Vusumnotfo

Vusumnotfo - meaning "to restart the economy" - is a Swazi, Not-For-Profit, community training and support organization formed by eighteen chiefdoms in northern Swaziland. Our vision is that communities will be able and willing to improve their own social, economic, and environmental conditions. To build the human capacity needed to do so, Vusumnotfo's programming involves each of the community structures that touches the lives and development of children - the schools where they learn, the families where they grow, and the communities where they live. Using sustainable methods, Vusumnotfo's goal is to help communities, help their children, to reach their full developmental potent...
Jun 26, 2013

How the books came to Swaziland

Unloading books
Unloading books

The 5,000 books that Vusumnotfo received were organized by Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland and sent via Books for Africa (www.booksforafrica.org). This was part of a larger shipment of books for schools and community organizations throughout Swaziland and included training in library management. 

In the words of Kelly Roots, who was the Peace Corps Volunteer coordinating the effort in Swaziland - 

The journey of the books (30,000 in total for Swaziland) started back in November, as 27 Peace Corps volunteers sent out letters to friends and family asking for help in fundraising for the shipment of Books for Swaziland. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season the money steadily grew as more and more people donated the PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) to meet the goal of $10,000 needed to ship the books to Swaziland. 

On March 21st to the 23rd, 2013, Peace Corps volunteers partnered with Swaziland National Library Service to provide a librarian workshop to 34 library leaders. Before the workshop, participants were asked to visit a National Library to gain a better understanding of proper library management. A plethora of skills were taught demonstrated, and practiced by the participants including book processing, repairs, student involvement, and logistical tasks needed to run a successful and well-used library. After the two-day workshop, the attendees completed a written exam to test their knowledge and skills they acquired. All 34 library leaders passed their written exam! The participants’ answers were articulate and well thought out, displaying their clear understanding of the concepts of library organization and management. We were ecstatic to have participants that were excited to learn and establish libraries, especially since most of them have never worked or had access to a library before.

Books for Africa were busy collecting and organizing the book order, for the 30 library projects in Swaziland, during February and March. On March 20th, the books were shipped from the United States to South Africa. The books arrived earlier then expected on May 7th! A group of volunteers spent several days unloading and sorting the books, to make sure each school / organization received the correct type of books. Each school / organization that received books brought transport to a central location to collect their books. Aside from Vusumnotfo, this included several schools, two hospitals, a refugee camp, and an orphanage. 

All 30,000 books!
All 30,000 books!
Mar 18, 2013

9th Report, October, 2012 - a volunteer's report

Jump for joy
Jump for joy

I met Kathy Gau as a Peace Corps trainee during a permaculture workshop that she was facilitating for Peace Corps.  Since then, I have been placed to work up in the Hhohho region, near Vusumnotfo and have been working with Kathy to identify projects that we can work on together.  When Kathy asked me to go out to Cetjwayo to observe the playground building site I wasn’t sure what to expect or write about. Then I started thinking about what I would want to know if I gave to a Global Giving project and was reading the report about what my money was doing.  Here is what I have come up with to confirm, that indeed, as an outside observer visiting for a few hours one day, you have identified and invested in a worth while project that is already impacting the Cetjwayo Community.

When we arrived in Cetjwayo, after about and hour spent negotiating dirt roads that had been washed out the night before in a huge storm (this place is rural), I wasn’t sure that I would be able to report the way I wanted to about the playground project.  Then I started talking to boBabe (the men) and boMake (the women) about the plan for the playground and my worries were eased. 

This playground is being constructed alongside a bunch of other projects for this preschool, including a pit latrine and three new classrooms.  This explains the huge piles of construction materials piled up around the school grounds.  After all of these projects have been completed this will be an amazing place of learning for the young kids in Cetjwayo preparing for primary school. 

Babe Patrik Mkhonta walked me through the plan for the playground and then, Garth, and Babe Sibusiso Mahlalela joined him in getting the construction for the playground started for the day.  All three of these men work for Kathy to get these playground projects started in the community.

Babe Mkhonta (in the blue) explained that there would be a climbing area, progressively smaller tires stacked on one another stabalized with a pole in the center and ropes coming down the pile for kids to use when they are climbing, that would be surrounded by and lead into a sand pit so that if the kids fall they won’t get hurt.  The climbing pile will be on the far right of the stakes showing in this picture. Tire swings will be in the structure that you can see constructed here already, also with sand under them.

When talking to Babe Mkhonta about how all of this work would get done, specifically the digging for the sand pit he told me that he hopes that some community members would step up to help, but that he wasn’t sure.  After only a short forty five minutes of work measuring, digging holes for posts, shoveling gravel and sand, and nailing, some women that had been sitting around the pre school stepped up to help dig out the sand pit. They were joined shortly after they started working by another Babe from the community.  Coming from a community setting, and understanding how hard it can be to motivate a community to help itself, especially when there are outside people there who could potentially do all the work, this was a very telling moment.  This community was well chosen for this playground.  The preschool is being updated, and the community is invested enough in this school and it’s young kids that they are willing to put in the manual labor to help improve it as much as they can.

I am happy to see progress coming along so quickly on this playground.  Even in the short time I was there the playground was transformed from some staked and blocked off squares and rectangles, with piles of dirt, sand, and gravel in the surrounding area, to an emerging playground with all of the things that I loved to play with during recess while I was growing up.  More supplies were pulled out of storage in the school, protected from the storm the night before, and I could see the vision and impact of this new play area.

I look forward to seeing the final product in use.

