Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sibusiso Magagula - a 2010 Christmas Interview

Sibusiso Magagula is the Bulembu Country Lodge Manager.  We asked him a few questions about Christmas and what his goals are for 2011:

How are you going to be celebrating an African Christmas?
I’ll be working this Christmas, because we have a few guests at the Lodge. 

What do you enjoy most about Christmas?
The most exciting thing about Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ and getting together with my family. It is very important for me to spend time with my family.

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?
Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Have you experienced a white Christmas before?

What do you think it is like?
I think Christmas is more exciting in countries where they have snow.

What was a highlight for you in 2010?
I was more involved with running the Lodge this year. Last year I had Mr. Vernon and Mr. Andrew’s input, but this year it has been a big challenge for me because I have had to oversee everything. If I have to make crucial decisions, I have to make sure the Lodge is up to standard. We have to keep on pushing for a higher standard. I think this year I have learned a lot and I have achieved many of my own personal goals. When big groups come in, we need to be prepared. I need to sit down a month before and plan for the groups so that we can be ready. The biggest challenge for me this year was the bicycle race in October. There were 220 people in town and we had to organize beds, bedding, plates, glasses and cutlery. It was hard work, but we achieved it. We were ready for them a week before the time. We were able to learn from our past mistakes.

What are you looking forward to next year?
I am looking forward to the opening of our Hospitality Training Centre and our conference centre. I am looking forward to working with Rose Woller who will be assisting with the Lodge. Next year, my biggest dream is to see the Lodge moving forward, improving service and operating at a higher standard.

What has been the biggest change in Bulembu in the last year?
I think it’s continuously changing. Previously in management I was reporting back to Mr. Andrew, but now we have the directors of different departments which lightens Mr. Andrew’s load. Now I am dealing with Mr. Collin le Roux on a daily basis so that is a step forward for Bulembu. The Hospitality Training Centre is also another big change that is happening in Bulembu.

What is the biggest challenge you face in the year ahead?
The biggest challenge in 2011 is to improve the Lodge, coming up with new ideas and more specifically coming up with new kitchen menus. I am trying to introduce new meals. I am going to try and transform my staff at the lodge through service improvement, to have the staff all on the same page and for them to know exactly what’s going on, what events are coming up and what teams will be visiting the lodge. Maybe there is even a chance for the staff at the Lodge to be put through the vocational training course.  To me that would be another step forward.

What’s best about living in Bulembu?
It’s a quiet place. It’s less expensive than other towns. There are no shops for you to spend your money unwisely. 

What do you wish for Christmas for yourself?
I wish for a good life for my family and myself and for everybody who lives in town.

What do you wish for Christmas for Bulembu?
I wish that God would give the people of Bulembu strength. They have been working hard for the last 12 months and I hope that they all come back next year. I also wish them a Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sam Ritcher - a 2010 Christmas Interview

Leading up to Christmas, we thought we'd pull together a series of interviews featuring some faces from the community as they talk about the year past, the year ahead and Christmas.  Enjoy.

Sam Richter arrived in Buelembu with his parents in 2005 and has been here eversince. He is 18 years old and attends the Bulembu Christian Academy. I asked Sam how he was going to be celebrating Christmas and what goals he has for 2011. 

How are you going to celebrate and African Christmas?
We usually go out of town and spend time with friends and family. This year we will be doing the same and spending time with my brother and sister in the Manzini area.

What do you enjoy most about Christmas?
For me it’s the  time where friends and family actually get together and have a good time. Birthdays come and go and not many people show up, but on Christmas, everyone is there. Even people who you wouldn’t expect, show up.

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?
Yes, ‘O Holy Night’

Have you experienced a white Christmas before? What do you think it is like?
No. A friend told me that once he had a Christmas where there was sleet and it was one of the coldest nights ever. You could see small snowflakes falling, that’s how cold it got. I haven’t seen snow yet, only in the movies. But I would love to see snow! Here in Bulembu you have lots of hills to slide down so if it did snow, it would be loads of fun! I think a white Christmas for some of the kids, would be a dream come true. For me in particular it would be a dream come true!

What was a highlight for you in 2010?
The first Royal Rangers camp and then coming back and being so on fire for God and filled with the Holy Spirit.

