Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bulembu Store Clocks in After Two Weeks

Just a quick progress report: Bulembu Store which got off the ground earlier this month is currently doing an average of a E1,000.00 profit a day (approximately $150 CND). The majority of the sales are attributed to maas (sour milk) sales, selling an average of 100L of it each day.

“We are off to a good start,” says Colin le Roux, BMS Director of Enterprise. “We are obviously still in the process of increasing sales on a daily bases as sales in products like bread are still low. But this is a pilot project and as of now we are pleased with the results of our first few weeks.”

So, if you happen to find yourself passing through Piggs Peak stop in and visit the folks at Bulembu Store just across from the Piggs Peak Hospital and up the street from Boxer Supermarket.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just a Chip (or 15 tons of chips) off the Ol’ Block

Every day almost 35 tons of waste in the forms of sawdust and off-cut planks comes off the lines at Bulembu Timber’s sawmill. Currently a portion of the waste is turned into charcoal but in search of new markets and new product lines, Bulembu Timber has invested in a wood chipper. This wood chipper will ensure that none of Bulembu Timber's waste is actually wasted.
Here's how it works:

A sawdust separator at the waste exit of the mill will, as its name suggests, separate the sawdust from the off-cut planks. Then the off-cut planks will go directly into the chipper and will be chipped into 35mm pieces of wood.

Next, the chips will go into 3m tall bags and will be transported by truck to sugar mills in Simunye and Mhlume (both in Swaziland). These companies purchase chips and sawdust from Bulembu Timber to heat their sugar factories’ boilers (they use wood instead of coal).

With 15-20 tons of chips processed daily and selling at R400/ton the chipper is a welcome addition to Bulembu Timber's machinery family. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Kids Who Live Upstairs

So, here's the situation:

Up on the mountain there are rows of orphan homes. Currently only the top row is filled. The Central Dining Room is on the row below these homes. To get to the Dining Room for each meal the children have been walking down the road or cutting through the bush.

This isn’t ideal for a number of reasons:
(1) Children running on the road is a universal no-no.
(2)  Children cutting through bush = mud on their feet = extra cleaning in the dining hall.
(3) Children cutting through bush = children tripping and falling = not good.

What is ideal, however, is that the G & J Paving team (Edmonton, Canada) has spent the last week in Bulembu and in partnership with local workers they have built a new staircase that connects the upper Dvudvusi row to the Central Dining Room.

“Building the staircase was very important for the Dvudvusi Orphan Care Program,” says Vernon Puttkammer, BMS’ Director of Orphan Care. “It’s important but not a priority enough to actually get done quickly. So when the G & J team came and offered to do the work for us we jumped at the chance. We really appreciate all of the hard work they put into building the staircase – it will make a big difference for the children.” 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mighty Morphin' Royal Rangers

BMS kids on a day hike over Christmas holidays

Here and there people have been speaking about the Royal Ranger program. While this blogger embarrassingly spent the greater part of the past two months calling it the RURAL Ranger program (it’s an outdoor education program – it made sense to me!), the ROYAL Ranger program is a Christian based scouting and discipleship program that will be introduced to Bulembu Ministry Swaziland’s children within the next few weeks.

“It’s all about creating an environment where kids can learn how to experience deeper intimacy with Christ,” says Jason Mitchell, Bulembu’s Royal Ranger coordinator. “It’s not all about teaching scouting skills, even though that’s part of it. It’s about capturing their attention through the scouting and then taking them into deeper waters with Jesus.”
The Royal Ranger programs is an outdoor leadership program where children learn scouting and camping skills but also are provided with a safe environment within which they can tackle the tough issues that come with growing up.

“It’s not easy being a kid,” says Jason. “The Ranger program gives these kids a chance to be mentored. The kids meet once a week for group activities and leadership training and then once a quarter they participate in a camping experience.”

So that’s the program.

And here’s the building:

Nice, right?

Well not yet but it will be soon.

The building is now beginning to be renovated to house the Royal Ranger program’s offices as well as the storage facilities for all the camping and scouting equipment.

This particular building sits along the main street in town between the Bakery and the Clinic but on the opposite side of the road. It was the first building ever in Bulembu and served as the original Havelock Mine Offices. Since BMS was established the building has been left in its dilapidated state as town planners waited for the perfect reason to restore it. And now, the Royal Ranger program provides the perfect reason to do so.

While preliminary renovations have begun this week there is no estimated completion date for this project. 
The interior of the new home of Royal Ranger's offices.
 Panorama of where the building (far left) sits in town. You can see the Clinic on the top right.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where the Streets Have No Names (sort of)

It is a long-standing joke in Bulembu that you can always tell who’s driving drunk along the road because they drive straight, where as anyone in their right mind drives in erratic, seemingly reckless zigzags because the roads are riddled with potholes. But with the recent arrival of the G & J Paving team from Edmonton, Canada, work has begun on restoring the roads after over 20 years of neglect and potholes are disappearing faster than you can say, "spaghetti and meatballs."

