Building a Preschool in Rural Swaziland

by Vusumnotfo
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
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 /

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 - - 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)

The 2012 Students.
The 2012 Students.

Apologies -

I would like to start off with an apology on two accounts:

1) We changed the project amount - which I should have informed you of in a timely manner.  Read below about the wonderful results of the Christmas Miracle Offering by the First United Methodist Church of Saginaw, which resulted in $7,000 for the project - their funds were sent via a cheque which took a while to clear the GlobalGiving system, so on the quick this was the easiest way to keep the project open for donations until this cheque cleared (which it now has). The additional funds will be used towards project activities, and any remaining transferred to the next preschool project (which will be posted soonest). 

2) Across all our programming, the “bit of a pause” that I had anticipated didn’t really happen - good for activities on the ground but not for office work, such as reporting…. although, Vusumnotfo’s 2011 audit report is uploaded as an attachment to this project posting. 

Results at community level - 

  • Cement blocks for toilet  - the community has molded blocks from 11 of the 15 bags of cement that we left with them (about 300 blocks) - they apologized that it has taken longer than they had hoped “because of all the death cases”. •
  • Pit latrine construction - on February 22, 2012, Vusumnotfo arranged for the Public Health Inspector to visit Cetjwayo Preschool, to advice on the best location for the pit latrine and rubbish pit.  The community is now left with the homework of digging the pit  - 3 M deep x 1.2 M wide x 1.2 M long 
  • Enrolment in 2012 - 39 children (and counting) • Painting of the preschool - with help from some international students….

Given the realities of HIV in Swaziland, these achievements are no small feat.  According to the recently published Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Survey presented at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in the USA - “HIV prevalence is highest among women between 30 and 34 years old, where 54 per cent of this age group are infected, and men aged between 35 and 39, where 48 per cent of them are infected.”

I am often asked “what is it like to live in a country with these per cents?”-  the truth is that daily life goes on…. against this 24 / 7 background of chronic physical and emotional fatigue - it just takes a lot more energy to stand still….

At programming level - it means being supportive of staff as they deal with the realities within their extended families (in 2011, 1 staff member alone had 4 significant relatives die).  At funding level - it means trying to be the ever widing bridge between two different realities. At personal level - I try to just not think about it and rather concentrate on being an example of positive resolve.

I firmly believe that the most effective way to turn this situation around is through an early childhood care and development (ECDE) approach - the vision being that - all children achieve their physical, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and social early childhood care and development milestones by an appropriate age - so that children will be:

  • More resilient to the impact of HIV in the family and community
  • Better able to negotiate through the challenges of puberty without engaging in risk behavior associated with HIV infection 
  • Better able to function beyond dependency, thus reaching adulthood able to meet their own needs, and nurture the needs of the next generation.

In this regard, I draw inspiration from every day community folk in Swaziland - and yourselves…..

Christmas Miracle Offering -  in Rev. Kathy Snedeker  words -

As for how the First United Methodist Church of Saginaw raised the $7,'s our story... Last year we began the Christmas Miracle Offering and indeed it was a miracle.  We were able to completely remodel the kitchen and bathroom at the home of our poverty-stricken Little Brother (Big Brothers/Big Sisters paired us with him 5 years ago).

 Again this year we challenged our congregation to do the following.  We asked them to refocus Christmas on honoring Jesus by becoming producers of God's blessings instead of consumers of more stuff.  We subtitle the project, "It's Not Your Birthday!"

Further, we tell the congregation the following...

  1. Spend one-half of what you normally would spend at Christmas and give the other half to the Christmas Miracle Offering.
  2. Ask family members and friends who normally give you a gift to instead give the gift to the Christmas Miracle Offering in your honor.

Rev. Kathy Snedeker -
First United Methodist Church of Saginaw
4790 Gratiot, Saginaw, MI  48638

989-799-0131 (office) 989-239-9267 (cell)
Facebook - under First United Methodist Church of Saginaw

On top of this inspiring effort, Rev Kathy Snedeker also sent a personal donation of $150 in honour of her staff - Dr. Robert Pratt, Lynn Vermeersch, Judy Gerken, Dina Draper, Rod Bieber, Bryan Latimer, Catherine McMichael, Dr. Mary Wagner and Jim Tomkinson.

Alex Dziuban and family visited on December 27, 2011 - in Alex’s words -

I am Alex Dziuban, a student from Michigan, USA.  I am 16 and a junior at Valley Lutheran High School.  I started to get interested in helping to build a preschool when my brother, Eric, and his wife, Keri, moved to Swaziland.  I began Project 23.3 (23.3% is the percent of children that are orphaned) and contacted all of my friends and family through the internet with our blog .  My brother got some local Swazi teens to help by putting a car wash on and we both talked to different groups of people to spread the word.  We had many supporters throughout out time in doing this project, and I thank all of them sincerely.  But after a few months of slow moving progress my brother met Kathy, and we decided to partner with her and Vusumotfo.

