Siyabonga Thanda

This week in community has been bitter sweet. I have been out to the crèches with community volunteers which is always an amazing experience seeing their little faces light up playing games. We helped to teach them phonics, literacy, numeracy and other observational games. I was also able to present each Mama that runs the crèche with a large box of donations. Abacus, paper, pens, bubbles, puzzles etc were given to each crèche thanks to generous ex volunteers. I joined in all the community volunteers activities this week which included giving staff members English lessons to which we had them all signing ‘Wave Your Flag’ to much hilarity!

Excitingly the poles for the fencing project at Etshaneni vegetable garden have arrived, so the community will begin to put these in place next week. It is wonderful to see such progress.

In other sad news I am writing this entry from Durban airport, as I have taken medical advice to return home. Sadly it means I miss out on watching the progress of the two projects I have committed myself to. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet some incredible people, without ladies like Mama Grace and Mama Nkhleko my job would have been much more difficult. Their resilience and determination has been completely eye opening, and I am leaving with a heavy heart. I shall carry their tenacity with me! I hope that I can have the treatment needed and return quickly to Thanda to continue on the amazing work.

To those who have supported me throughout the bumpy journey, thank you. To the staff at Thanda, I shall miss you and hope to see your smiling faces again soon. To the community, I haven’t forgotten you!

Siyabonga, Salani Kahli! (Thank you, stay well!)


Week 13

Friday of last week was amazing. I was able to head out on a game drive with some of the researchers. We had a radio message that the North Pride of Lions was on a kill so we sped there first. The 9 strong pride were munching on a large male warthog, a little afternoon snack. The crunching of bones was certainly a sight to behold. After that we drove around the reserve and came across the heard of elephant next to a rhino and its calf. Just as we pulled away from them we spotted a leopard wandering up the dirt road. It was incredible it watch him saunter off without a care in daylight. Other leopard sightings I have been fortunate to see have all been in the dark; glimpses, or climbing trees. This was very special. We were able to follow him for around 30mims, before he escaped into the thick shrubbery, truly wonderful. On our way back to the lodge, as the sun was setting, jokingly we remarked, that the only thing we were yet to see was a hyena. Low and behold, a spotted hyena was beside the road next to the truck. We watched him walk up alongside us and cross in front of the vehicle. A spectacular drive.

I spent the weekend at Thanda basking in the glory of British sport. Having made a visit to the pub to watch the Lions supreme victory, I returned to call ‘Lions! Lions! Lions’ as we entered the lodge. The Lodge manager, Doug, then asked me ‘oh, did you see the lions as you drove back?!’ The confusion and perils of living on a game reserve! On Sunday a whole new set of volunteers arrived, including Community volunteers which is exciting. Monday was a day of indications and planning community activities for the Holiday Club and Youth Group.

Tuesday was our first day in the community with volunteers. Holiday Club was a huge hit, with 95 kids showing up! There was face painting, card games, netball, football, big five drawing and collages. Very enthusiastic and happy children. That afternoon we visited the vegetable garden in Mange where the plot has grown extensively and the ladies have started planting more variety – carrots and beet roots. The community volunteers assisted the women with watering the garden and tending to the crops. Later we headed over to the Youth Group. Again we had over 80 children which was amazing for a first turn out. This was more structured with workshops. We discussed in groups what the two challenges the children faced, and then two blessings, or things that they are thankful for. It was a moment of reality when the most common challenge was that the don’t have any water, they drink dirty water, and have no electricity. The other challenge that they faced was missing family members that had passed away recently. Certainly an emotional day. One of the sweetest blessings was from a little girl who was comforted that she was spending time with us. It’s those little experiences that keep you going, no matter how tired or rubbish you feel, my challenges pale into insignificance.

On Thursday I went out to the community again where the last Holiday Club was held. To celebrate the volunteers organised a talent show – dancing, poems, signing etc all filled the room with over 130 kids, it was such fun. Also very rewarding to be able to present prizes to each entry from the amazing donations given to Thanda. Each child that attended the day was also presented with two pens and a balloon which they absolutely loved. Such satisfaction from something so small really puts out material wishes into perspective. A thoroughly enjoyable day. The afternoon was spent on a tour of the community and meeting a local elder who answered all the volunteers questions on Zulu culture, which was an insight for them.

