Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Forest and a Future

By: Theresia Whitfield

Skumbuzo at the sawmill

Imagine growing up in a close-knit community only to watch your town virtually disappear. The few citizens that remain are suffering for lack of the basics but more than that; they turn to crime to compensate for the lack of jobs. Now imagine watching that same town completely revitalized with new opportunities for business, education, health and hope.

One of the ladies at the sawmill preparing logs to be sawed

Skumbuzo Dlamini has seen both of these scenarios come to life. He was born and raised in Bulembu amid the hay-day of what was a bustling town with a vibrant and active mine company providing for 10,000 residents. When the mine shut its doors in 2001, Skumbuzo watched as practically everyone he knew left to try to find a new life. But Skumbuzo and his family had nowhere to go. They stayed, watching Bulembu fall into disarray and become a ghost town.

Sawmill during the night shift

Today Skumbuzo is able to smile about life in Bulembu because it is a happy place once again. When Bulembu Ministries Swaziland arrived in 2006, Skumbuzo says he felt that God had answered his prayers. He began working in security, following in the footsteps of his father. (His mother and grandfather both worked in the mine.) Eventually, he ended up at Bulembu Sawmill, which has been operational since 2004.
Workers at sawmill

Neal Rijkenberg, who once owned the sawmill, turned it over to BMS in 2006 so that the Swazi people could run it exclusively for the benefit of the town and country. The primary function of the sawmill is to maintain profitability in order to financially assist the Child Care Program.  According to Kurt Puttkammer, the Forestry Manager in Bulembu, duties range from manually loading the conveyors with round logs, operating basic machinery to packing the final product into bundles. Forklift drivers, a maintenance team and Bell loggers are also employed at the sawmill.

One of the Bell loaders loading a truck

“The sawmill offers timber for sale to the surrounding community at very cheap prices,” said Kurt.

Skumbuzo has also seen a lot of change at the sawmill since he began working there. What started as a small group of people, there are now more than 120 people who work at the sawmill, including 16 who are employed at the charcoal plant. The newest addition to the sawmill is a wood chipper that is used to chip waste coming from the mill and is then sold to the sugar mills in Swaziland. And Skumbuzo has also become the General Manager.

Skumbuzo showing worker how to work machinery

Skumbuzo and Kurt said that the sawmill is always looking for new markets and ideas that will make Bulembu Sawmill a more efficient operation. All Bulembu forests are forestry stewardship council certified, which allows for some export to Holland and Belgium. Those items being exported include the harder Eucalyptus species such as Paniculata and Cloeziana, which are rot resistant and often used in wet areas for walkways and outdoor furniture.

Worker sorting off-cuts

Skumbuzo, who is married and has two children, beams with joy when talking about what he feels is a tremendous future for his own family and that of his employees.

“Each morning before we begin work, we pray,” he said. “I tell them we need to respect our jobs. I tell them to work hard and as one team so that their children won’t have to suffer.”  


Monday, May 23, 2011

Good News From BI

Dear Friends of Bulembu,

By now we trust you have had a chance to read and process
the letter sent several days ago outlining the scaling back of
Bulembu International’s (BI) partnership with Bulembu
Ministries Swaziland (BMS).  Many of you have taken time to
send words of encouragement and I want to thank you for
caring so deeply for our family, staff, directors, the Bulembu
community, and Swaziland.

The BI Board of Directors met last week and unanimously
expressed their unwavering commitment to the well-being and
future of the children in Bulembu.   A scaled back Bulembu
International will continue to provide ongoing financial
support for the orphaned and vulnerable children being
cared for through Bulembu’s Child Care Program. In
addition, private funding has been secured to cover the
administration costs associated with operating BI to ensure that
100% of your donations will go directly towards caring for the
children in Bulembu.

BI continues to affirm the integrity with which BMS manages

our donations and the effectiveness with which the Bulembu
Child Care Program (child care, education, medical) is
operated.  The children are well cared for and loved, they are
receiving an excellent education, and they are being given
hope and a future.

