Sunday, 1 July 2012


Yes, I know it isnt 2012 but I wanted to keep the clocks on the top of the page to help people work out what time it is in Rwanda when I am there.

Friday, 14 August 2009

WorldTeach Application

The process to apply to become a WorldTeach teacher is a long one, presumably to weed out any people who are only applying on a whim. There is an online application form; which once recieved and processed is followed by the following:

* 3 essays which form your personal statement
* A resume (CV for us Brits)
* 2 references
* Academic Transcripts (University and school grade reports)

After all of this is completed and submitted you are then given an interview with a returning volunteer. In my case it was over the telephone at 10 at night!

My reson for telling you all of this is because I want to share with you my 3 essys that I wrote, as these I feel, help to address the question of 'why' that I keep getting.

1. At this point in your life, what is your motivation for wanting to be a WorldTeach volunteer in the country to which you are applying? What personal goals do you aim to achieve by participating in the programme? What contributions do you hope to bring to the community in which you live and teach?

I have been a qualified teacher now for six years and throughout that time I have been volunteering in my holidays in schools and school projects that the African Children’s Choir run. I came to a realisation the last time I was leaving that working with disadvantaged children was something that I really desired to do. On a very simple level it is very narcissistic and selfish, fulfilling self-worth criteria. However, it goes much deeper than that into the very core of a human being. The human nature is to help others; not to pass by suffering on the street. There are children out there in extremely desperate situations that need help; and I feel that I am in a position, at this time in my life, to do whatever I can to help relieve their suffering. There are many, many teachers in the UK who are committed to the students here; I want to commit to students who are not as fortunate. Education is a way out of the vicious circle that is poverty.

As a music teacher I am extremely interested in other cultures and traditions and crave the opportunities to visit places where this is so different to what I am accustomed to. My school choir in the UK performs a mix of Western European, American and Africa music; all of which have been influenced my by travels. When looking for a volunteer position this was forefront in my mind as I was deciding on a country for application.

I would hope that, as a music teacher I could bring some extra enrichment into the children’s lives with some sort of extra-curricular musical activities, depending on the school and principal. The transformation that music can make in a child’s life is phenomenal; shy, introverted children become more confident and out-going, they are more able to converse with their peers and adults and their self-worth and self-esteem sky-rocket. If a child has something to look forward to at the end of a school day then they will have a more positive attitude to school as a whole.

2. Describe the best experience you have had teaching a new skill or concept to an individual or a group. How will your prior teaching experience (formal and informal) inform your experiences as an educator in a developing country?

The one teaching experience that really stood out for me was when I was at the ACC boarding school in Cape Town, SA. A group of children had been at the school for about 4 weeks before I arrived and they had just started to learn English. I was asked to take small groups for literacy, numeracy and 1-2-1 support. There was one little girl who did not speak for the first week with me, she was very shy but her mathematic skills were excellent. Her English skills, however, were extremely weak. We were learning how to say simple words and she was struggling with combining sounds together, as they were very different in her language. I was really despairing as nothing I was trying worked. One lunch hour I was out in the yard and some of the children asked me to teach them a song from home so I sat down with them and taught them ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’. This girl was attracted by the singing and came to sit with us. After a few minutes I looked over to find her singing along pronouncing the words correctly. She had missed the pronunciation bit at the start of the song but picked it up through singing it. Every lesson after that we started off singing and then saying the words she needed to learn; soon she was conversing in English with all her teachers and friends.

I feel in this circumstance that none of my prior teaching experience had helped as I tried everything I could think of and nothing was working. As a teacher you have to learn to think outside of the box and come up with new and interesting ways in which to teach the material. No two children learn the same. This experience was back in 2004; it has influenced my teaching over the last 5 years and made me realise that teaching is not a strict textbook approach; it is much, much more.

