Saturday, March 20, 2010


On Friday afternoon, after dropping my parents off at the airport (more on this in next blog entry), I crossed the border back into Swaziland and received the best text message ever from the Assistant Peace Corps Director in Swaziland:

"Hi Justine...I just want to let you know that your project has been funded!"

That's right, I've raised all of the $8591.69 I need to begin my water and community garden project for my community! I should get the money in the next 2 weeks, which means I can begin the implementation of the project sometime in the beginning of April. I can't wait to tell my community that we have the money!

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated to the project, everyone who passed along my emails and links to videos and blog and website addresses, everyone who raised money at their workplace or school or club, and everyone who has helped me along the way. Unfortuantely I don't know who you are (they don't tell me for another couple of weeks), but YOU know who you are!

If you happen to have been raising money to donate to my project, or if you were planning on donating but didn't get a chance, I suggest that you donate to another Volunteer in Swaziland, Erica Briant, who is raising $2697.78 to build a workshop building for a women's sewing cooperative in her community. The beneficiaries of the project are the women themselves, who will have greater capacity to make school uniforms (that's what they do) so they have a better income, as well as the school children in the local community who receive the uniforms. It's a great project initiated by a great volunteer, so I promise the money will be used wisely! The link to her donation page is posted below:

On that note, I'm off to my house to play with my new Dremel tool and sewing machine and to watch DVDs that my parents brought for me. And, hopefully, to write a blog about the adventures I've had over the last 2 weeks with my parents here. Tomorrow I'm back in town to hang out with the kids at Pasture Valley, then plan the first of a series of workshops for Bambanani (formerly Bambani Sandla, we changed the name) that will take place on Monday. Busy, busy, busy!

Love from the Swaz!

Monday, March 1, 2010

All the small things

As exciting as my life in Swaziland may seem to those of you who have so-called “boring” jobs, most of my days are pretty uneventful. Yesterday I did 4 hours of laundry, watched movies, made sweet potato hash browns (delicious!), and waited patiently for my parents to call. Today I made some earrings, polished my floor, had a 10 minute meeting about a business studies club I’m trying to start, and posted this Blog. Not exactly an adventure…

Having been in Swaziland for over 19 months now, the novelty of it has kind of worn off. Still, as my time here comes to a close, I’m making a conscious effort to appreciate the everyday things I’ve come to take for granted. The purple silhouette of the mountains surrounding my community, which I see every day without even thinking about. The kids in my community who get excited every time they see me, even if it’s only been 10 minutes since the last time. The days that start out overcast then turn out to be beautiful and sunny. The availability of cheap vegetables, even if variety is limited by season, and the convenience of the local sitolo (shop) where I can buy bread, eggs, and Cheetos only a 5 minute walk from my house. The kindness of my host family who, despite their limited resources, shares their dinner with me at least once a week. And so many other things I know I’ll miss.

Sure, there are things about Swaziland that I won’t miss (the big snake that’s taken up residence in the rock pile by my pit latrine, for example), but when I look back on my Peace Corps experience in 10 years, I don’t want to remember those things. I want to remember the beautiful landscape, how it felt to be adopted by a Swazi family, and everything I learned about myself during these 2 years. Other volunteers in my group have started counting the days to their flight home, but I don’t want to look at the next 7 months as something to get through; I want to use those 7 months to appreciate all the little things that make this experience so wonderful and unique.

I AM, however, counting down the days to my parents’ arrival. In 5 days…

After a frantic couple of weeks spent cleaning my house (seriously, it needed it) and starting a bunch of new projects, I get to take a 12 day vacation. Sort of. I’ll meet them Saturday morning in Johannesburg, South Africa, then spend 3 days hiking, craft market shopping, and exploring all the places in Swaziland that I haven’t had time (or transport) to get to. We’ll visit Pasture Valley for 2 days or so to help plant an orchard at the children’s home, then head back to my site for the rest of the trip. At my site we’ll be working on two projects: a jungle gym at the local NCP and preschool, and painting health awareness billboards at all the bus stops in my community. Relaxing, I know. THAT should be an adventure. We’ll also be taking all of the kids on my homestead up to Mlilwane Nature Reserve for a day to have a braai (cookout/picnic) and go swimming and such. None of them have ever even been to Nhlangano, let alone Mbabane or Manzini, so they’ve been counting down the days for a while now. (And I’ve been busy hoping that none of them drown or are bit by monkeys or anything.)

And it’s not just the kids. I have NEVER seen my host family so excited about ANYTHING. In Swaziland, family is a huge deal, so for my host family it’s a big honor to get to meet my parents. It was cool for them to meet Jess and Brittney, and they were excited to meet my sister Erin, but my PARENTS. Man, they can’t get over the excitement. This week, Gogo (grandmother) went around the homestead and “cleaned up” (pulled) all of the grass to make sure there were no snakes, and planted flowers all around my house. They’ve cut all the grass, washed and waxed the floors in the main house, put up a clothesline for my parents to dry their clothes on, and finally cleared all the rubble from the kitchen that collapsed in late October. They’re almost as excited as I am, and they’re MY parents…

In other news, I’ve been working my butt off trying to start new projects and wrap up others I’ve been working on for a while. And it’s kind of overwhelming. Here’s a breakdown:

1. I’ve started the JA Company program at Jericho High School, which is about 2 hours away from my house on public transportation. So far the teacher I’m supposed to be co-facilitating with has yet to show up to a meeting or answer any of my phone calls, but the students seem really motivated, really organized, and respectful, which is all I really need to keep going. After 3 more weeks of lessons on business and entrepreneurship, we’ll start a mini-company that will run (and hopefully make a profit) for about 8 weeks. And I will have an opportunity to learn how to make floor polish out of old plastic bags, paraffin, and laundry soap. (Hello, carcinogens.) Hopefully I’ll be starting the same program at Evelyn Baring High School this week, but we’re having a tough time scheduling our first meeting because the students and teachers all value sports over education and prefer to cheer on their volleyball team than show up to meetings. They keep saying that we’ll meet if it’s raining, but so far no rain. But it will happen eventually, I hope.