I would like to encourage you to follow the lead of BI's Board

of Directors and give generously to Bulembu's Child Care
Program.  To make a donation, please visit Bulembu reStore
(  If you are currently a Child 
Sponsor, monthly or annual donor, your donations will be
directed towards the care of the children as the team in
Bulembu seeks to raise up a new generation of Swazi leaders.
If you have any questions or wish to discontinue your pre-
authorized monthly donations, please contact Jan Quiring
( or 778-288-7411).

What has been accomplished to date in Bulembu is truly

remarkable.  On behalf of Bulembu International, thank you
for your commitment and support.  We pray each of you will
continue to be a blessing to this community.

With much gratitude,

Volker Wagner 
Executive Director

Bulembu International

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Next Step

Life’s journey for Phephile Khumalo is taken one step at a time. But for this seven-year-old in the Bulembu childcare program, each physical step has been taken only with the aid of crutches. Phephile was a baby when a snake bit her. The bite caused permanent muscle damage, preventing her foot from developing normally. But Phephile is ready to take the next step, and it will come a little bit easier when she receives a prosthetic leg.

Dr. Detlef Brock, his wife, Angelica and Bulembu’s Registered General Nurse, Wiseman Sisamala work together to make a mold of Phephile’s leg so she can be fitted with a prosthetic leg.

Dr. Detlef Brock and his wife, Angelica, had visited various hospitals in Swaziland and while in the country, made a stop in Bulembu. During his visit, Dr. Brock, who specializes in pediatric surgery and sports medicine in Leipzig, Germany, was able to make a fiberglass cast of Phephile’s leg. This lightweight cast was then removed and taken back to Germany where he will create a prosthetic leg, fit specifically for Phephile.
Wiseman comforts a frightened Phephile while she’s being fitted with a mold that will be used to make a prosthetic leg. 
Dr. Brock’s wife, Angelica, who is a physical therapist and Wiseman Sisamala worked with Phephile to keep her calm and comforted during the mold fitting. Wiseman, originally from Zimbabwe and a Registered General Nurse has been working in the Bulembu Clinic for one year, so he is quite familiar with Phephile and her struggles to walk. Angelica is an expert at helping children strengthen muscles that, for one reason or another, have not developed properly. Initially frightened, Phephile was unharmed during the fitting and happily accepted a tasty treat when it was over!

Phephile winces during the process of being fitted with a mold that will be used to make a prosthetic leg. 

Phephile’s mold was created when Dr. Brock and Angelica paid a visit to Bulembu in mid-April. She’ll be fitted with her prosthetic leg in approximately one month. And when that day comes, Phephile will be able to walk and run with her friends. Her crutches will be a thing of the past, and the next step will be cause for celebration! 

Wiseman shows Phephile the mold that will be taken back to Germany to prepare the prosthetic leg she’ll receive in May. 

Angelica offers Phephile a tasty treat after the fitting process which will lead to a prosthetic leg. 
A teary-eyed Phephile enjoys a tasty treat after the fitting process to make her new prosthetic leg.

Phephile smiles alongside Angelica and Dr. Detlef Brock.

Phephile Khumalo smiles knowing she will soon be able to walk without the aid of her crutches. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Day in the Life – Hospitality Training Students

First 2011 HTC class 

The next time you’re roaming through the southeastern half of Africa, enjoying a lovely hotel room or a scrumptious meal, take a close look at those serving you. These are waitrons and hotel staff members who may very well have been trained at Bulembu’s Hospitality Training Center. The students, like Mbongiseni (Bones) and Gabsile, come to Bulembu to study every aspect of the hospitality industry so they can go out into Swaziland – and other countries – and find a prosperous and fulfilling career. What’s it like a day in the life of one of these students? Let’s find out!

