Swaziland Expedition 2014
After 18 months of planning, preparation and fundraising, the SJP Swaziland teams finally touched down on African soil this July. Arriving in Johannesburg all three teams were transported into neighbouring Swaziland. This presented the first challenge for our groups, a rather unconventional border crossing, with passport control and immigration housed in the back of a lorry. The students were quickly absorbed into the enormous cultural contrasts, in awe of the countryside they saw as they made their journey to their first destination. Teams 1 and 3 headed straight to their project phase; with team 1 heading to Ndinda Neighbourhood Care Point and team 3 to the Shewula Community in Eastern Swaziland. Team 2 were to start their adventures on the trekking phase of their expedition in Malolotja Nature Reserve, a mountainous area covering 4447 acres on Swaziland’s North Western border with South Africa.
Team 1 were the first World Challenge group to go to Ndinda Care Point and facilities were basic to say the least. The community is located North of the Swaziland capital, Mbabane. The nearer we got to Ndinda the more remote the surroundings became, before we finally headed down a dirt track to our project. The Care Point was made up of a church, which was in need of repair, and simply contained plastic chairs and a table, as well as a pit latrine and a tree surrounded with corrugated iron; which acted as a rest place for the local children who came to the care point and doubled up as a kitchen. Each day approximately 15-20 children between the ages of 3 and 6 would walk up to four miles from nearby homesteads to the care point in the hope of a meal and some education. The aim of our project was to build a large fence to protect the area surrounding the care point so that free roaming animals could not get in, allowing the community to grow their own food. During the course of the five days the team worked hard digging holes, making cement and fitting fencing poles before finally putting up the fencing wire. Rose Clarke was given the title of ‘star fencer’ after using her height to her advantage to secure the top wires on the fence. They also spent time playing with the children and teaching them some English games and songs. Despite spending just five days in Ndinda the team really felt part of the community, interacting with locals. On two occasions the team were drawn into a football match with a group of locals, needless to say, barefooted they defeated us! Team 3 found themselves at a much more established community and took on the challenge of painting buildings and classrooms at a local school. Ben Hughes proved to be an outstanding leader during this phase of team 3s adventure. The team stayed at a local campsite and were transported by pick-up truck each day to their project. The team were shocked to find that there were students in the school well into their twenties, as students in Swaziland continue with their education until they have passed all of their school examinations. They also found time to play with the children and were able to organise a number of sports matches against the students. The school PE teacher was particularly emotional after receiving a Liverpool FC shirt from Miss Neale and Miss Jones. Team 3 were treated to several traditional dance performances from the boys at the school. Team 2s project took them to Ekuzukekeni Neighbourhood Care Point. They were given the task of building a new kitchen for the community and spent time making bricks from clay, mixing cement and even laying bricks. The students all noted that the work was physically very hard but incredibly rewarding to see the fruits of their labour and to live for a short time in the community they were helping. Team 2 were also able to spend time interacting with the local children who visited the care point and arranged activities for them to play. All of the children were fascinated by the digital cameras carried by the SJP students and loved to see themselves back on the screen once a photo had been taken. As part of the preparations for the expedition all teams had purchased items to take as gifts to their projects. The local community were overwhelmed by the generous donations of items such as stationary, toys, books, games, hair slides and much more.
The trekking phase was a challenging time for all three teams. Malolotja Nature Reserve was the setting for teams two and three, with team two taking on the upper route and team three a series of treks from the park headquarters. Teams were expected to carry their food for the duration of the trekking phase and when wild camping to also source their own water from local rivers and streams. This proved a challenge but didn’t stop team 2 from enjoying a hearty BBQ of sausages, burgers, chicken and even homemade chips, cooked by budding chef Connor Campbell Smith. The setting for all three treks was phenomenal and, led by local guides, the students were able to see completely untouched parts of Swaziland. Team 1 were lucky enough to spend part of their trekking phase in the “Rock Lodge”, an amazing structure built into the side of a cliff and certainly the most stunning view from the outside shower. Although a tough climb to reach the lodge, the students were rewarded with stunning views. Throughout the trek phase teams needed to build their own fires for cooking and warmth and Tom Vaughan and Katrina Gillies proved to be excellent fire starters and monitors. Teams enjoyed treats such as roasted sweet potato and of course a lot of toasted marshmallows!
The rest & relaxation phase of the expedition involved both a safari in the world famous Kruger National park and a zip wire in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. The wealth of wildlife witnessed in Kruger was breathtaking with all teams seeing a wealth of birds as well as Elephants, Lions, Zebra, black & white Rhino, Hippos, Hyenas, Giraffes, Impala, Kudu and many, many more. Team one were also fortunate enough to see Cheetahs and a Leopard. The days in Kruger were very long with early starts before sunrise in order to maximise the chances of seeing the game, as well as evening game drives to see nocturnal wildlife. Kieran Richardson definitely proved to be the expeditions David Attenborough, displaying a wealth of knowledge on all wildlife, even correcting the guides on occasion! The zip wire was an amazing experience for all and gave some the chance to face their fear of heights, particularly Miss Francis! Everyone was kitted out with a full body harness, pulley, climbing equipment and safety helmet. The zip wire was a unique opportunity to experience the thrill of gliding through the forest canopy in one of the last mountain wilderness areas in Swaziland. The tour consisted of 11 platforms, 10 slides and an elevated swing bridge. This was a truly exhilarating experience for everyone, rewarded by the spectacular views; the ultimate adrenalin rush.
Throughout the expedition all teams were responsible for managing their own budgets and completing all their own shopping as well as cooking and cleaning. Time was spent making meal plans to maximise time whilst shopping for food and on both the project and the trek the teams found themselves washing clothes in local rivers.
The 2014 expedition to Swaziland and South Africa was the first time SJP students had set foot on the continent of Africa and a truly unforgettable time was had by all. The project phase allowed everyone to experience first-hand life in Swaziland and to be welcomed into a local community, creating memories and experiences like no other. The challenge of the trekking phase tested all to their physical limits and showed great resilience and teamwork as well as an amazing sense of achievement. Seeing animals in the wild in Kruger National Park was truly remarkable and a fantastic way to top off the two weeks.