What are you looking forward to next year?
The basic things. Succeeding in school work. Even the smallest of things like doing your chores and waking up in time for school.  I also feel that God has something big planned ahead for the year.

What has been the biggest change in Bulembu in the last year?
There were two major changes. The changing of the school syllabus from ACE to Cambridge which meant that I had to take new tests and was placed in a different grade. Now, that means I have 4 more years of school before I graduate. I am still excited though!

What is your biggest challenge you face in Bulembu in the year ahead?
It’s got to be school! Math is my big challenge!

What’s best about living in Bulembu?
Well, it’s quietish. Unlike Big Bend where it was constantly noisy with traffic and loud city noises. 

On my way here I thought nothing could live up here in the mountains. How they managed to put all of this together is something else!

 What do you wish for Christmas for yourself..?
Ahhh….hmmm…..a cell phone. 

 What do you wish for Christmas for Bulemu?
To see this place expand nationally and internationally. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Swazi 1000

Bulembu is unique in many ways from its avid commitment to sustainability by 2020 to its holistic community development approach. But, one of the most compelling characteristics is the scope of the work. Three years ago a group of charismatic individuals caught the vision and dreamed of bringing 1000 students to Bulembu to volunteer and engage with the community in work projects and various ministry outreaches. This birthed what has become known as the Swazi1000.

In December 2008, 350 volunteers joined in on the first Swazi 1000 mission to Bulembu. Besides painting 12 community buildings, renovating 2 orphan homes, and painting 420 houses, these young people were challenged to live in radical devotion to their faith in God. The outpouring of their experience was far greater than expected as they returned to their own communities and set up outreaches, prayer groups and community development projects.

In 2009, 220 volunteers packed their tents and work gloves once again traveled to Bulembu for the second Swazi1000. This time they erected a 1.6km dairy fence, renovated the outer shell of nearly 12 orphan homes, painted murals, logos and even toenails of women in the community.

This year, the Swazi1000 returned on November 28th with over 150 students. Although this was by far the wettest Swazi 1000, that certainly has not stopped the team from heading out every morning to get the work done.

The energy around camp is one of excitement as volunteers divide into work groups and are briefed for the day’s work ahead. There are eleven teams on a rotation system, where the volunteers will have the opportunity in the course of the next two weeks to serve on kitchen duty, cleaning duty, bush clearing, painting, renovating orphan homes, as well as various ministry projects. Four fixed teams work solely on murals, fencing, renovating the school playground and caring for the new intake of orphaned babies in Bulembu.

During the first week, the rain was pouring so hard, it made work nearly impossible. The Swazi1000 leaders gave the volunteers the choice to come back to camp and get out of the rain. However, the majority of volunteers chose to remain working in the rain and mud. Those at the orphan homes decided to dig trenches around a few of the houses in order to prevent them from flooding. The perseverance and servant hood of the Swazi1000 team is one which continues to amaze the Bulembu community.

This year on Swazi1000 there were two small teams on a Mission Outreach Team Exposure (MOTE Level 2) experience. For this experience, the small teams spent the two weeks actually living in the villages outside of Bulembu, working, eating and serving with the local people and developing relationships with them as they built a community church and cow kraal.

The work that has been completed over the last 3 years by 728 Swazi1000 volunteers has uplifted the community and shown how important volunteers and teams are to the continual development of Bulembu. Next year Bulembu is looking to host over 400 Swazi1000 volunteers and if one thing is certain, there will be no shortage of work projects.

The Swazi 1000 team

Team ready to go paint the town red!

Students clearing weeds around houses

Building playground for children

Team works together to move jungle-gym

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

World Aids Day

It’s the 1st of December and it’s World Aids Day. World Aids Day is all about raising awareness  to stop the spread of HIV /AIDS and working together to do this. Stephen Lewis, a former  United Nations' special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa who has seen the bigger picture of what HIV/Aids is doing to people and nations and has been persistent in trying to stop this devastating disease.  In Stephen Lewis’ World Aids Day Message last year, he stated “prevention is not yet working. For every two people whom we put on anti-retroviral treatment so that they might live, there are five new infections. Prevention remains an elusive goal in the high-prevalence countries.” It is becomingly more widely known that Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world. Therefore it is a central focus to many of the projects and strategies in Bulembu. To give more information on what Bulembu is specifically doing to help fight against HIV/AIDS, we interviewed Niel Geldenhuys, manager of the Bulembu Clinic. 