 The 19 students – 6 boys and 13 girls – live in a dorm-like house. They wake early and jockey for position in the bathroom for showers. In between morning prayers, a breakfast of cereal or toast and getting dressed, Bones checks on the others in the house to make sure everyone is ok. They all leave the house together at 8:45 and make their way to the training center for their 9 am class. School days typically last until 4:30 or 5:30, depending on what is scheduled for the students.
The students are divided into teams - green, black and red - and they each take turns preparing lunch and handling other duties in the house. The lessons they learn are even incorporated into their everyday lives. After classes, each student is responsible for his or her own meal. Bones says he likes to take walks and photograph the beautiful nature that surrounds Bulembu when he is not reviewing his school notes. Gabsile says they all often watch DVD’s in the evening because the TV isn’t connected to satellite. She explains that they have seen most of the movies numerous times, but it’s still a pleasurable time to be together.

After working in classroom settings and getting some hands-on experience at the Bulembu Country Lodge, the students are ready to move on to their practicum. Bones will be going to work in a hotel in Manzini while Gabsile will be stationed at Mountain Inn in Swaziland’s capital, Mbabane. But first, she will make a stop to see her mother and stepfather and meet her new sibling!
Students in class
Both Bones and Gabsile say they have learned so much through their classes, which don’t just revolve around setting tables and pouring drinks. They have classes in life application and education, including awareness about HIV/AIDS. Bones says he is naturally shy but these classes have helped him to try to overcome the shyness and break out of his shell, which he is looking forward to doing when he arrives in Manzini.

Students having breakfast
 Gabsile said this has been the greatest experience of her life. “I’ve never been so happy,” she says. “I’m also learning a lot about myself, and making great friends.” Friends, she insists, she will miss when they go separate ways into a bright new world of opportunities. Perhaps one of those opportunities will include serving you and making sure your visit is made of wonderful memories.

Written by Theresia Whitfield
Photos by Gary Todoroff

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bulembu In Black & White

A serene and comfortable gathering place for fellowship and food in a cottage at Bulembu Country Lodge.

Lighting the way to a bright future on the streets of Bulembu.

Welcome home. A relaxing setting at the Bulembu Country Lodge.

A teacher plays a game of soccer with students from the Bulembu Christian Academy.

Moving mountains: A bulldozer works to clear mine tailings in preparation for more growth in Bulembu.

Two trees stand above the rest; Eucalyptus forest in Bulembu.

Storms passing over the mountains surrounding Bulembu. The night sky shines brightly at the moment lightning strikes.

Teachers give special attention throughout the class day to ensure that children keep up with their class mates in the Cambridge curriculum.

All of the world's children know their place in line.

Photographer: Gary Todoroff
Captions: Theresia Whitfield
Edited: Bianca Puttkammer

Monday, April 11, 2011

“Welcome Home”

One of the biggest and ongoing challenges for the social workers and staff in Bulembu is the transitioning of a child from a destitute and neglected life to one of care and hope. The first place every arriving child sees is the Welcome Centre where that transition begins to take place.

Vernon & social worker on their way to a homestead to fetch a child in need.
The children come literally from all over Swaziland and are initially referred to Swaziland Social Welfare either by hospitals, police, child protection, struggling family members or neighbors, community workers and pastors. After tracking and investigating family members who might be alive and, if no one is alive and/or willing to take the child, death certificates are obtained and affidavits are completed by Swaziland Social Welfare. Then the children are prepared for a new home and a new life.

Child at one of the homesteads checking out the situation.
Newcomers are provided a bath, food and sleep, precious comforts the rest of us take for granted but might be completely foreign to these little ones. At the start of a new day, they are examined at the medical clinic. Staff at the Bulembu Clinic check weight and height, look for bruises and sends them for x-rays if necessary, provides HIV testing, and conduct other necessary medical treatments before they receive new clothing, shoes, and an opportunity to do what kids do best: play!

