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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homestead Full Of Grace

Shopping for chicken in Ncenceni

Skirting the mountainous mine tailings on the south side of Bulembu, down the valley where the stream flows through the new Royal Rangers camp, and up into the hills again, a boy and his donkey were the only traffic on the five kilometer red dirt road to the community of Ncenceni .

Andrew and Jamie walked the last quarter mile towards banana trees and our farming homestead destination, part of the several small farms of the rural community.

Grace wears the blue dress of mourning for the loss of her husband last September. She runs the farm by herself now and warmly greeted Andrew and Jamie.

Like farmers everywhere, Grace was delighted to describe her crops, including the grape arbor here that produced a good harvest. Some of the grapes were sold to the Bulembu Country Lodge.

A few hundred chickens keep Grace busy, with two of them she had just dressed and prepared for Jamie for the evening braai (barbeque) back home in Bulembu. Can’t get much fresher!

Farms are often a mix of the old and new – no exception here as microwave and satellite antennas keep touch with the rest of the world and the all-important markets for farm produce.

The approximately one million population of Swaziland is mostly rural; Grace showed us a glimpse of the hard work it takes to run a successful farm in Ncenceni, along with the kind of hospitality that adds flavor to any meal from her harvest.

Photographs and text by Gary Todoroff

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brian Stuckert and the Mine Rehab

Brian Stuckert is the President of the Remediation Division of Quantum Murray, a Canadian Industrial Decommissioning  company who is  providing  services for the  Bulembu mine rehabilitation project. . While he was visiting Bulembu with his family in January, I was able to ask him a few questions:

What is your task in Bulembu?

In 2008, I became involved with a plan to rehabilitate the tailings area on the mine site.  I came to Bulembu for the first time in October 2008 and since then we have developed the plan.  One of our General Superintendents, Ron Bosel, has been here a couple times to do some surveying and layout work with Colin Cotterrell and the operator to begin the mine reclamation process, which started in October 2010.

How did you hear about Bulembu?

I heard about Bulembu through Marc Dumerton, a board member of Bulembu International. We are in the same business group and he did a presentation on Bulembu about two years after he got involved with the start-up of Bulembu.   I run a contracting business that reclaims old mine and industrial sites, so it was a really good fit for us to get involved. It felt natural to get involved.

What are you planning to plant on the mine dump?

The plan originally was to reshape the tailings area to be physically stable in the long term , cover the tailings with native soils  and to vegetate the area with a species for grazing so that it doesn’t erode and provides for beneficial land use. Now a portion of the tailings area will be flattened and used for greenhouses, which will provide further long term benefits to the Bulembu community.

How is it going so far?

So far it’s going really well, but a little slower than we might do a project in North America. There are limitations, but we are progressing while working within those limitations.

How long will it take to complete?

It’s probably going to be between 12 -18 months, depending on the weather.  If more equipment is put on site it will go faster. At the moment, we have one bulldozer and a couple of other pieces of equipment that are being mobilized.

When are you coming out to Bulembu again?

Our  senior superintendant, Ron Bozel, will probably be out in April.  I will probably come  a few months after that to review progress and modify plans as required.

Has your trip been fun so far?

This trip has been a lot of fun. My wife and daughter have joined me for the first time. I have four children, 3 boys who are 29, 29 and 24, and my daughter, the youngest at 18. This trip is a little more like a vacation, not like the previous trips. Three years ago we went to Tanzania to work in orphanages and it is great to travel to Africa again as a family.