3. Living and working in a developing country for an extended period of time is quite challenging.

* What qualities do you possess that will be valuable as you face these challenges? As you are responding to this question, think about the cultural and lifestyle differences you may encounter in a developing country.
* Please provide an example or examples of how you have adapted to a significant lifestyle transition (home or abroad) in the past.

Even though I have experienced some very contrasting cultures these last 6 years I am in no way making any assumptions on how different, or the same, Rwanda will be to anything I have experienced thus far. I feel that I am a fairly adaptable person with a bright and positive outlook who can make the best of any situation. This alone has gotten my through some difficult and awkward times. I am not a high-maintenance girl; I don’t require constant stimulation as is becoming part of the Western world. I would much rather go out and see the areas that I am living, meet the people and experience the culture. I am aware that as a woman in certain countries I will be treated differently to how I am at home; I was in South Africa. Usually at home I live in trousers, jeans and khaki’s; in SA I was expected to wear skirts and dresses a lot of the time. I have no problem in adapting to cultural demands; it is part of respecting the culture in which I am living. Part of what excites me about living in a place that is so culturally different is the adaption’s I will have to make in order to fit in and not to offend and also the different foods that I will eat.

During a home visit to a family in Nkomazi, SA, the gogo (grandmother) asked me to stay for dinner. I could see a pan of, which at best could be described as, brown mush cooking on the fire and a pan of boiling water and nothing else; it really did not look appetising at all. I agreed so that I would not offend her. A gogo is more than a grandmother; she is the matriarchal head of the household and can be caring for upward of 10 children, all of whose parents have died and also may not be related to her. A gogo’s word is law and to offend one is one of the worst things you can do.

She asked me to play with the children until dinner was ready and wouldn’t accept any help when I offered. At dinnertime I was served a plate that had brown mush, white mush and corn on it, nothing apart from the corn looked appetising. However, it was one of the most delicious meals I had tasted. The brown mush was stewed meat with lots of herbs and spices from her garden plot; the white mush was flavoured pap (a bit like mashed potatoes) and the corn was the sweetest I had ever tasted. I was so thankful I had stayed. Not only was the gogo please but it eased the way for us in that village and everyone always came and greeted us warmly from then on.

Hope this helps. Part II on Rwanda coming in the next day or so :-D. For more information on WorldTeach please go to

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


When I have mentioned to people that I am going to live and work in Rwanda for a year, possibly more, their reactions have been pretty much the same. Most have expressed their admiration but followed it up with ‘but I couldn’t go there, isn’t it still very dangerous there are wars there?’ or some variant on this. The reality of Rwanda is far different. Over the next few blog posts I will try and address the ‘issue’ of Rwanda; it is a very long and complicated history full of major mistakes and oversights, which lead to the catastrophic events of 1994

Rwanda’s problems cannot be traced back to one single occasion; rather they are a culmination of a number of events which escalated uncontrollably in the 1980s and 1990s due, mainly in part, to the blind eye the Western world turned.


In the mad dash for land in the late 1800s Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. However, because there was little interest in the meagre export potentials of the country, and because there was civil unrest in Tanganyika, the Germans had little interest in the tiny country of Rwanda. During WWI, the Belgians pushed through to Rwanda from the Congo and after the war Germany conceded Rwanda to the Belgians. After WWII the UN declared Rwanda a ‘trust territory’ administered by Belgium and this is where problems started.

Belgian colonists viewed Africans in general were children who needed to be guided; they had a much more hands-on approach with Rwanda and used the divide-and-conquer rule to force their rule over the Rwandese. They introduced identity cards upon which had their ethnic status of Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. However, because of inter-marriage between the three ethnic groups it was difficult sometimes to categorise people, so they merely defined "Tutsi" as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose. The problems this caused the country and population, from the time of inception in 1933 until 1994, were catastrophic.

Hutu’s tended to be arable farmers whilst the Tutsi’s raised cattle with the Tutsi’s being the main upper and ruling class. The Roman Catholic Church, the primary educators in the country, subscribed to and reinforced the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. They developed separate educational systems for each. In the 1940s and 1950s the vast majority of students were Tutsi.