Vernon speaking to one of the children who will be joining the Bulembu  program.

 Ruth Boys, the Homes Manager, is actively involved in this process along with the two social workers in Bulembu, both of whom are native Swazi’s. Ruth says that up to 70% of the children who come through the Welcome Centre have faced some type of abuse, regardless of their age. Tending to hurts and hearts is a main focus in caring for the newest and most vulnerable residents. And before the children are placed in a permanent orphan home with their new “siblings” and a dedicated and devoted “auntie”, the children’s every need is met for the first four to eight weeks of their stay at the Welcome Centre.

A great grandmother saying goodbye to children whom she is unable to look after anymore.
Since the middle of March, five more children have become part of the Bulembu family; five babies under the age of two and one five year old. In addition, two more orphan homes have opened in Dvudvusi, one for boys and one for girls. New stairs have also been installed between the homes in Dvudvusi in order to provide a safer walk for the children. Small strides in the long journey to providing the children in the program with the love and resources they need to thrive.

Children arrive at the Welcome Center. 
For the newest additions, welcome home, for in Bulembu all of the children are indeed home.

By: Theresia Whitfield

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coffee, Tea or Turn Down Your Bed?

A main priority in restoring and transforming Bulembu is to help its citizens and neighbors get on their feet and provide for themselves through education and jobs. This never-ending circle not only benefits the individual but the community and the entire nation of Swaziland through the economy as well as preparing for the next generation of leaders.

Two HTC students in class
Students from all across Swaziland know that they can find excellent training and internships in planning for their own careers at Bulembu’s Hospitality Training Center. The training focuses on the hospitality industry, which is already beginning to make a large impact on the economy as a whole. Students spend three months of in-class and practical training before going on to a three-month internship elsewhere, putting their lessons to use in the real world.

HTC students
Sibusiso Magagula, the Bulembu Country Lodge Manager, is at the front lines of the training program where he helps to provide hands-on training in guest room preparations such as turning down beds or making them, cleaning restrooms and stocking them, and making sure guest needs are met as well as dining room obligations as a waitron. Sibusiso has been the manager of the Lodge since 2010 but started as a waitron there in 2008. His role grew into a supervisory one before taking over as manager. He says he learned a lot in his hospitality training even before coming to Bulembu, but the on the job training he experienced as well as the guidance and support of his mentors helped him take the next step in his career. And that’s what he hopes to impart on his students.

“At the end of every day,” he explained, “I ask myself, ‘What did I do wrong today, and what can I do to make it better tomorrow?’ I encourage the students to ask these same questions of themselves.”  

Sibusiso knows that the hospitality industry provides tremendous opportunities for Swazi’s, and his mission is to make sure his students are prepared. But he’s teaching them so much more than how to brew coffee or how to set a table or where to place the mint on the bed at night. He’s teaching them about dress codes and how to have pride in your appearance. He reminds them to not be discouraged if they make a mistake and simply strive to make it better. Sometimes shy Swazi students are learning how to come out of their shell and interact with guests, which means, according to Sibusiso, that a clear understanding of what’s happening in Swaziland and the world is a vital part of everyday’s preparation process. And he’s helping them to catch the vision that they, too, can climb the ladder of success, just as he did.

HTC students in training at the lodge

“Reception training is the next natural step into management,” he said. “This part of the training teaches a lot of different things about managing a lodge, hotel or restaurant.”

Sibusiso knows that the extra work he puts into his trainees will ultimately benefit Bulembu by bringing it more attention, which will result in more trainees, and more guests who will be treated with the same, consistent wonderful service.

By: Theresia Whitfield 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Volunteer Teams Making A Difference

For over three years, volunteer teams have been an important part of the renovation and restoration of Bulembu. Whether a visit by one person at a time or as many as 300 people for the “Swazi 1000” two-week event, people find a temporary home here and often come back, sometimes even as permanent residents.