I visited Africa on December 27th until January 8th.  During my time there I was able to meet Kathy and visit Cetjwayo to see the school.   I met Nellie Mhlabane (the preschool teacher) and she seemed very excited for the school and to begin with teaching the children.  The school was almost completely done!  All that was needed was the toilet, the playground, and painting the building.  I was very excited to see the school and meet Nellie and Kathy.   This was one of my favourite moments of my life, just to see the school that I helped to be built and to see how it affected the people who use it. 

I am so happy that I had the opportunity to help this project, and that hopefully many generations to come can enjoy the preschool and to be taught in it.  This was truly and eye opener and a moment that I will never forget. 

United World College “Together for Development” January 4-7, 2012 - 

Vusumnotfo hosted 9 students (average age of 18) from 6 countries who were attending the “Together for Development” workshop in Swaziland organized under the United World College umbrella at Waterfords Kamhlaba. Aside from discussions around the theme of “what is development” the students had great fun painting Cetjwayo Preschool.  

For additional information and photos, check out the following -


Calendars -

it has become a bit of a tradition for Lois Gau (my mother) to collect and send calendars to me in Swaziland.

Recently, others in my hometown of Mapleton Minnesota (1,400 people) have helped in this effort, with many thanks to my niece Jessica Anderson and her husband Ben, who brought the calendars in their luggage during their January visit.  This year Jim Swanson (a Mapleton High School teacher) organized Serteen to help with the collection.  Serteen is associated with SERTOMA (Service to Mankind)  - for many years, and now through Global Giving, SERTOMA has annually donated $300 in support of Vusumnotfo’s work. 

These calendars are distributed across Vusumnotfo programming (including the community preschool teachers).  The calendars have many lives  - first as a calendar, taking pride of place in many a mud and stick school, and the following year, as decorative photos and education sheets in community schools (for example, “put the matching number of stones on each square”, or “cut out the dated squares and lay them in the correct sequence”….).
For me, I enjoy watching as people look with care at each calendar, in what becomes a rather drawn out selection process… I think it is less about the selection and more about just enjoying all the great photos!

Changing Futures -

has since agreed to provide both Sakhile and Thembinkosi (the “car wash boys” referred to in previous reports) with scholarships so that they can continue their studies (see uploaded scholarship letter). 


So what is next?  -  now that children are settled into schools and maize fields have been weeded, in late April harvesting should start - after which the community calendar opens up a bit into what I call “hot time for community work” i.e.) mid May to mid August…. so my tasks are to have the preparation work done in time to capitalize on this window period, as indicated:

  • Construction of Pit Toilet - I am in the process of getting the necessary quotes for the material list and builder, in preparation for the community finishing the digging of the pit. 
  • Playground - we want to bring some community participants to Vusweni Preschool, to see the playground that we previously constructed, as an example, prior to purchasing the supplies for swings and other play equipment, which will be constructed on site.
  • Rainwater catchment tank - we constructed the roof so as to capture the maximum rain in the most effective manner, so we will be purchasing a tank and guttering, and constructing a tank stand.   Hopefully this activity will be linked up with the same builder for the toilet.
  • Fencing and landscaping - we will draw upon our experiences with Vusumnotfo’s permaculture training, opting for a minimum barrier fence that will provide protection to a live fence of indigenous plants while it is being established. I should mention that the trees planted during the graduation are still alive, protected from goats by piles of cut thorny branches. 

With many thanks for your donations - which makes possible all the positive results in this report…. in addition to providing much needed moral support. 

I am also 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 annual 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.

Visit of Alex Dziuban and family.
Visit of Alex Dziuban and family.
Alex's favorite photo from Krugar.
UWC students painting Cetjwayo Preschool.
UWC students painting Cetjwayo Preschool.
Calendar Distribution.
Calendar Distribution.
Students with building blocks for the new toilet.
Students with building blocks for the new toilet.


Chief's vote of thanks

Graduation Day - November 14, 2011 - Several very special visitors joined the community on the gradation day (which was organized completely by the community).   These included:

  • Keri Dziuban - together with Sakhile and Thembinkosi, who helped with the car wash in Mbabane -
  • Rotary Club of Mbabane Swaziland - who have previously supported community projects through Vusumnotfo

Enjoy the photos - they say it best!