There was still a system of King-ship in the country at this time and this was passed down through the Tutsi’s; further isolating the two main ethnic groups. The Belgium’s relied upon and exploited this King-ship and thus the Tutsi’s collected taxes and enforced Belgium policies and laws upon the Rwandans.

In 1956 the current king called for independence from Belgium which made the Belgium’s switch alliances from the Tutsi’s to the Hutus. The Tutsi’s favoured a fast-track to independence, whilst the Hutus wanted to go down the slower but more self-governing route of establishing a democracy first. The king died in 1959 and this lead to a major clash of arms between the two main ethnic groups. Whilst the Tutsi’s had been the main clan in power, the Hutu’s had a significantly larger population and this lead to lots of Tutsi’s fleeing to neighbouring countries of DRC and Uganda in the wake of the fighting.

During 1960 and 1962 moves were made to create a democratically free country from Belgium in both Rwanda and Burundi; Burundi managed it and established a constitutional monarchy. However, the elected Prime Minister in Rwanda was soon executed and the monarchy with the help of the military seized power. Finally in 1962 Rwanda was created as a republic governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement.

The new government introduced quotas for Tutsis, limiting opportunities for education and work, and small groups of Tutsi exiles began to launch guerrilla raids from neighbouring Uganda. In the round of bloodshed that followed, thousands more Tutsis were killed and tens of thousands fled to neighbouring countries.

Next time on Joisaway…LOL…I’ll try and explain what happened in the lead up to the 1994 genocide in which (approx) 1 million people lost their lives in only 100 days!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Crazy Times

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and all kinds of craziness! On Friday I am moving  to mums so I have been busy packing and sorting. However, in the middle of all of that I went up to stay with a very dear friend in Scotland to help out with the holiday club at her hubbys church. 85 kids for 5 days, it was crazy but good. Her hubby also suggested I tell the church about my Rwanda mission and show some of my jewellery that I had made, I did and I got a TON of orders. So when I wasn’t busy with holiday club stuff I was busy trying to fill all the orders. I just about managed it and when I added everything up I raised nearly £200 which is amazing.

I’d just like to shout out to Clackmannan Church a HUGE thank you for your support of my Rwanda mission and stay tuned for more updates.

I have the removals van coming tomorrow and noon, so what am I doing? Yes, procrastinating on the computer!!! So I suppose I better cut this one short and get packing again 

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Ok, so I have imported everything from my LJ as I know some people only have a blogger account. I will try and double post to here and LJ.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A Small Explanation

A lot of people have been asking me recently why am I doing this? Why am I giving up my well paying(ish) job, packing up my lovely house (especially now it is completely finished) and going 4,100 miles to a small country that is half the size of Scotland!!! I do not have one answer to these very good questions at all. And the harder I think about it the less of a definitive answer I have. I suppose the short answer would be 'I don’t know'.

I don’t know why, at a concert 7 years ago, my heart was touched by 25 Ugandan children. I don’t know why there was only I, out of an audience of 500+, signed up for a volunteer information pack. And I don’t know why I have had the desire year in year out to go back there. A Year ago when I told my head teacher what I was thinking of doing he turned around and asked my why I wanted to go there when there were so many needy children in this country that I could help.

I know throughout my teaching time in the UK I have helped children, and I could name about 15 right now who would have otherwise followed a very different path had I not encouraged them down the music route. There is such an absolute NEED out there in the developing world, absolutely far greater than in the UK. My position was filled very quickly at my last school, with a large number of applicants. Right now there are currently about 6 volunteers signed up for Rwanda out of a total of 18 places. However, that is a very small drop in the ocean compared with how many schools there are in Rwanda. We get to help 18 high schools out of a total of 668 and that does not go anywhere near the 2416 primary schools in the country.

So I suppose the answer to the question "why" is "why not"!

