After a long journey that included over 20 hours of actual flying time, 16 hours of layovers and a four-hour bus ride from Johannesburg to Milwane Game Reserve in Swaziland, our intrepid crew of 25 Brentonians found comfort in the sanctity of pristine wilderness.
After a much-needed and restful sleep in beehive style huts, we jumped right into things the next morning. Our group delved into energetic activities such as mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. In our adventures we saw a plethora of amazing animals such as zebras, wildebeest, impala, nyalla, buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys and hippos (these elusive creatures were heard, but not yet seen). The scenery in this park is breathtaking and the hiking offers views that stretch the countryside. The buffet style food in the Hippo Haunt was a welcomed relief after each session of activity.
Settled in and accustomed to the new time zone, we made our way to Malendela’s – a bed and breakfast with a unique style. Due to numbers, a few of the supervisors and some of the students stayed just two minutes drive down the road at Willow’s – a more modern take on B&B accommodation. During our first stay in this area, we embarked on our first few days of construction as we worked with Swazikids and the local community to build three classrooms for Grade 10, 11 & 12 students in a rural area that does not currently provide this opportunity. Our trip facilitator on the ground, Mrs. Pam Carlson, has been doing a tremendous amount of work in the leadup for this project. An experienced hand with these types of projects in Swaziland, she has been the perfect person to handle the immense amount of troubleshooting required for a project of this magnitude. It has been apparent, from the get go, that we may run into some stumbling blocks along the way with this project – the foundation footprint, for example, was not completed as of two days before our arrival even though arrangements had been made for it to be done months ahead of time. Such is the experience of development, at times, in sub-Saharan Africa! Regardless, her coaxing resulted in a tremendous surprise – we arrived Monday morning to a dugout foundational footprint, the first set of cinderblocks had been laid and there were already 30-40 local residents there powering through. That made it easy for our determined group to get their hands dirty.
Over the last few days, Brentwood students have worked through high humidity and temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s to mix cement by hand, transport cinder blocks, transport foundational crush rock, tamp it all down and place more blocks. It has been amazing to see just how quickly two distinct cultures can come together and share smiles and laughter, despite the language barrier. Additionally, the amount of work done by this group has been simply remarkable. The local MP stopped by for a visit and spent time wondering, in disbelief, if our students would ever bother to stop working. He was truly impressed with the work ethic put forward by our entire group. With this type of collective determination, this school we’re about to build is going to be a remarkable achievement.
The coming days will prove to be equally exciting: we will be taking the weekend to tour through Hlane and Mykhaya Game Reserves before continuing the work the next week.
This has already been an incredible adventure and it looks like the good times will just keep on rollin’.
Mr. Neil Robinson