Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back to Bulembu

OK, so I panicked last week. I was fragile and feeling really vulnerable and after reading a few comments on the blog, I started to think that perhaps the words I write could be used against me and endanger my safety. I’ve just read the book “A Mighty Heart” and this probably planted thoughts in my head that were out of proportion to the reality I live in. I emailed Courtney and told her to restrict access to my blog. I didn’t know who I could trust. Courtney is beyond any doubt the most incredible friend anyone could ever be blessed with and she immediately responded to my fears and adjusted the blog for me.
I now realise I was a little hasty. I have absolutely no political affiliation here in Swaziland. I am simply a humanitarian trying to do my work at a grass roots level. There is no reason for anyone to use my experience here to perpetuate their own political agenda.
Very few people in the world even realise that Swaziland exists. Few people know what it is like to live in Africa and very few of us know the devastating effects HIV/AIDS has on this population. My words are just describing what I see and in no way have any hidden agenda.

It was quite timely that after my most difficult week in Swaziland so far, that I was taken back to Bulembu. As I have said previously, Bulembu is an old deserted mining town that was bought by some philanthropists with the vision to create a self-sustaining town that would safely house orphans. What they are doing there simply defies anything I am able to put into words. It is ingenious. It is inspiring. It gives hope and it is a place that I have fallen in love with.
I was very privileged to be there for the Board meeting. Philanthropists from all over the world were meeting to discuss logistics and future goals for the town and the almighty project that they are undertaking. Most of them were from the USA, but a few were from South Africa and Swaziland. I was overwhelmed to be in the company of such amazing humanitarians. My role in Swaziland seems to pale in comparison to what they are doing. I am trying to fight the problems as I come across them, these people are trying to create a better future.
Whilst they were in meetings all afternoon, I took myself down to the house where the orphans aged 3-4 are cared for. I spent the afternoon playing with them. I took along some colouring-in books and crayons and I lay down on the floor with them simply colouring. It was incredibly therapeutic. Despite the fact that it has been some weeks since I was originally there, the children recognised me and I was greeted with lots of smiles, cuddles and kisses. I then had dinner with the Board members and I had a truly enlightening experience talking with them, getting to know their backgrounds and what drives their passion to help Swaziland. I was giddy with excitement and hope to actually realise that there are people in the world who not only say they care, but actually show they care.
I woke up to the breath taking beauty that is Bulembu. I was then taken with the other Board members to see some of the projects being put in place. Whilst Bulembu has the ultimate goal to raise orphans in a safe, nurturing environment, it also realises that with this concept, you also need to provide infrastructure, jobs and the ability for Swazis to create a self-sustaining environment for themselves.
We visited the new sewage treatment plant- essential for any community. Who would have ever thought that I would be interested in the workings of sewage treatment, but I was fascinated and appreciated just how essential this was to the project. We then visited a school that is being renovated to accommodate over 200 students (Kindergarten to Grade 12). The school will be opening in January and it looks amazing. This is where the orphans will be educated as well as the children of the workers in the community. I then went to see how houses were being renovated. When the mine closed down, hundreds of houses were left behind in various stages of disrepair. These houses need to be renovated to accommodate orphans. It is hoped that 6 orphans of similar ages will be accommodated with one “mother”. The mother will be a Swazi woman especially chosen by Bulembu to care for the children. The work that is being done on these projects is simply mind-blowing. Progress is slow (remember all this is being achieved with donated money and there is no government input).
I then saw where they have established hives so that honey can be locally produced and then sold outside of Bulembu to generate income. I was enlightened as to how bees work and how difficult it can actually be to run efficient hives!
Off we then went to the factory that will be responsible for bottling spring water. There is an abundance of spring water surrounding Bulembu and this natural resource will be used to bottle water and sell. Again, generating jobs for local Swazis and providing income to house the orphans.
My final stop was the old hospital that remains. Whilst the others went back to their meeting, I was given a set of keys and asked to explore what was left of the old hospital. It was quite an adventure for me. The keys allowed me access to some places but not to others. I ended up climbing over fences, trying to see through windows and at times I thought I would break my neck in doing so, but since being in Swaziland I have started taking risks that I normally wouldn’t whilst in Australia! I felt like an international spy! I found an amazing amount of stuff and I know that this discovery of mine will lead to the equipment being used there and in Good Shepherd- we just need to find a way to break in!

The last part of my time in Bulembu was spent at the orphanage that currently looks after 42 babies from birth to 2 years. An absolutely incredible place run by an extraordinary woman called Robyn and her husband Gerry. They are assisted by numerous other staff members who spend their days feeding, burping, changing nappies, bathing and spending time cuddling babies. It is always a hive of activity and simply one of the most delightful places on Earth. I was instantly drawn to their new arrival. A little boy, about 2 weeks old and weighing 2 kilograms. He was found at the bottom of a latrine (yes, you read that correctly- at the bottom of a pit toilet). He was tiny and incredibly sleepy. I suspect he was somewhat premature because his suck is not great. They are waking him every two hours to try and feed him because he is incredibly weak. I sat with him for 3 hours and during this time I tried to feed him. I am grateful for my time spent in Special Care Nursery back home, because the nurses there taught me how to encourage babies who don’t feed well. I managed to feed him and I was completely besotted. A man, who has never met before, walked up to me and told me that I looked like a complete natural, as though this baby was my actual own. I felt a deep, mystical connection to this child which is unexplainable. Anyway, I had to leave because my ride back to Siteki was about to leave. Robyn approached me and said “this child has not yet been named Melanie and I would like you to name him”
I was simply overwhelmed but I knew immediately that I wanted to call this boy “Noah”. This is perhaps the only child I will ever be able to name and I cried my eyes out as I left. Since leaving Bulembu I have thought about him every minute and I can’t wait to get back there to see him.
Emotions have surfaced that I am finding difficult to deal with. I am 30. Men are simply not interested in me and I realised not so long ago, that my chances of getting married are very slim. Whilst this does not cause me great anguish in itself, the fact that I may travel this life without a child causes me a great deal of grief. It is a thought that I struggle with constantly. (As my step-father Graeme keeps telling me- “My eggs are rotting”) I have always considered adoption, but as a single person, who lives in Australia, this is almost impossible. It breaks my heart that I cannot take a child who was dumped in a latrine and provide him with the enormous amount of love and a future that I am perfectly capable of giving him.
I will now return to my little flat, read a book and try to renew my spirit so that I can face another week of challenges here in Swaziland.