Home · Blog · Get Involved : Swaziland Site Visit: June 2013

Our Program Assistant, Kathleen Yaworsky, just returned from Swaziland, where she visited our completed project there, met our local partners Gone Rural boMake and Rosecraft, and discussed possibilities for future collaboration. Three Voss Foundation donors joined her for the trip: Amy Canepa Donahue and Casey Eltringham, recipients of the VOSS Pure Intentions Award, and Casey’s sister Amanda Eltringham. They also found time to make some friends and do a little shopping for our African Bazaar! We asked Kathleen to report back on the trip:

Hi Voss Foundation supporters! Casey, Amy, Amanda, and I just got back from an amazing 10 day trip to South Africa and Swaziland, where we met our new partners and attended the opening ceremony of the water project funded by Women Helping Women 2012.  Swaziland is a small independent kingdom nestled within the northeast corner of South Africa – I encourage you to read more about it on our Swaziland page.

Before flying to Swaziland, we spent two nights in Johannesburg, visiting the Apartheid Museum and the infamous Soweto township, where we saw the house Nelson Mandela lived in before he was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Once in Swaziland, Gone Rural boMake’s Program Director, Shelley Belohrad, provided a warm welcome at the airport in Manzini.  She introduced us to a wonderful cast of expats and locals centered on the idyllic complex known as Malandela’s: home to a B&B, restaurant, musical theater complex, volunteer tourism company, and Gone Rural and other artisan workshops, including Baobab Batik – source of our favorite stuffed elephants! Rest assured we are well stocked with incredible new items for the African Bazaar!

Gone Rural boMake is the nonprofit arm of Gone Rural, the for-profit artisan collective. The two actually function much like VOSS and Voss Foundation, as “sister organizations” rather than traditional corporate charities. Gone Rural’s goal is to generate sustainable income for women in rural areas across Swaziland. Their model revolves around “trade days,” where they go out to communities and purchase hand-woven goods from the women artisans, providing raw materials and training as needed. This formalized structure ensures regular contact with the communities, and a relationship of mutual respect. The artisans communicate their needs to Gone Rural boMake, which then assists the women and their communities through projects that promote education, health and female empowerment. Gone Rural’s mission thus complements our conception of the Ripple Effect, as access to clean water empowers the women artisans to be more productive, while keeping their families healthy and their children in school!

On our first full day in Swaziland, we drove out to visit the four borehole sites and meet with the respective WASH committees and community members. Each hand pump is surrounded by a fence with a padlock to regulate water usage, according to guidelines set by its elected WASH committee.  We tasted the water at each site – clear, cool, and delicious!

We also toured the workshop and offices of Gone Rural and Rosecraft, which is located on the top of a mountain! There we learned about the care that goes into each handwoven item – spinning and dyeing the yarn, preparing the loom for every individual pattern, etc.

In general, much care is taken to observe proper protocol for infrastructure development and service provision in Swaziland:  all projects technically belong to the king, so at the opening ceremony, ownership of the water projects was transferred from the king to Voss Foundation and Gone Rural boMake (as the joint implementing agents), who then officially handed the project over to the government – which subsequently presented it to the community.  The celebration included beautiful traditional dances performed by the students, and was followed by a feast for the entire community! It was an incredibly moving experience, and I felt very honored to be able to witness and participate!

The sanitation component of the project included the construction of 99 facilities, ensuring access for each homestead. We inspected several of these VIP latrines, which we found very clean, and fresher smelling than any pit toilet I’ve ever seen in the US! They had toilet seats and kept them covered with the door shut to keep out flies.

The tippy taps pictured here worked well for hand washing, cleverly designed to be constructed entirely of local or repurposed materials. When Nhlanhla, Gone Rural boMake’s Program Officer, presented our joint project to the WASH forum (a monthly meeting where all actors in the water sector in Swaziland, including UNICEF and local NGOs, report on project news and developments in the field), part of the discussion centered on their efficacy as a low-cost local hygienic solution for hand washing.

I also met individually with the Swazi Ministry of Natural Resources and UNICEF (who donated the handpumps). Both organizations spoke of the need for public private partnerships, and welcomed the support of Voss Foundation toward the development efforts of the Swazi state.

It was evident that the communities had great respect for Gone Rural and trust in its WASH Program Officer, Nhlanhla, commenting that he always kept to his word and his schedule.  The geographic location of the fifth borehole had been disputed by the communities, as apparently the surveyors mapped it in a place that fell within the boundary of phase II, so it was decided that that particular site would be drilled in phase II, and another suitable site would be found for the fifth borehole funded in phase I. (Voss Foundation committed to phase I of a three phase project via Women Helping Women 2012; Gone Rural boMake is still seeking sponsorship to fund the final two phases of this regional WASH initiative).

After visiting the projects, we ended our trip with an unforgettable night in the bush on safari, sleeping in open-air cottages and teaching the staff how to roast s’mores by the fire while we listened to elephants tromp through the forest at night – and watched them by day! We also got up close and personal with rhinos, giraffes, zebras, lions, hippos, warthogs, and all sorts of fun creatures.  It was an unforgettable journey, and I encourage you to join us on our next one!

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