The process of repaving is a simple hand operation with no high tech machinery. If there was ever to be a pot-hole-filling instruction manual published in Bulembu, this is what it would say:

1.    Pick a pothole.
2.    Clean pothole of all loose dirt and dust.
3.    Prime pothole with Bitumen (tar).
4.    Mix stones with Bitumen and ensure stones have a thick coating on them.
5.    Drain off excess tar.
6.    Put Bitumen covered stones into pothole.
7.    Use roller to level off the filled pothole.
8.    Mix Bitumen with cement and crusher dust in the concrete mixer to create a sealer.
9.    Pour the sealer mixture in piles at various points along the road.
10. Take a giant squeegee and spread the sealer mixture out flat over the road.
11. Let dry.
12. Repeat as many times as is necessary to fill in all the potholes all over town.
The paving has begun just outside Bulembu Country Lodge at the top of the main artery that runs all the way through town. The paving will move ahead in three phases: (1) the main artery from the Lodge out to the checkpoint by Bulembu Timber’s saw mill and the road that connects the Lodge to the border access road, (2) the minor roads on the left side of the main artery, and (3) the minor roads on the right side of the main artery.

There is no date when project leaders expect the work to be completed, as the progress is largely dependant upon funds becoming available to continue the work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let There Be Light

Bulembu’s Resident Engineer travels to India and back in search of a sustainable energy solution for Bulembu’s electricity needs. 

The bustling streets of India.
Situation No.1: The electrical power supply to Bulembu comes from the national grid which is erratic (read: it kicks off without warning or reason) and is getting more expensive with every month that passes.

Situation No.2: Bulembu Timber burns approximately 50 tons of wood waste each day from sawmill operations which is made of up sawdust and off-cut planks.

Situation No.3: 50 tons of wood waste can be converted in a “Producer Gas Plan” to generate 1MW of electrical power and 1MW of heat.

Situation No.4: When wood, corn cobs, coconut shells, rice husks or any other plant derived product burns, what is actually burning is the gas contained in the plant product leaving only ash once all the gas has been burned up. The “gasification process” removes that gas without burning it and makes it available to be used to fuel internal combustion engines or to generate heat.  

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = Fuel for engines coupled to generators with the gas that will produce electrical power to supply the needs of Bulembu.

So yes, let's say goodbye dependency on the national electrical grid and hello to sustainable, environmentally friendly energy solutions. But where does this process of producing electricity in Bulembu begin?

In India, of course.

Two weeks ago, in search of said sustainable, environmentally friendly energy solutions, Colin Cotterrell, Bulembu’s Resident Engineer, traveled to India - one of the world leaders in gasification plant development and technology. 

“[We traveled] 100 km north of Calcutta to visit a gasification plant in Burdwan that was running on rice husks, extracting the biogas to fuel electrical generator plants that supplied electricity to a large factory processing rice,” Colin says of one of his tours of a plant which has been producing gas from rice husks continuously for five years. “We met with the owner of the factory who entertained us with small cups of tea in the Indian tradition. He shared with us how his production costs had come down as a result of producing his own electrical power from rice husks, a waste product, to run his factory.”

Colin also headed north to Vadodara where Ankur Scientific Technologies (AST), the factory that had manufactured the Burdwan rice husk gasification plant, is located. AST has supplied over 1,000 gasification plants into 40 countries and Colin was given an overview of AST’s operation and the development of gasification technology worldwide.

Equipment at the Ankur Scientific Technologies factory in Vadodara.

Returning this past week Colin reflected on his experience in India saying, “We can now move forward with the confidence that we are investing the correct technology and that gasification is the way to solve our electrical power problem. More importantly it moves us from being reliant on fossil fuel energy to 100% green electrical energy without pollution as the ash from the gasification plant is an excellent fertilizer and leaves nothing to damage our environment.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rescue. Raise. Rebuild.

 On Monday, February 22 BMS General Manager Andrew Le Roux and BMS Director of Orphan Care Vernon Puttkammer headed north to Uganda to spend ten days with the organization Watoto.

The name Watoto has become synonymous with the famous Children’s Choir but is actually indicative of a much larger organization – an organization that is very similar to Bulembu.

Watoto was birthed out of a local church in 1994 and according to its vision document the organization “provides holistic, residential care for orphaned and vulnerable children with the core vision to rescue a Child, raise a Leader and rebuild a Nation.”

Watoto is a set of two Villages of Hope - Bbira and Suubi. Each village has children's homes run by house mothers, schools and medical clinics to provide care for children. In addition to the children’s homes Watoto has also developed a vocational training school, a baby care program and have branched into programs that transform lives and restoring hope to those in war-torn Gulu in Northern Uganda. Like Bulembu, Watoto’s social workers partner with Ugandan social services to identify and admit vulnerable children into the Watoto homes.

