'A brother from another mother' - Volunteer Tourism brings contemporary saying to life

Posted on: Thursday, August 11, 2016
Blog Category: Volunteering

In recent years, Swazis - and Africans in general - have come up with a courtesy mantra for appreciating people who once could have been strangers to them, but by fate or design, they get to be acquaintances, friends, aides, or proverbial 'saviours'. "My brother from another mother", goes the contemporary saying, escalating non-biological relations to an imaginary but idealised state of kinship due to a strong feeling of embracement, admiration, and indeed, gratitude.

This week we delve into the topic of 'volunteer tourism', a relatively new but growing phenomenon in the global travel industry. In fact, there couldn't have been a better time to discuss this philanthropy-driven trend, what with Swaziland welcoming two separate groups of volunteer tourists from the United Kingdom, who arrived in the country this month, both on Sense Africa's invitation.
Sense Africa is a UK-based holiday planning and tour operation, run by Jenny Bowen, recently described on these pages as 'a friend of Swaziland'.

First to arrive were 14 learners from Abbey Gate College, who are being accompanied by two teachers - Andy Austin and Kirsty Burdon - and an expedition leader, Lucy Howell. These learners left their homes in the city of Chester, in England, thousands of miles from Swaziland, and embarked on a humanitarian tour to Swaziland, where they are already spending more than half of their time doing charity work at Mlindzini High School, in rural Nhlangano, in the Shiselweni region. The little known school, found in the remote parts of Shiselweni, is actually 'twinned' with Abbey Gate College: a classical illustration of 'siblings from different mothers'.

These learners, who we shall call volunteer tourists henceforth, are already resident at Mlindzini, engaging with the rural Swazi lifestyle. Their core mission is finishing off the construction of a kitchen at the school, as well as producing educational boards at the adjacent primary school.

Volunteer tourism, says Bowen, is all about visitors engaging with a destination on a more social and constructive manner. She contends that quite often, volunteer tourists elsewhere tend to embark on what she termed 'wrong projects', implying meaningless and with no impact. She says in order to be deemed effective, projects should remain sustainable long after the tourists have gone, citing examples of similar projects which were ran by previous groups of volunteer tourists in Njonjane and Mgidza communities in the Lubombo region, which she says thrive hitherto.

Only aged between 16 and 19, Abbey Gate College volunteer tourists raised a total of E475 000 through various fundraising activities in England which enabled them to travel to Swaziland. A significant part of that sum goes into the aforesaid projects they are currently engaged in at Mlindzini schools. Tom and Gina, group leaders for the first and second day in Swaziland respectively, say the group is excited to be in Swaziland, and are already feeling Swazis' genuine friendliness. Apart from charity work, the group is also looking forward to touring some of the country's attractions, which include game parks and nature reserves.

So volunteer tourism encompasses both conventional tourism and humanitarian work, making it worthwhile and gratifying, further explains Bowen.

Meanwhile, the second group, made up of 16 learners, all female, two teachers - Jane Chilvers and Gail Wilson, from England's St. Helen and St. Katherine School, and an expedition leader Susie Amann, arrived in the country on July 13, and briefly put up at Sondzela International Visitors' Camp, at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. They proceeded Thursday to Tambankulu, in the Lubombo region, where they are building a Homeworks Resource Centre worth about E60 000. They also shall be donating some educational murals to an orphanage in the Lubombo region.

Group leaders for the first two consecutive days, Eloise Fraser- Paterson and Olivia Hollis, say it took them one-and-a-half years to save up for this "life-changing" trip, having been influenced by previous groups from the same school, which had toured Swaziland in the past, on Sense Africa's invitation. The girls narrated how they did menial and odd jobs, some of which included babysitting, cake sales, dog walking, and car washing, among others, as part of their fundraising. The principal aim, they say, was to make a difference in someone's life in Swaziland, a country they had heard so much about and yearned so intensely to see. The visibly elated girls said they brought Tambankulu children gifts in the form of reading material. Likewise, the girls said they also looked forward to Safari drives through Hlane Royal Game Reserve, among other activities they will be engaging in while in the Kingdom.

Bowen adds; volunteer tourism is also about the beneficiary communities also assisting logistically, to ensure the smooth running and completion of projects. In some parts of Africa, volunteer tourism, she says, is not managed well, hence the need for community involvement in order to ensure ownership and sustenance of the project deliverables. Both groups will spend about 23 days in the country, with the Mlindzini and Tambankulu finished projects scheduled for official opening on July 27 and 30, respectively.


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