So what is next?  - now that only finishing work on the construction of the preschool remains in phase 1, we take a bit of a pause for community members to plough and plant, to respect the Encwala ceremony (a key traditional ceremony in Swaziland) and to give space for all the up and down that marks the start of the new school year (January 24) - thereafter we will pick up on the tasks for phase 2, as indicated:

  • Toilet - we left 15 bags of cement with the community for making of blocks that will be used in the construction of a pit latrine.  Due to the type of soil, the pit will need to be lined with off set blocks.
  • Playground - the original foundation dug by the community has been used as the trench to hold the tyres.  To explain, some years back, after the Umphakatsi had allocated the land for the preschool, the community dug a foundation.  Although this was before we had a building plan, or even a funding lead, it is a common practice that I suspect has two objectives - 1) a visual representation of community hopes and dreams, and 2) perhaps a way of putting a bit of pressure on Vusumnotfo to put Cetjwayo “next in line”.  So, we decided to use this trench for the tyres  - for jumping on, climbing underneath, sitting on… and all the many things young children will think of.   We also need to purchase the supplies for swings and other play equipment, which will be constructed on site.
  • Rainwater catchment tank - we constructed the roof as indicated so as to capture the maximum rain in the most effective manner, so we will be purchasing a tank and guttering, and constructing a tank stand.
  • Fencing and landscaping - in this regard, we will draw upon our experiences with Vusumnotfo’s permaculture training, opting for a minimum barrier fence that will provide protection to a live fence of indigenous plants while it is being established.

With many thanks for your donations - which makes possible all the positive results in this report Vusumnotfo was formed by the traditional leaders as a strategy to be more proactive about their developmental aspirations.  Given this, ownership is vested at community level (I report to a local Board), which means that since inception, Vusumnotfo has received no core funding, rather we fundraise for all costs, including salaries (mine included), transport, and administration.  Given this, receiving an E mail from Global Giving that someone has donated to Vusumnotfo’s project posting is just a great way to start a day - so many thanks to you all for that!

In closing, I would like to share with you this BBC / PRI radio interview with Chief Mnikwa, who selected the name "Vusumnotfo" which means to "restart the economy".

To have peace, we need sustainable development - to have sustainable development, we all need to realize how inter connected the world is - Ubuntu (I am because you are).  

Community men at graduation
Community men at graduation
Cooking at graduation
Cooking at graduation
Young graduates
Young graduates
Back view - showing roof for rain water tank
Back view - showing roof for rain water tank
Reciting rhymes at graduation
Reciting rhymes at graduation
Sakhile & Thembinkosi
Sakhile & Thembinkosi
Singing Songs
Singing Songs
Traditional leaders at graduation
Traditional leaders at graduation
Tree planting at graduation
Tree planting at graduation
Tyres for playground
Tyres for playground
Community women at graduation
Community women at graduation
Plaster done
Plaster done

A visitor’s observations 

Who am I - I am Lea Hoefer, third year student at Iowa State University studying Global Resource Systems, Emerging Global Diseases, and Political Science. My last semester was spent studying at a university in South Africa. Given that I am interested in international development, I have recently come to Swaziland to learn about Vusumnotfo’s operation as a sustainable community-based development organization.

Today (November 8, 2011) - I visited Cetjwayo to see the preschool building currently under construction. The building is nearly finished, with smooth cement-plastered walls, many windows to let light into the building, and a roof sheltering the structure. All that seems to be left in the building phase is to install the doors and paint, and a few fittings….

Getting ready for phase 2 - After construction of the preschool building is finished, phase 2 (the playground!) will begin. So, today we also delivered a pick up truck full of old tires, which will be used to help build the playground - assuming the remaining $1,436 comes through.

Community meeting - during my visit the community was engaged in a meeting, discussing the upcoming preschool graduation. Everyone is pleased to know that it will take place next to the new building on this upcoming Monday (Nov 14).

I also met Nellie Mhlabane, the woman who will soon be transitioning from teaching 34 children under a tree on her homestead to teaching in this brand-new school building. Needless to say, she is incredibly excited to begin.

Why I’m excited - The day before I visited Cetjwayo, I had the opportunity to spend a day at another preschool. This school is located inside Ngonini Citrus Estate and therefore is able to use the company’s infrastructure.

Reflecting back on my day there, I have realized what an important role the preschool building and a ground plays in the children’s learning. The building provides a focus point for learning. Having a building to house the preschool also helps the teacher use teaching activities and display visual aids in order to develop critical reading and writing skills. They aren’t interrupted by weather, and they aren’t distracted by daily life going on around them. And although it may seem like just fun and games, I noticed that the playground provided a place for the children to develop social skills as they played together.

After seeing the nearly finished preschool, it’s wonderful to know that the children of the Cetjwayo community will have this same kind of space dedicated to their development

Nellie Mhlabane - Preschool teacher
Nellie Mhlabane - Preschool teacher
Tyres for playground
Tyres for playground
Community elders planning for the graduation
Community elders planning for the graduation

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information


Location: Piggs Peak - Swaziland
Project Leader:
kathy gau
Piggs Peak, Swaziland

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

Still want to help?

Support another project run by Vusumnotfo that needs your help, such as:

Find a Project

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.