How many medical staff work at the clinic?
“Wiseman a nurse, and myself, Margret who is a Midwife and Vera who is funded by ICAP (Aids Care and Treatment Programs) from Columbia University but works for us.”

How is Bulembu clinic dealing with HIV AIDS problem in Swaziland on a day-to-day basis?
“ Bulembu Clinic offers volunteer counseling and testing for any and every patient in the community at no cost. If they want to come to the clinic for an HIV test then they don’t pay anything for it. What happens when patients tell us they want an HIV test done, we open a file for them and there is a woman here that specifically works with HIV/AIDSpatients. She is called an expert client which means her HIV status is positive and she is on anti-retrovirals herself. She gets paid to speak to people about her HIV status, how the drugs are affecting her, how she is getting better and that it actually works. That is her job, so any of us, either the nurses can do the testing or counseling, but she is here full time to council and she is effective because she can relate to the patients.” 

How do you test for HIV/AIDS and how do you deal with AIDS patients?
“The Aids test is a finger prick test. We use two different rapid tests just to make sure that the results are accurate. If both rapid tests are positive then we tell the patient their status. We do pre-test counseling and post-test counseling, explain to them what it means and what the road forward looks like from here. From then onwards whoever does the test would bring the patient to me and I will do a general examination of the patient and clinically stage the patient, see how sick the patient is, determine what stage of the disease the patient is at, then we also take bloods from them and run tests on them e.g. test their liver, test their kidneys, check their CD4 count. “

“We then follow them up and so it’s patient dependent. If I have a patient with a CD4 count of 1000, I tell them to come back in three to six months, set a date for them and test them again and see if their CD4 count is lowering or if they need any other medicine to keep them healthy. Once we make a decision that a patient needs anti-retroviral therapy they go to Piggs Peak Hospital for the first initiation day of therapy then they will initiate them there and start them off on medicine and every time from then on a monthly basis the patience come to Bulembu. We do a full medical workup on them, check that they are taking their tablets properly, actually count their tablets make sure that they are taking the tablets at the correct time that they don’t build up resistance, draw bloods here and monitor their CD4 counts and if we need to, their viral loads. That is all for free of charge.”

Who is subsidizing all the HIV/AIDS tests and anti-retroviral medication?
“Everything is run by the Swazi government. Apart from that everything else is private at the clinic. Most of the patients however that we do test come in with another opportunistic infection. In other words they have some infection that they are prone to have because they have HIV/AIDS. While dealing with that we usually suggest to them that they need to have an HIV test and we council them through it.They would still pay the $1.50 for the consultation of the other problem but all the HIV is free of charge. Donors from Canada and around the world fund the Clinic general operations, indirectly by supporting Bulembu.”

What do you think can reduce the HIV rate in Swaziland?
“I believe that an effective way of tackling AIDS in Bulembu, instead of having mass campaigns like they have been doing, putting posters up and handling out pamphlets is to speak to people one-on-one. So every patient that comes through here gets offered an HIV test. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to do it but to me it’s made a big difference. When I started off here, we did about 12 to 15 HIV tests a month and at the moment we test roughly 60 to 80 patients a month. We are encouraging them on a one-on-one basis to take the test. If they want an HIV test done, they will ask the nurse and have an  HIV test done but more often than not, if you don’t ask a patient and say: listen I really think you should have an HIV AIDS test done. Nine out often would be too scared to have it and not do it. We also council the patient on prevention of HIV and family planning.”

“Females are usually more willing to test than what men are. Men are usually a bit more stubborn when testing. A lot of the times we will have the women coming and we would suggest that they bring their boyfriend or husband when they comet o the clinic and the guys don’t want to test. We probably have more women on anti-retroviral medication than men.”

