continuing to service the community and now having graduated almost 100 children from grade0. The project started at the beginning of my first year in my community with the idea of creating a library for the Primary School. We looked at an old teacher’s house to renovate and make a library to serve both the High School and Primary School. As a Peace Corps Volunteer you have to be flexible and willing and open to work on projects that may not be your desire or expertise but is desired from your community. The library idea was not going well with the schools as many of the community members expressed concern over education and the need for a preschool.
|The teacher and my beard at our new latrine being constructed|
Early childhood education is new for Swaziland and curriculum is still being developed for schools. Most of the preschools in Swaziland are privately funded or operated through NGOs or other organizations. This was going to be a challenge but one I was excited for. We started meeting at the schools with the parent committee and introducing the idea to them. Our first step was to start cleaning the building and work on funds for renovation. I had no idea how to start a preschool or what is needed so I set up a meeting with an organization here in Swaziland who focused on establishing and supporting preschools in my region of Swaziland. They agreed to help in any way they could and provide some training for our teachers. This was great news and excited to go back to my community to tell them and begin the work.
The process of renovations started with cleaning the building, getting all the dirt out of the rooms, repairing cracks and clearing all the bushes from around the building. During this process we began to ask for volunteers or those with experience in teaching to help out and be teachers at the school. Few came forward to help out and of the few; one young woman has been there from the beginning. She was the one who organized the community members, lead the renovations, called the kids to come and made the first preschool my community has had succeed. Through the struggle or organizing parents, trying to get renovations and improvements done, feed the children, educate them and be a teacher she always has a smile on her face and never gave up.
|The start of the Preschool Building|
We were able to take an empty old building and give it life and make it a safe and friendly place for the community to gather and mold young minds. The school now has a garden to supplement the food for the children, water harvesting system and holding tanks, toilets and hygiene station to wash hands, school supplies, desks and chairs, books and fencing around to keep the children safe from the road and animals. It is hard to put into words how much Lungile, the preschool teacher, invested and how important she is to the success of the school. Spending evenings preparing lessons, working on the weekends to clean the school or improve it and cooking for the children early in the morning so they had food at lunch time. I was able to work with her the last 2 years and see the growth in not only the school but also her as an individual. I was happy to find out that she was recently accepted into Ngwane Teachers College to finish her education and obtain her degree in teaching. This will be huge in her future allowing her to support her children and provide better education services to the kids around her and her students at the preschool. I am so happy to hear these stories and proud to have worked with someone so dedicated to life and the growth of young children.
|The Preschool Today!|
There are so many others stories I could tell about my time in Swaziland and the people I have worked and interacted with. Eventually I would like to write more of these stories down and share them with others to realize what an impact an individual can have. Even if you think you are one person and that you don’t have the power, that is a lie and affecting the life of just one individual is worth it. It is the small things that will create change in the world today and it needs to start with that one person. I want to thank all who have supported me these last 3 years with your prayers, thoughts, care packages, monetary support, letters, messages and encouragement. You have made a difference and I would not be where I am today without all of you.
Siyabonga Kakhulu (We all thank you very much!)
PS: 7 days left in Swaziland. I will continue to write about my experiences in Peace Corps even when I get home and the memories and friends that have touched my life from Swaziland.