Monday, June 21, 2010

The Ants Who Built A Kingdom

“The lion cannot exist without the ant,” explains Rose Woller, Bulembu’s Manager of Short-Term Volunteers and Teams. “Here in Bulembu volunteers are important to the coexistent way that the organization functions. For the big things to happen at the top we need the little things to happen at the bottom.”

Up until recently Bulembu’s volunteer program has been an informal process. People from around the world have become familiar with the work in Bulembu, wanted to be involved and after a screening process have been slotted into the community to meet a certain need or for a certain experience for however long suited them personally. But now, with the organization growing rapidly the volunteer program is undergoing some major changes to give the program more structure and the volunteers more stability.

“While we are still in the planning phases of this, the idea is to create three separate categories that a volunteer can fall into,” Rose explains. “Where there used to simply be ‘volunteers’ the plan is to have tourists, voluntourists and staff members.”

First, tourists are visitors to Bulembu who stay for more than one day and who’s primary purpose is to stay at the Lodge and see the sights of Bulembu. Second, voluntourists are people who are visitors to Bulembu and stay for between one week and three months. They volunteer to assist in any area or within a specific role in Bulembu. Voluntourists have a structured, scheduled experience by which they engage with the community, are built into spiritually by those around them, and help lift the burden of serving in what ever way is needed at the time. And third, volunteers who stay for longer than a year are now considered staff. They are volunteers still because they are unpaid but they are staff in regards to the team they are a part of, the specific need they fill and the commitment to and from the organization that they have.

“The process of adjusting the volunteer structure has been good as it has been necessary,” says Dennis Neville, Bulembu’s Director of Education and Training. “We want to take care of the volunteers and show how much we value and appreciate them. Refining this system is a part of showing them that.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After the A-B-C's Comes the 1-2-3's of Bulembu Christian Academy

It’s been just over a month since Bulembu Christian Academy made the switch from the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum to the Cambridge curriculum. This blogger checked in with Dennis Neville, Bulembu’s Director of Education and Training, to find out how thing are going…

2020: Overall, tell us how the transition has gone.

DN: The transition has gone very well. There have been a few organizational and communication bumps along the way but as a general rule it has gone smoothly.

2020: The physical structure of the school has undergone quite a change as the classrooms had to be converted from the ‘office’ system to a more traditional layout. What was that process like?

DN: The team that made the physical changes to the building were exceptional. Bulembu’s Resident Engineer, Collin Cotterrell, and his infrastructure team of welders, carpenters and painters really were incredible. In two weeks they turned the whole school around and had the right attitude and the right approach to the whole project. I am very grateful to them for their professionalism and heart to serve with excellence. They successfully transformed ten classes from the ACE office cubicle setup to a conventional classroom setting – complete with brand-new, Bulembu manufactured desks.

2020: How have the teaching staff adapted to the changes?

DN: The teachers have really grabbed the bull by the horns with this change. They have run with the vision and the new curriculum. They are working incredibly hard building a new curriculum and helping the children to adapt to the changes. They are using the Swazi curriculum as a base but are building on top of it and adding to it which requires a lot of planning and extra hours.  I really value the passion and dedication of our staff at BCA who have made all of these changes possible.

2020: The switch from ACE to Cambridge is quite a jump in learning styles and classroom environment. How are the children adjusting?

DN: Some of the children have battled to adapt and some of them struggled with the particular grade that they had been placed in. Our team have worked hard to help the children adapt. Overall the children have been resilient and coped well.

2020: What was the process that dictated which grade each child was placed in?

DN: To place children in their new grades we took two factors into consideration. First we examined where they were in the ACE curriculum and how they were doing in that program. And second we gave all the children Cambridge Progression Tests in English and Mathematics. These tested their capacity in each subject and we were able to place them according to those results.

2020: How are you measuring the success of the transition and the impact of the new curriculum on the students?

DN: We are testing the children every two weeks to gauge adaptation to the new curriculum and to make sure that good learning is taking place. We’re not quite at the stage yet where we have conclusive results.

2020: Have any additional staff been hired on at the school?

DN: We have three new staff on board so far – three promising teachers for our Grade 1, Grade 4 and Grade 6 classes. We are still looking to add to our team in especially the high school and are specifically looking for a Maths and Science teacher.

2020: Has the timetable changed at all?

DN: The timetable has opened up and has changed for both the primary and high schools. In the high school we are now offering two new courses in addition to what was being covered before: Accounts and English Literature. In our efforts to ensure that we continue to disciple our children and lay the right biblical foundations in their lives, we also offer a new subject called Biblical Studies and Life Orientation. Extra curricular activities are largely the same as they were during the ACE curriculum. On Monday and Wednesday the students have sport and can choose between netball, soccer (boys and girls), volleyball and we have just started up a cricket team. On Tuesdays the students have more cultural options, which include Swazi dance, choir, drama, chess and art. And then on Thursday afternoons the students all participate in the Royal Rangers program which combines Christian discipleship, leadership training and outdoor education.