Until next week, I hope everyone is well at home thinking of you all.


12 Weeks at Thanda

Another week at Thanda has gone by. We had a Scavenger Hunt fundraiser with St Lucia volunteers on Friday night which raised in total R1120 which shall be split between the two projects. Our money will be put back into the clinic renovation project 🙂

On Sunday Zoe, the new community coordinator, arrived. Monique a volunteer coordinator from the community project in St Lucia also came to Thanda to guide Zoe through her first week. It has felt very different with such an impetus on the community, especially with the new Zulu community liaison re employed, Ziggy.

On Monday we unearthed all of the donations that have ever been given to The Happy Africa Foundation at Thanda. We decided to log all the donations into a database so that I know how many craft supplies etc there are. It was a long slog unloading every single piece of paper, educational book, colouring stencil….we managed to fill the whole office and not see the floor! After a good three and a bit hours, the donations had been recorded and stored far more neatly.

Tuesday we wandered out to Mange community to show Monique and Zoe the vegetable garden, meet Mama Grace and see the crèche. The crèche is still closed as school holidays continue, but we were able to establish a holiday club for the kids, which shall be a project for the community volunteers to be involved with. That afternoon in Mange we entertained around 25 children at the Youth Club. I practiced my frisbee throwing skills, football passing, skipping rope jumping, and other playground games. Great fun was had by all, and Zoe is hoping that this shall be a regular feature for the community volunteers, now that we have a Zulu representative to help organise and translate!

Wednesday was an interesting day, first we headed out to Etshaneni community where the monthly meeting was taking place. Mama Nkhleko asked for me to provide an update on the fundraising progress. When I could confirm the fence would be arriving soon and that it had been ordered and paid for both projects, the vegetable garden and also the clinic, they were ecstatic. The women all rushed to their feet, singing, clapping and dancing. They were extremely excited and so glad of the hard work that had been put in. It truly is a pleasure to work with such grateful and determined women.

The day, however, went from elation to sadness. We had learnt that the daughter of the InDuna of this area had passed away. He, therefore, couldn’t attend the meeting as his family mourns. As customary, we took some large bags of rice, potatoes, butternut and stock to his home. Here we paid our respects to his wife and the other members of his family. It was a moving time sat on our knees singing prayers to comfort their grief. The family was overwhelmed by our gifts, and the sentiment that we cared. It was an eye opening experience of Zulu culture, and how the community rallies around when the worst happens. That afternoon Zoe and Monique had to begin publicising the holiday club by leafleting all round the community.

Thursday evening I hosted another fundraiser for THAF in conjunction with the 4th July. We had home made guacamole, nachos, cheese, sour cream, poker, stars and strips face paint and a vodka / appletiser concoction which I called ‘The Big Apple’. Everyone has a great evening and we have raised some more vital funds for the clinic refurbishment project.

For the rest of the week I have been helping to update the lodge, and helping Zoe to establish inductions for new incoming community volunteers. I shall be at Thanda this weekend, willing the Lions to pull out a victory, though I am not brimming with confidence.

I hope everyone at home is well,


Week 11

An emotional week at Thanda; Emma the outgoing photography coordinator left on Sunday to return to her sunny Portuguese home. On Monday Marly, the research coordinator, made the decision to also leave Thanda. She will join Cass on an exciting road trip across South Africa, before she has to go home to Holland. It is certainly a challenge living in the bush when close friends are leaving.

Times will change next week. A new community coordinator is arriving so I shall be guiding her through the focal projects. Community volunteers arrive in two weeks time, so Zoe, the new coordinator, will be looking after them, and the projects that they can get involved in. We are also hoping that a community liaison (local Zulu translator) shall be employed who can help her and the volunteers, and also me, to increase the Happy Africa presence in community.