Why should I not go out there? I am young, I have no dependants, I have the skills that they need and the desire to do it, so why not?

Volunteering goes right to the core of the human nature, it is the essence of mankind - to help someone less fortunate than yourself.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Nostalgic packing

I am in the middle of packing up my life and I didn’t expect it to be this traumatic! Apart from clothes and a few books etc, EVERYTHING has to be packed into boxes and put in my newly boarded out loft. The lads are coming round on Sat to put all the boxes up as I ‘don’t do’ ladders. I figured packing would be a fairly quick process – just dump it into boxes and sort when I come back home, whenever that may be.

However, as I am sorting through and packing I can’t help but stop at everything and remember…a little ornament that was given to me over 10 years ago for helping some flute pupils. I hand sown bookmark with my name on it from some very grateful Ugandan’s that I taught. Lots and lots of photographs going back nearly 30 years covering all my major life events, and some not so major ones! It is not simple to just ‘dump’ these items in a box an seal it up, knowing that you don’t know when you will be back.

At the earliest it will be 18 months but realistically it is upward of two years. Even if I come back right at the end of my Rwanda contract I cannot move back home until I have a job to pay the mortgage and that will take time. I also do not know where I might be led in the next 18 months. I really feel that the continent of Africa is where I should be right now, and I can’t see me coming back permanently for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell when I get to see all of my ‘stuff’ again and that makes me sad. And if you think that is materialistic ok do so, but remember we are on this earth but a short time and we are to do everything within our power to make it a happy and righteous time.

Most of the things I was sad to see go in a box were gifts. They were given to me out of the kindness of someone’s heart and they meant something to the giver. They also mean a lot to me. Materialistic? Maybe, but I am not clinging on to them nor taking them with me. Just remembering the good times, and some sad ones and reliving past experiences as they have gotten me to where I am today.

If I hadn’t have done rubbish on my A-levels and deferred a year I would never have met Ali. If I hadn’t have met Ali I would never have been encouraged to go to Music college and Sing for Pleasure. If I hadn’t have gone to SFP I wouldn’t have met Dave. If I hadn’t have met Dave I wouldn’t have been invited to an African Children’s Choir concert by one of his friends. If I hadn’t have gone to the concert (which I really didn’t want to go to) I wouldn’t have volunteered with them. If I hadn’t have volunteered with them I wouldn’t be embarking on this trip of a lifetime to Rwanda and goodness knows where else.

So yes, it is a sad time, but also a really exciting one too. I am closing a door (or cardboard box lid) on one chapter and heading straight into a new and thrilling one. The next 6 months will be a strange time; I will be in a state of limbo, living at mums and doing supply work. The 12 months after that will be the most thrilling rollercoaster ride ever – Grissom would be proud!!!

Stay with me for my ride of a lifetime!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Account Name Change

Since I am now no longer volunteering with the ACC I thought I had better change my account name here to reflect that. If I have done everything right then yoiu should be automatically forwarded to the new account. If I have cocked it up (which lets face it, it likely) then the new URL is This keeps it in line with my new email address of

I hope this hasnt confused you and you still continue to follow.
Jo xx

The Sky Cracks Open

Quite literally. It is 3am and there is this horrendous thunderstorm raging overhead. I actually don’t think I have heard thunder that loud or that violent before!!

Anyway, things are now moving at one heck of a pace. I now have someone who wants to rent my house but wants to move in in less than 2 weeks - I go away in 9 days. So that means I need to pack up my entire life in the next 9 days - it is traumatic to say the least. I have already moved the majority of my clothes and shoes to mums and I spent some time today packing up the study. I didn’t get it all done as I kept going on a nostalgia trip with all of my things.

