A volunteer’s perspective

Bulungula is a magical place to visit! Not surprisingly, many visitors to the Bulungula Lodge ask about opportunities to volunteer at the BI for various lengths of time. Much of the work that we do depends on the generosity of volunteers and so we are always open to exploring possibilities. However, the challenges of living in this remote rural area are felt by even the hardiest of volunteers. Every day brings new thrills and challenges! One of our current volunteers wrote this honest and amusing account of her first 5 weeks in paradise…..

I arrived at Nqileni Village on Sept. 10 to a whirlwind of activity. Within the first week I was drilling holes into concrete walls to build bookshelves for the freshly painted periwinkle rondavel; the new community library. Other workers were installing state-of-the-art composting toilets and building basic plywood enclosures for them. We were all sharing one drill on two or three extension cords. Back and forth, and we got the jobs done. A week after that, in tandem with the village women, I was chiseling apart racks of frozen-solid mutton ribs to prepare for the celebratory launch of the Jujurha Preschool and Early Learning Center. At the same time, I was living in a canvas safari tent and battling a “Welcome-to-Africa” case of the flu. My personal food supply was running low and I was becoming completely dependent on the lodge restaurant for sustenance. I was worried that the local folks would grace me with a Xhosa name meaning, “the white woman from America who coughs all the time”. I certainly knew I would never learn their names, with all the married women being called “No-something-or-other”. The children’s names were no easier: Simpiswe, Sipiwe, Sibonele, Abulele and Ayabulela, but thank God for Lisa and Zine. I reminded myself hourly that this is what I had hoped for when I contacted the BI a year ago to offer my services; a complete change from my well-established life at home. Change is definitely what I received.

I think being a well-grounded, stable, secure, intelligent, highly-educated, wise, highly-experienced, healthy, fit, and supported-by-family woman in her mid-fifties has helped me to take this overwhelming experience in stride. There’s an incredible amount of work being done at a whirlwind pace around here, especially considering the challenges and obstacles presented by this very remote, off-the-grid location. I’m a volunteer. I’m here to help, not to have my own personal needs met. So waiting a month to move out of my damp and musty tent, with copies of my important documents now bearing moldy stains, was simply part of the adventure. Two days ago I moved into my promised accommodation, a freshly dunged and limed mud hut. I have a brand new bed, recently constructed by a local fellow wielding a handsaw and a hammer, out in the field in front of the ELC. I have no water. I have no toilet. I have no stove. I have no table. I have no chair. I had a donkey ram into my door last night, having been evicted for human habitation. I was sincerely glad that I had fashioned, by candlelight, a makeshift latch out of an old piece of discarded webbing before calling it quits for the night.

That brings me to the present. The past two weeks of dedicated work in the new library has brought us closer to realizing the dream of opening it up for community borrowing.

Hard at work in the library

Yesterday I presented my first staff-development session in the little library, which has proven to serve as a lovely multi-purpose space as well. It is my hope that, through these training sessions, the ‘rote and repetition’ parts of the preschool day will gradually be replaced by well-facilitated, concrete experiences for these previously under-served children. This weekend I plan to work with the teacher of the 3 and 4-year-olds to re-organize her classroom, then spend the next week modeling new methods for how to spark real thinking in the children. It’s a delight to be involved with such eager, friendly, and willing staff, including the teachers, mother-helpers, maintenance folks, Sonja, and Annette. I can only hope that my services here will compare in value to what I have already received through my experiences as a BI volunteer.

  1. Marky Pace

    Great piece on volunteering! I spent three months in Lesotho at a SOS village. I am especially interested in what you said about the rote and repetition in preschool. What would the “well-facilitated, concrete experiences” look like? Would these teach critical thinking? I would love to learn more about how you are doing and about you in general. I am similar to you except for the fit part. I am battling a bad knee and Achilles at the moment. I only have a bachelor’s, but life has given me quite an education. Anyway, I love to know people who are taking action to do good, so, if you have time, I would enjoy the correspondence.
    With admiration!

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