The Kingdom of Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, and it also has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. As a result, there are tens of thousands of orphaned children, many of whom don’t even have adults in extended families to help them. These child-headed households don’t have the resources or the ability to build and maintain houses and other vital infrastructure.
This is how volunteers can make a crucial difference. Under the direction of a local builder, volunteers use local techniques to build and renovate homes and classrooms, to provide good shelter for local children and access to a decent schooling environment. Volunteers also get involved in painting and decorating the new buildings, and setting up gardens for the local communities. These buildings have a life-changing impact on children and communities in Swaziland, keeping vulnerable people sheltered and safe, as well as giving them a good chance at education despite the difficulties of their personal circumstances.
Days start at around 8:30 when you’ll catch a local bus to the location of your building project. Once you arrive, it’s time to get stuck in. The local builder in charge will let you know what needs doing, which depends on the stage a building project is at. You might find yourself clearing the area that is going to be built on, digging the foundations and making mud bricks using local techniques. You’ll help to build the structure, do some plastering, and add doors, windows and roofing. You may also help with some of the finishing touches, such as painting the building, putting up fencing, developing gardens and putting up play equipment. It’s fulfilling but tiring work, so you’ll volunteer until lunchtime and then have the afternoons off to relax or explore what Swaziland has to offer.
Volunteering in the heart of communities and giving people the gift of a safe shelter at the end has to be one of the most rewarding things you can do. As well as getting to know some local people and acquiring some skills in construction and traditional building techniques, you’ll also be able to get to know more about the country that is the only remaining African monarchy.
On your afternoons and weekends off, you can explore the luscious Ezulwini valley (‘Valley of Heaven’) and get involved in adventure activities including white water rafting, mountain biking, quad biking, fishing, horse riding and hiking. In your spare time, you could also catch a glimpse of the Royal Palace, visit the capital of Mbabane, or visit the Lubombo Conservancy, which is home to wildlife including lions, rhino, elephants and giraffes. Sometimes weekend trips further afield are organised, to destinations such as the Kruger National Park, St Lucia, Natal Drakensberg or Mozambique.
You’ll be staying in a picturesque backpacker’s lodge, which is surrounded by gardens, in either a dorm room or safari-style tents. Food is provided and you’ll take it in turns to cook with the other volunteers, either in the kitchen or on the braai (barbecue) and relaxed evenings are spent on the veranda by the fireplace.