By far the biggest volunteer group has been the Swazi 1000, students mostly from South African universities who pay their way to work hard for the satisfaction of a solid night’s sleep camping out on the cricket field; that and the sense of accomplishment that their  thousands of hours of labor brings in visible ways to the town. Their outreach mission has been especially significant in the renovation of 24 houses in the Dvudvusi neighborhood and the fencing and planting of pastures for the Bulembu Dairy. Also, outdoor signs and murals all around town are a reminder of the Swazi 1000 volunteers.

Swazi 1000 team 
Two somewhat smaller teams have also made a recent impact on Bulembu. The G & J Parking team that is based in Edmonton, Canada is run by a Christian businessman James Dorsey who rewards employees after five years with the company by sending them on missions outreach. Bulembu was their destination this year, with almost twenty people showing up at the lodge in mid-March. Along with child-care and cooking assignments, the team used their construction skills to pour concrete for outdoor stairs and improvements around the Dvududsi Dining Hall. Clean walkways are a welcome change from muddy pathways from all the recent rains.

The other team, easily identified by their bright morning-glory colored t-shirt uniform, is made up of Canadian high school students from the Mennonite Educational Institute. Along with leaders Dave and Luella Neufeld. They have occupied two lodge houses on Hyde Park, and are a regular sight at meal times at the lodge, too. They have been hard at work renovating homes for children who will be coming into the program.

Whether practically taking over the town by the hundreds, or a group of just one or a dozen, volunteers have been a vital part of accomplishing the vision for Bulembu, helping with everything from daily needs to major construction that all contributes to the goal of a self-sustaining community.

By Gary Todoroff

G & J Parking Team 

The MEI Team

G & J Parking at the dining hall

The new staircase

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lettuce Begin

Hydroponics get's a fresh start in Bulembu...

Tucked away between buildings, the quaint greenhouse is a part of the grounds originally occupied by the General Manager of Havelock Mines. Now the house and carefully maintained landscape is home to the Bulembu Country Lodge.

American Hydroponics in Arcata, California donated the new agriculture system to Bulembu along with financial support from three organizations in Eureka, CA. These include Overseas Resource Link (Pastor Rolly and Cathy Anderson’s organization), Eureka Rotary Club, and Lost Coast Rotaract (Rotary for youth ages 20-30).

The Model 612 commercial hydroponics test unit is 6x12 feet in size, which translates to about two by four meters, a perfect fit for the greenhouse with adequate room to tend the plants from all four sides.

Colin LeRoux assembled the unit in the greenhouse, and then Colin Meyers and his crew wired the building for a work light and the electricity to run the pump that circulates nutrient rich water to the plants.

After the wiring job, the first seeds were planted March 16, 2011. They start as one seed per plug in a seed tray that simply needs to be kept moist for two weeks. Then small plants are transferred to the “nursery” channels with 72 small holes for another two weeks. As the plants grow, they are finally placed in “finishing” channels with the holes more widely spaced apart to accommodate the increased size.  If all goes according to plan, 72 heads of lettuce should be ready for harvest in six weeks.

Nathi planted the first crop and is responsible to daily monitor moisture and nutrient levels. By keeping to a weekly cycle of planting seeds and transferring plants to different channels as they mature, 72 heads of lettuce should be ready for harvest every week. Maintaining the hydroponics unit involves a steady supply of water, fresh air and sunlight. The plants are nourished in the channels with a steady stream of water that is monitored twice per day to maintain a prescribed amount of nutrients along with the proper ph level (very slightly acidic) for maximum growth rate.

The model 612 hydroponics system is big enough to properly test and practice hydroponics for an eventual commercial operation. Even at this small size, the weekly harvest will provide a significant amount of fresh and wholesome vegetables for the diet of a growing population of Bulembu’s orphaned and abandoned children – one small step towards the goal of a self-sufficient ministry by the year 2020.

By Gary Todoroff