The Bulembu Clinic sees a large number of patients every day and administers medical care and medication to the community and the greater population of Swaziland. Niel and his staff are filled with hope and expectation to help many more lives in the years to come as the clinic’s capacity to treat more people is increasing and meeting an ever growing need. “Of course we can turn the tide on AIDS in Africa. It just takes your help, sprinkled with a touch of imagination and love.” – Stephen Lewis

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Full of Beans

Bulembu lodge cappuccino
The fresh smell of peculated coffee is an inviting smell that greets you when you are in close proximity to Bulembu Lodge. If you ever come to visit Bulembu, you will be able to have the best cup of coffee in Swaziland!

I visited the Lodge to see how they have mastered the art of making coffee, and I must say I was impressed. Sibosiso, the Lodge manager, stood confidently behind the coffee machine, while he explained to me how to make a cappuccino and how the coffee machine works.

The coffee machine was purchased in February 2009 and from then on, was visited by all who live in Bulembu. A barista from the UK came out to Bulembu to teach the Lodge staff how to use the coffee machine and make good coffee. 

We use a three coffee bean blend from Avanti CafĂ©, which we buy from Elite Food Suppliers in Mbabane. The beans are poured into a blender-looking container and the beans are ground to a specific texture. The ground coffee powder is poured into a small black cup and the powder is then tapped - tapped meaning compressed. As the hot water seeps through the ground coffee powder, the brewing process occurs, which amplifies the coffee aroma. The texture of the ground coffee, and how the coffee powder is tapped, affects the taste of the coffee. It is, therefore, really important to find the perfect balance between the two, in order to make the best well-brewed coffee. 

Four years ago the Bulembu Country Lodge offered only a few different meals and standard coffee and tea. But as progress is constantly being made through service and product improvement, more people are noticing and enjoying all the Lodge has to offer. Although a cup of coffee seems like a small change, if you were to pick one up on your way to work, you would agree, it is a great step forward.  

Brewed coffee pouring into mugs

Bulembu lodge cappuccino

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dairy Expansion

Expanding the Bulembu Dairy pastures are the order of the day. Over the last year, the dairy has really shown tremendous success.  It has proven to be a sustainable and successful business, which is exactly the culture that Bulembu is trying to cultivate. Due to the growing herd of jersey cows and the future prediction of another further 100 over the next few months, the Bulembu Dairy  is increasing its pastures. An area of grassland has been cleared in the village and is currently being prepared for planting, which is scheduled to proceed in the next four weeks. Two grass types are going to be planted, Rye and Kikuyu grass, which will produce luscious fields for the new herd. Both grass types grow well in the Bulembu’s type of climate and will provide the cattle with part of the nutrition that they require. By expanding the herds and pastures, Bulembu Dairy will significantly increase its profit, adding needed funds to the community for future growth.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mine Tailings Rehabilitation BEGINS!

Upon acquiring the Bulembu property in 2006, Bulembu Ministries Swaziland (BMS) conducted a series of tests in order to assess the liveability of the property.  It was important to understand exactly what the charity was getting into after the decades of neglect under the management of the mining company that had operated the town for 60 years.  All tests indicated that any risk of exposure to the chrysotile that was mined on the property over the previous decades was negligible.  Still, BMS has been mindful to take the necessary steps to appropriately rehabilitate the property and create safeguards for all of the residents of the town. 

One of the most important stages in our rehabilitation plan began last month with the $1.2 million rehabilitation of the old mine tailings dump.  This project has been made possible with support from funders and experts in Canada and South Africa.
The current timeline calls for all of the required activities necessary to rehabilitate the mine tailings to be completed in 14 months.  During this time BMS will be monitoring closely the water, soil and air quality, ensuring that the rehabilitation of the tailings has no ill effects on the community.  Bulembu is home to over 2,000 enterprise employees, community care workers, children and Bulembu administrators and leadership all of who live, work and play in town.  We are always mindful of this reality when making decision about our community.

Follow along over the next 14 months as we regularly post mine rehab updates on the blog. 
The first step in the rehabilitation process: re-sloping.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Royal Rangers

Royal Ranger leaders

It was an exciting week for the Bulembu children as they went “Royal Ranging” at a new campsite established for the program. The camp has been established in a stunning part of a forest near a steady flowing stream.