This week I managed to visit the community twice. I went with the new researchers to Mange vegetable garden, we couldn’t visit the crèche this week as the children are on holiday until 7th July. Mama Grace, the lady that usually runs the crèche, was there in the garden working with around 5 other ladies. I gave the researchers a tour of the project, why we are involved and how it has progressed. They all worked incredibly hard and managed to clear a large section for the women to begin planting more variety of vegetables. We left the garden with a sack full of spinach and four cabbages for our chef, Noni, to use in our supper 🙂

On Thursday evening a representative from the charity, Alanna, came to visit me and see how I was getting on with the focal projects. I had prepared a nutritional talk, with a paper plate coloured to demonstrate portions, to give at the mobile Etshaneni clinic. I saw it as a great opportunity for diet education as most people’s concerns and illnesses are diet related. It would also be an opportunity for me to show Alanna the focal projects, and what I have been fundraising towards.

Thursday it had rained a fair amount, so the journey the next day up the mountain to Etshaneni was interesting! The 4×4 slid all over the place along the muddy roads, eventually we made it unscathed. Unfortunately we arrived and no members of the community were there. We had been given the wrong information, the clinic was not operating today. Frustratingly this a rather frequent occurrence, nothing runs smoothly or to time in Zululand! There was, however, a representative from the Department of Health who I met and could have a chat with about the progress of the project, all was not lost! I am hoping that there will be a meeting between me and local municipality representatives in a couple of weeks to see if they’ll support the clinic renovation project. We also managed to show Alanna the other projects in our other community, Mange that morning too, so she could see the progress we are making up at Thanda.

The weather is getting a little cooler up at Thanda, I have been fortunate enough to inherit Cass’s electric blanket to keep my fingers and toes warm!

I hope all is well back home,


Week 10

This week started with an early rise for a snare sweep in the bush with the Anti Poaching Unit. It was a long walk through chreomolina, thorn bushes and high grass. The walk took over an hour and a half, and in that time we came across three snares. These look like pieces of wire curled into a circle, usually at waste height. The idea is that game, wondering through the dense bush, get caught up in the wire unable to move. To find three snares is bitter sweet. The fact there any to find is sad, but if it means that less animals are poaching than it can only be positive.

On Wednesday I headed out to the community with Neville. We drove all the way up into the hills where we were to meet the Nkosi. This traditional Zulu position means he is in charge of all the local InDunas (equivalent to chiefs). It is a hereditary position and the only person above the Nkosi is the Zulu King. Our Nkosi presides over a huge area, stretching from high in the hills, all the way to Mkuze Game Reserve. Thus, it is incredibly important that we could make a great impression and he understood my plans for both the vegetable garden project and the clinic renovation. As I am coming to learn, in Zulu tradition we waited over an hour to see him. Once we were beckoned into the room I was faced with around 30 very powerful men and women. We took our seats and the meeting began in traditional Zulu. Needless to say I had little idea of what was going on. Then the Nkosi turned to me; ‘Mama do you have anything to add?’ First I was a little spooked in being called Mama, though Neville reassured me this was a term of ultimate respect. Then I spoke that my Zulu wasn’t good enough to have followed the entire conversation but I was happy to introduce myself! He then, in a rather stern voice, replied asking what other projects I would be able to commit to and be involved in. I had to be quite careful not to over commit, seeing as it is just me managing the projects and also the fundraising I want to ensure the vegetable garden is successful before moving onto the clinic. As quickly as the interrogation started, it was over, and we were free to leave. As we wandered back to the car a lady in a rather confusing leather suit (she must have been extremely hot in the 28degree heat) asked to speak to me. She wanted money for a crèche high on top of the mountain that has no water, electricity, or fencing. Could I help? It does pull on your heart strings as people unashamedly ask for guidance. That, I suppose, is the steep learning curve of development work, I can’t help everyone or every issue.

Neville and I then left to make our way to the vegetable garden. There, with Funuza (his Zulu worker) we measured out the garden’s size to check our fence order. With that completed we could also put in quotes for all the poles we require.

Wednesday evening and pretty much all of Thursday was spent making a journey to and from Hluhluwe to the doctors. Unfortunately, Emma was had some severe neck problems. Being on a game viewer and bumping up and down on the dirt roads certainly does not help! She had to have some physio and also see the doctor for some medication. She’s on the road to recovery which is good. I seem to have acquired a spider bite on my eye lid which is making me look rather sleepy put I am popping anti histamines!!

Emma is leaving on Sunday which is a great shame and sad for Marly and I having spent her whole time at Thanda with us. It’s certainly a transitional period at Thanda with a whole new team coming in.