“We visited Watoto because they’re doing what we want to do,” says Vernon. “We have a vision to take care of 2,000 orphaned children and to raise up future leaders and they are already doing this. They are a great resource for us as we look forward.”

Andrew and Vernon stayed in Watoto’s Guest House and spent their time in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, touring Watoto’s children’s villages, meeting with Team Leaders (upper management) and becoming inspired by the strong program Watoto has built.

“The experience was great to see people doing the big scale things out there,” Vernon says. “They face many similar challenges that we have even though they’ve been doing the childrens programs for so many years now. While they don’t have all the answers they are staying on vision and the pieces are falling into place.”

The Watoto vision includes plans to open a Watoto Hospital and a Watoto Univeristy and above all has a vision to empower 10,000 churches across Africa to replicate the Watoto model in their own communities, thus providing care for over 2 million of Africa’s orphaned and vulnerable children.

“We appreciated their transparency,” says Vernon. “The people who work for Watoto would share everything with us about their organization. They just really want to build God's Kingdom and help children. We are doing that too so they gave us a lot of help.”

One thing that Watoto’s story proves is that when it comes to a vision as big as theirs and as ambitious as Bulembu’s, the work is never finished.

“Many times you put a goal or a vision in front of yourself. Once you get there you think you’ll be able to rest but the people at Watoto showed us that once you achieve your vision everything increases ten-fold,” Vernon explains. “They started with children and now they’ve moved into widows and babies as well. There’s a constant increase – there are always more you can do to help.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

Caterpillar Grant Helps Bulembu Soar


Bulembu Supporter/Superfan/Sponsor: I've read about the Centralized Dining Hall before, but where does all that food that gets served there actually come from?
Bulembu Correspondent: Well, I'm glad you asked! Right now it is prepared in a small kitchen in the Welcome Center. The need to feed children has far outgrown the facilities in the Welcome Center and meal preparation for Bulembu Ministries Swaziland’s children is becoming more and more of a logistical nightmare.
Enter: the Caterpillar Foundation.
Through one of Bulembu Ministries Swaziland’s Canadian partners, NOW Africa, BMS has recently received a generous grant from the Caterpillar Foundation to complete the renovation of the Centralized Kitchen Facility.
(The opportunity that Caterpillar has given BMS is the opportunity of a matching grant of $1 for $1 up to $30,000 USD. Read: we raise it, they match it).
The Centralized Kitchen Facility will provide Bulembu Ministries Swaziland with a cost effective alternative to installing a kitchen in each home that is renovated for orphan care usage. Growing kids eat a lot and with over 100 new orphans expected to be welcomed into the Bulembu Orphan Care Program next year, the need is becoming critical.  
The building that will house the new Centralized Kitchen Facility is located next to the museum site and on the edge of the industrial Stores area. 
This project will employ six to eight full-time staff members who would work to cook and deliver 200 lunches and 200 dinners on a daily basis for the children under BMS’ care.
This project also provides BMS with the facilities to teach children about nutrition and food preparation so that when they move out of the program and are on their own they are have the skills to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves. 
In addition, a Centralized Kitchen Facility will allow Bulembu Ministries Swaziland to provide access to nutritional meals to Bulembu residents who are not able to prepare their own meals – especially those who are HIV positive in the community.
The renovation is slated to begin at the beginning of June with the center being fully operational by November 2010. 
 Interior of the Centralized Kitchen Facility site.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meet in the Middle

Right in the middle of town adjacent to the Community Center is a large, rundown community hall. During the time of the Havelock Mine the structure was used as a place to grab a drink after a day at work and was also used to host community meetings.
Today, even in its dilapidated state, the building is sporadically used for large community events and is home to one of the Community Center’s classrooms. The vision, however, is to transform this building into a multi-purpose community hall to host community events and to be the new home for Bulembu’s church by the end of this year.

“The process of renovating this building is quite simple,” says Colin Cotterrell, Bulembu’s Resident Engineer. “We will strip off the cladding on the side walls but leave the roof on. We will brick up the walls, fit all the doors and windows, redo the floor, upgrade the stage with a new lighting and sound system and build adequate washroom facilities.”

The renovations on the 656m² space are scheduled to move ahead at the beginning of June and are estimated to take just over four months to complete.

“The best part about this building is that it is in a central location that will fit over 1,000 people seated,” Cotterrell says. “It is the ideal spot to gather the community from the Village, the Orphan Homes up on the Dvudvusi hill, as well as everyone that lives up the hill by the Lodge.”
The Community Hall.

A view of the other side.

The stage and floor space inside the Community Hall.
The back of the Community Hall. Behind the wall is a large room originally used as a kitchen and for storage.