Play before finished
Play before finished
Layout of playground
Layout of playground
Jul 30, 2012

Progress Report 8 - July 18, 2012

Swings to come
Swings to come

Frustrating realities - since posting report #7 on March 26, it seems that I have mainly been dealing with “frustrating realities”, including:

1                  The Preschool teacher, Nellie Mhlabane’s husband died - which aside from the personal trauma involved, in Swaziland traditionally involves a period of mourning (kufukama - during which time the widow must stay within her home for 1 month), followed by a period of mourning (kuzila - during which time she wears black and is restricted in her interaction with the public; although kuzila can be for up to two years - as determined by her husband’s family - over the past decade the average time period seems to be gradually shortening and now is about 6 months; as is the level of interaction that the widow is allowed with the public during the mourning period). 

Out of respect for these traditions, we have only worked on the fringes of the outstanding construction activities. Fortunately, at the start of the year Nellie had arranged for Tondzile Mdluli, a young lady with an interest in children, to help her out, so the preschool has remained operational.

2)                  National strikes - the entire teaching service, and now it appears the entire government civil service, are on strike for reasons linked to “national issues” - for details, please refer to The Times of Swaziland / www.times.co.sz

Although this affects everything - as preschool age children tend to walk to the preschool with the older children who are on their way to the primary schools - I have been impressed that most of the 53 community preschool teachers who are registered for monthly in-service training with Vusumnotfo are keeping the preschools operating. I believe this is due to the teacher’s dedication and the value that parents are seeing for their children attending preschool.

Project Results - within these frustrations, the following results have been achieved at community level -

  • Cement blocks for toilet  - the community has now finished molding blocks from all of the 15 bags of cement that we left with them in December
  • Pit latrine construction - the pit has been dug and the Public Health Inspector has inspected that it meets the necessary requirements (3M deep x 1.2 M wide x 1.2 M long) - it always humbles me how these pits are dug by hand
  • Cetjwayo Preschool has remained operational and enrolment is now at 38 children
  • Several community members have been taken to Vusweni Preschool to see the type of swings that we will be constructing at Cetjwayo
  • The supply list and current costings for the outstanding construction activities (pit latrine, playground, rainwater catchment, fencing, and landscaping) are ready to roll

Added value - although not directly funded by your donations, this project posting has added value to all activities within Vusumnotfo early childhood programme, and vice versa.

Pencil Project - www.thepencilproject.com - has directed several shipments of pencils collected by various youth groups to Vusumnotfo for use in the community preschools.  The Pencil Project was started by Maria Vick, who contacted Vusumnotfo after coming across us on Global Giving   - “my mother was a Biology teacher in Swaziland in the early 70’s and I was raised there from 18 months until almost 4 years old. I remember a good deal about it and also visited again when I was 6 and 13. I have always stayed connected to the nuns that raised me and Swaziland has such a special place in my heart”.

Training of Peace Corp volunteers and their community counterparts - in May, Swaziland Peace Corps contracted Vusumnotfo to share community based preschool activities with volunteers and their counterparts.  What I particularly appreciated is that this gave me an opportunity to bring in the services of 4 of the community preschool teachers who have been attending Vusumnotfo in-service training  - their confidence demonstrating activities and answering questions was tangible!

Vusumnotfo was successful to obtain funding from OSISA for the continuation and further development of its community preschool teacher and parenting training activities - this funding allows community pre-school teachers to continue strengthening the quality of teaching that their young children receive (an overview of the grant’s problem statement / goals / objectives / activities is attached).

Vusumnotfo would like to extend a special thanks to Paisley Blank who during her two years in Swaziland was generous in sharing her experience’s with Teach for America’s, whose methodology we have since contextualized and incorporated into project activities.

So what is next?  -

  • Construction of Pit Toilet - everything is good to go, pending mourning issues.
  • Playground - everything is good to go, pending mourning issues.
  • Rainwater catchment tank - everything is good to go, pending mourning issues.
  • Fencing and landscaping - indigenous live fencing material is being propogated in Vusumnotfo nursery for planting out after rains, community youth in process of digging holes for barrier fence (3 strands barb wire) that will protect live fence until it grows to strength. 

As for me - despite 28 years at community level in rural Swaziland  - to remind myself that "what takes a day in USA takes a week in Africa, what takes a week in USA takes a month in Africa, what takes a month in USA takes 1 year in Africa" - for reasons that you have no control over (see attached “25 tips for Peace Corps Volunteers that a friend and I wrote some years back - I seems that I still need to be reminded of these realities).

With many thanks for your donations - which makes possible  these “slow but steady” positive results …. in addition to providing much needed moral support. 

P.S) I am also (still) preparing another project posting - Building Preschools in Swaziland (sorry about that, not very creative!) - this posting will be an annual posting, in support of finishing off / rehabilitation / new preschool buildings, linked to Vusumnotfo’s in-service training for community preschool teachers.

As an ongoing posting, it will provide a framework of support for preschools  - with progress being determined by completion of “community readiness indicators” set by Vusumnotfo. 

This format reduces the variables of “maybe” support, thereby allowing communities to concentrate their efforts on achieving the necessary indicators - i.e. the “don’t give up / don’t give in” dynamics that are conducive to sustainable development. 

In the meantime, I have increased the project budget of this posting to $21,000 - as this keeps the system open while I am preparing the second project posting.  Upon completion of Cetjwayo activities, any funds left over will be transferred to this next project posting - same intended use / different preschool.

Pencil Project
Pencil Project
Clever use of dried up pens (counting / colours)
Clever use of dried up pens (counting / colours)

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