2. I finally got permission from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to do a mass media campaign on HIV/AIDS, diabetes, TB, nutrition, STIs, and other health issues. I’ll be hosting a series of 9 weekly workshops, each focusing on one topic, at the bus shelters along the tar road in my community. After each workshop, I’ll paint a message about the topic onto the bus shelter (they’re cement) like a billboard, so that everyone in the community will see it. The Ministry was REALLY supportive of the idea when I talked to them last week, and I’ve submitted the grant proposal to Peace Corps to get funding for the paint and other supplies, so now all I have to do is wait. (And after 19 months in Swaziland, I’m really good at that.)

3. My partnership project to do the community garden and borehole is ALMOST funded. I currently need about $3600, but $2000 of that will come from an endowment for Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland so I REALLY only need $1600. If you or anyone you know has $10 to spare, visit for info on how you can donate to the project. Also, check out my videos on YouTube. There are 2 now (one about my partnership project and a slideshow of photos from my experience so far), and hopefully I’ll be posting a few more later this week.

4. I’m ALMOST finished with a new curriculum for Life Skills education for high school students in Swaziland. I’ve combined and revised 4 different manuals and adapted them to the Swazi school system (and learning style), and I’m working with the Career Guidance department at my local school to perfect it before printing and distributing it to other schools. HOPEFULLY they’ll actually use it to teach the HIV/AIDS and decision-making lessons in it, but at least I’ll know that they have the resources they need to teach it. Sustainable development is frustrating sometimes because it depends so much on other people caring about development, but there’s no way to make anyone else care…

5. This week, I finally finished painting the walls of the preschool at the NCP near my house. You know, the one that I started in November with Jess, Brittney, and Erin. I’ve finished the rainbow, a food chart labeled “A Balanced Diet,” shapes, colors, numbers, seasons, a diagram with all the body parts labeled, and tail of rabbit under the letter “R,” which we somehow forgot to paint in November. I also painted the words “Rise and shine and give God your glory,” which is the first line of a song the kids always singe. It’s amazing and colorful and the whole community is impressed with my painting ability, which is kind of funny to me because I’m not artistic at all. (Just good with stencils and straight lines.) I wish I had photos of it, but I think I’ll have to include them next time. (And my parents will get to see them in person next week…)

6. Last week, I got a flu shot (for H1N1) and got stung by a bee on the same day, then proceeded to have hives for 4 days and the cause is a mystery to me because there are too many variables on that particular day to determine the cause of it. Either way, I think I'm now immune to Benadryl and afraid to get stung or shot because it was a miserable 4 days, even if I was only half-conscious (thanks to the Benadryl) for most of it.

I think that’s all for today. I’m off to Pasture Valley to prepare for our first meeting for the Bambani Sandla craft project, which means painting the walls of the workshop we’ll be using and doing lots of administrative things. We’ve decided to start the project out by teaching the women how to do paper beads and jewelry, and Tuesday morning is our first meeting. We’re hoping to have a group of 10-20 women, but we could have none or we could have 40 and we won’t know until the meeting. But, as always, I’m optimistic.

Love from the Swaz!

My host family sisis (sisters) Zandile (l) and Londiwe. Zandile is 19 years old and in 7th grade, and Londiwe is 12 years old and in Form 1 (8th grade--the first year of high school). These are 2 of the uniforms I bought for them with the money my grandparents gave me for Christmas. I tried to get the boys to take a picture in their uniforms, but they always wake up late and are in a big hurry to get to school on time, so I can never get them to hold still long enough to take a photo.

One of the little girls in the preschool at Pasture Valley. If I'm at PV in the morning, I try to help do preschool. On this day, we were practicing squiggly lines (them tracing) and straight lines, and then playing with homemade play-doh at the end.

This is what I usually look like in my community. Somewhat ridiculous, I know, but the blue headband thing counts as a hair covering, which makes me more respectful in my community. Plus it absorbs sweat and covers up my blonde roots.

The windowsill of the cottage at Pasture Valley. Those are bees. Peter and Michelle used to raise bees for honey on the farm, but even after they stopped (Swazis kept breaking in at night and stealing the honey, so it became too dangerous to keep them) it was impossible to get rid of all the bees. Now, one hive has moved into the guest cottage on the farm, which is how I got stung last week and maybe why I got hives. Who knows.

Eliza loves peanut butter! This tub was stuck on her head for a couple of minutes and it was absolutely hilarious. I guess you had to be there...

This is the shed we're painting to turn into a workshop for the Bambani Sandla craft project. It doesn't look like much now, but just wait!

A play-doh birthday cake one of the kids made for me at the Pasture Valley preschool. We were practicing the Happy Birthday song because it was Gogo Constance's (one of the house mothers) 60th birthday and I was trying to get them in the spirit. It worked--they sang quite enthusiastically at the party that night.