2020: So, from your perspective, overall the transition at the school from the ACE curriculum to the new curriculum has been…

DN: Exciting and challenging. I have such a sense of excitement as I walk through the school and see the level of learning that is taking place. Our purpose is to raise the next generation of Swazi leaders through spiritual, physical, educational and emotional transformation. Please pray for us for God’s wisdom and favour so that we can see our children become all that God has called them to be.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bulembu gets ABC-ed!

In August 1992 an abandoned, malnourished and neglected 4-month-old baby found his way into Robyn and Gerry Richter’s home in Simunye, Swaziland. They took him in, nursed him back to health and eventually made the decision to adopt him as their own. A year and a half later a second baby, this time a year old, arrived on their doorstep in much the same state as the first. After nursing him back to health and realizing that there was nowhere else for this child to go they adopted him as well.

“It was due to this lack [of foster support for abandoned children] that we looked into the matter more and found that very little help was being given to the abandoned or unwanted baby,” the Richters’ mission statement reads. “In Swaziland, there is no Children’s Act to protect the child. They are not top of the priority list and so very little was being done, in the country, to accommodate these children. They live and die and no one knows of their existence…We made a decision to help these children wherever we could and whenever we came into contact with babies or children in this situation. It was out of this lack and in this need here in Swaziland that ABC Ministry (Abandoned Babies for Christ) was born.”

And so, for the past 14 years, ABC has taken in abandoned and unwanted babies that have often been close to death, have nursed them back to health and have cared for them as their substitute parents.

In 2004 ABC moved from Big Bend to Bulembu with the vision of opening a main home and managing satellite homes. With a seemingly daunting task ahead of them, Robyn and Gerry took it one day at a time and slowly their ministry began to grow.

But near the end of 2009 it became clear that the ministry was stretched beyond what they could handle. “The home was just getting too big for us to manage,” Robyn explains. “We had such an increase in abandoned babies coming into our home that we needed to expand and we needed help. It was time to grow bigger but we knew that to do so we would need assistance and we would need to restructure.”

Enter Bulembu Ministries Swaziland.

“In early 2010 we began a conversation with ABC Ministries to see if we couldn’t integrate their ministry with ours,” explains Vernon Puttkammer, Bulembu Ministries Swaziland’s Director of Orphan Care. “They had grown quickly and were restricted with how much more they could grow due to a lack of resources. BMS has the resources to support ABC but was also needing a baby home to make our program complete as up until the integration we only had the programs to care for children over the age of four. Integration was the logical next step for both of us.”

The integration was made official on May 1, 2010 and has been smooth. Under the new name of Bulembu Baby Home the program will be managed by Robyn and Gerry still under the banner of ABC Ministries. Major points of policy include BMS taking legal guardianship of all the babies and children that are brought to the Bulembu Baby Home and the continued placement of children for National adoptions to Swazi families through the Swaziland Department of Social Welfare and Judicial system.

Other details of the integration include:

- When Bulembu Baby Home children turn four they will move from Bulembu Baby Home into the BMS Orphan Care homes.
- BMS will provide additional funding and support for Bulembu Baby Home’s daily operational expenses.
- BMS will actively recruit long-term volunteer workers acceptable to Bulembu Baby Home for additional staffing depth and stability.
- BMS will provide personnel to assist with daily administrative functions of the infant care program.

One of the most important points that this integration addresses is a plan of succession. As a result, currently plans are being made to set up a structure and protocol that would allow for the management of Bulembu Baby Home to be transferred from one manager to another easily. “Jerry and I are getting older and we didn’t want out hard work in getting this home established to fade away if something happens to us,” Robyn explains. “The integration gives us the assurance that this ministry will continue under BMS.”

While a positive change, the transition has not been easy personally for Robyn and Gerry. “We had older foster children living with us and have chosen to transfer them into the BMS Orphan Care Homes as well as the Jacaranda Home for Girls which was incredibly hard,” Robyn says. “Gerry and I are also moving out of the baby home and into an adjacent home to have some personal space. This move in itself has been hard because I’ve always lived in the baby home and been hands on. My role is now changing and I am managing the home rather than working directly in it and the release of the daily operations over to my workers has been difficult. They are incredibly capable though and I believe they will rise up and fulfill the roles they have been trained for.”

Future plans for Bulembu Baby Home include opening up a new home for children ages 18 months to 2 years as well as a third toddler home.

“ABC has done a phenomenal job with what they had. With increased pressure in orphan care due to Swaziland’s situation as well as our need for a more complete orphan care program, we are privileged to have Robyn and Gerry with all of their expertise managing this program for us,” Vernon says. “We are excited about growing this program and taking care of the pressing needs of abandoned babies in Swaziland.”