Royal Rangers is a Christian-based scouting and discipleship program. It has been introduced to the kids as an extra-mural of Bulembu Christian Academy. Children are embracing the program as they learn scouting, camping and leadership skills. Royal Ranger also provides them with a safe environment to tackle the tough issues that come with growing up.

The national leaders of the Royal Rangers program in South Africa are Gerhard and Tammy Uys. They have been involved in training up leaders and running camps all over South Africa. They have been instrumental in establishing the program in Bulembu.

This fall the children in the program were assigned to a team of eight fellow Rangers. There were approximately 12 teams this time around. Each team was tasked with establishing their own team camping area. They were trained to build their own shelter, fire table and picnic table as they had to cook their own meals. Other activities included first aid classes, learning how to tie knots, making different fires, learning how to use a compass and identifying certain trees and indigenous plant life. 

They also had a wonderful time singing songs around the campfire at night. The highlight for the children was the spiritual fire evening where the Royal Ranger leaders performed a skit. This year the highlight was a huge heart that was lit to show God’s love for the children. The evening ended with an intense time of prayer and ministry. God touched the lives of many!
I asked Gerhard if he sees potential for Royal Rangers and he said: “Yes, big time. I have seen the kids the way they are. They are naughty but very lovable. Many of the kids are really bright and need a chance to reach their full potential; and this program gives them the opportunity to do so..

Royal Rangers is just one avenue to teach leadership skills. It is giving the kids in the Child Care Program an opportunity to grow individually and as a part of a team. We look forward to next year’s camps!
Gerhard & Tammy
One of the campsites
A fire table
Gerhard & kids having fun

Monday, October 18, 2010

CIDA and vocational training

If you attended an event at this year’s “Voices for Bulembu”, or if you have read the 2010 Yearbook cover to cover, then you’ve likely already heard the good news.  But it’s certainly worth sharing with everyone.

In 2009, Bulembu International applied to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for a $500,000 grant to build the Bulembu Vocational Training and Conference Centre (VTCC). In April 2010, CIDA approved the project and construction began on the facility that will become the VTCC. 

The Vocational Training Centre will focus its curriculum on the training of tourism professionals. Although tourism is the third largest industry in Swaziland, the system for educating and developing tourism professionals in Swaziland has capacity to train only 25 students every 3 years and is vastly underdeveloped. Bulembu has seized the opportunity to be a leader in tourism training, producing outstanding tourism professionals to serve in Bulembu, as well as greater Swaziland.  Intake of the Training Centre’s first students is scheduled for February 2011. The Vocational Training Centre is also the first step to providing valuable post-secondary educational opportunities to the young men and women transitioning out of the Bulembu Child Care Program. Training for a successful career is central to Bulembu’s education planning and vision of growing a generation of Swazi leaders. 


The Conference Centre will work in concert with the Vocational Training Centre, providing hands on experiential learning for the students in the program.  The VTCC as a whole will partner with the Bulembu Country Lodge (BCL) to establish Bulembu as a viable conference destination, both in Swaziland and in the South African region. Already the BCL has seen an increase in traffic, resulting in increased stays and total revenues. With the VTCC scheduled to open its doors at the beginning of next year, there are plans to expand the BCL’s room offering. The 50 room hostel will soon undergo a complete renovation to upgrade the facility to hotel quality rooms. This will more than double the Bulembu Country Lodge’s room offering.

Thank you to CIDA and our many partners who are working with us to ensure the 2020 Vision becomes a reality.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dairy Development

Bulembu Jersey Cow

As we roll into October the Bulembu Dairy continues to prove that converting the town golf course into a community dairy, was a step in a great direction.  Bulembu Dairy currently has a herd of 78 Jersey cows, 39 of which are ‘in milk’.  Schalk de Klerk, the new dairy manager has  increased milk production to 21.4 liters per cow per day from 14 liters, which has pushed overall milk production up to 820 L per day. This is outstanding output compared to dairy farms across Swaziland.

Milking takes place twice a day at 5:00 AM and at 4:00PM.  Seven dairy workers make sure that cows are milked and fed at specific times each day.

One of the primary motivators for establishing Bulembu Dairy was to supply children in the Child Care Program with milk and dairy based products at a reduced cost. Due to the increase in milk production we have exceeded original expectations.  Not only are we producing enough milk to serve our Child Care needs, but the rest of the Bulembu community are able to purchase locally produced milk products as competitive prices.  As well, we have been able to increase our market share outside of Bulembu and are now supplying an extra 14,000L of milk based products into the Swaziland market per month. The Bulembu store in Piggs Peak is our primary point of product distribution and is contributing just over 50% of the sales.

Future expansion of the dairy will include a goat herd which will supply to the child care program. The prime reason for taking on the goat project is to replace the formula for the lactose intolerant babies. 

Cows are fed while being milked.

Cows being milked.
This is where the milk is collected after milking.

Dairy pastures.
Dairy pastures.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet As Honey

Packaged Bulembu Honey
Bulembu honey is definitely beginning to build up a great reputation for its honey and is in high demand with the local people of Swaziland and foreigners who visit Bulembu. The honey department  harvests around 11 tons of honey per year and now has just under 1,000 hives. The aim is to decrease the number of total hives and increase the productivity of each hive to continue to meet the demand. It is a bit of a challenge protecting the honey from honey badgers and other thieves when there are so many hives to keep and eye on.

This year a number of aloe trees have been planted around the hives so that production of honey can continue without artificial food even during the off-season. This will definitely boost production as Bulembu Honey is supplying local retailers, hotels, lodges and is beginning to tap into the South African market as well. Although this year has had numerous challenges with the harvesting season (excessive rain, high winds, etc) there is still tons to be excited about – including more of that honey that everyone is talking about. 

Hive boxes 

Honey department

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tenors In Bulembu

Tenors with the Canadian High Commissioner

What a week it was for Bulembu hosting our special friends, The Canadian Tenors.   
It all began when the Tenors arrived in South Africa on the 21st of August to perform at the Canadian High Commissioner, Adele Dion’s private residence in Pretoria. A number of distinguished guests attended, helping to bring awareness to Bulembu and raise funds for child care homes.
The Tenors journey continued to ‘Choose Life Church’ where the Swazi 1000 team had eagerly prepared the venue for Voices for Bulembu: South Africa. There was such excitement and expectation in the air it was almost tangible. The South African crowd enjoyed every moment and were captivated by the Tenors soaring voices. Not only did the event focus on Bulembu and the mission outreach team Swazi 1000, but it also gave the South African audience a brilliant introduction to the Tenors.
Next on the tightly planned Tenors schedule was their long awaited return to Bulembu. Many changes had taken place since their first visit in 2008 when they were initially introduced to Bulembu’s 2020 vision.   
The Tenors spent most of their time with children in the Bulembu Child Care Program and amazingly recognized a few of the children they had met the first time they visited. Having met a number of these kids when they were still very young, to see them bigger, stronger and more mature was an encouragement.
Tenors dancing at Bulembu concert
Singing and making music definitely is one of the Tenors gifts and they were sharing that gift wherever they went in Bulembu. The kids love singing and inevitably, wherever the Tenors went they ended up singing and dancing with the children.  On Wednesday night it was Bulembu’s turn to have the Tenors perform for them. The Bulembu community came together in the building the Tenors originally performed in during their first trip, a building which has undergone significant renovations.

Drummers walked to the front of the stage and placed their hide skinned drums comfortably on the newly cemented floor. They started drumming a rhythm that was almost hypnotizing and within minutes of the beating drums five young Swazi boys entered the room with the Tenors right behind them with sticks in hand pointing to the ceiling, in a traditional Swazi dance. When they reached the stage area the young boys signaled to the Tenors that it was now time to start dancing the Swazi dance that they had been taught. They danced with determination and with smiles.

The evening was filled with talent. A group of Swazi girls performed a traditional dance in their Swazi attire followed by John Mann, lead singer of the Canadian band Spirit of The West.  Finally children from the Bulembu Christian Academy performed a few songs for the Tenors, which ended in a group sing-along . It was an event the whole community will remember for a long time.

John Mann performing at Bulembu concert
Swazi girls performing a traditional Swazi dance at Bulembu concert

Tenors hanging out with the kids