One cupboard was full of photo albums and unsorted photo's going back nearly 30 years!!!! It took me a long time to pack that box, I think there is some unwritten law that prevents you from just putting photo's away - you have to look at each and every single one. So there I was, in the middle of the study floor, surrounded by chaos, getting all nostalgic over simpler times. Why is it that when you are at school you cant wait to leave and go to uni and then when you are at uni you cant wait to leave and get a job. Then when you are finally in that adult role of having a job, car, house etc you want to go back to school/uni/whatever!

I have decided that tomorrow I have to get the rest of the study and the bathroom sorted and packed. The 'boys' are coming on Saturday to put all my boxes in my newly boarded loft so it has to be done by then and there is LOTS to do!

The thunderstorm is not the thing that is keeping me awake tonight; I actually haven’t been to sleep yet. A combination of killer hayfever and a reaction to some nasty needles has left me feeling quite yucky (not YUKy unfortunately LOL). I feel like a pin cushion. Anyone who knows me knows the thing I fear the most is needles, so trust me to pick a country that has (probably) the largest amount of inccoculations. There is even one that I have to get a certificate for and I will not be allowed out of Rwanda without showing the certificate!!! Does make me wonder what I am letting myself in for. Anyway, I am feeling rather ill and running a bit of a temp, but that could also have something to do with the temp as well – wow it is HOT!!!!

I have found quite a few blogs of other volunteers in Rwanda, not necessarily WorldTeach volunteers. There are a few PeaceCorp along with quite a few other NGO's and Non-Profit's. So it seems like there is quite a healthy ex-pat community in Rwanda - I hope I get to meet some of them. I had to fill in a questionnaire for WT about where I would like to live and work and I actually put that I didn’t mind either urban or rural areas at all but that rural might be a wider experience for me. From reading blogs now I am hoping there are one or two other muzungu's (white people) around otherwise the resident muzungu becomes the village entertainment and amusement - not sure how I would like that!


I have also made a resolve to update this blog more often. The pace things are moving at I will be in Rwanda before you know it and I need to get in the habit or regularly posting before I go. So I promise to do better!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Mullet with Headlights - so funny!!!

Ok, this has got absolutely nothing to do with Africa or my plans or anything like that; it is just plain funny.

Ever watched music video's and though' what on earth is going on here??' where the video makes absolutely no sense to the song lyrics? Well now it does.

Watch and laugh! 

Sunday, 21 June 2009

"Imana yirirwa ahandi igataha i Rwanda."

"God spends the day everywhere, but sleeps in RWANDA!!!!!!!!"

Yes, dear friends and family, I am off to Rwanda!

About 6 weeks ago I was put in touch with an organisation that is run by Harvard university (yes, the Harvard in America!!!) called WorldTeach. They basically send teachers into developing countries to help rural (and sometimes urban) schools in developing countries. Volunteers are specifically placed in countries that would otherwise be unable to afford or locate qualified teachers. The application process was rigorous, probably to weed out people who were just ‘look-seeing’, and after a very late night telephone interview I received an email to say they were reviewing my file and that it would be up to 3 weeks before I would hear. The very next day I got an email saying:


“Congratulations! You have been accepted to the December 2009 WorldTeach Rwanda Program!  We were impressed with your application and we hope you will join us on our remarkable journey to vibrant and diverse Rwanda.  This program will offer you the opportunity to gain hands-on teaching experience in one of the most historically rich and culturally dynamic settings in the world.”


To say I was excited would be understating it ever so slightly. I also got an email that day off a very dear friend in Uganda telling me all about this NGO she was involved with. It basically provides short term support for teachers in rural schools in Uganda. They go out for 3-4 weeks and work in a school helping to improve the teaching. Many of the teachers are not trained teachers and do it out of the love for the kids and the profession. As she worked with me in SA, she asked me if I had any spare time to go out and help her.


So the plan looks a little like this at the moment:


  • 2nd week in November -travel to Uganda and work there for 3 weeks.
  • Beginning of December - travel to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda and meet my WorldTeach posse for training.
  • End of December/Beginning of January - travel to my village and find my school.


The WorldTeach programme is a year long commitment with the possibility to extend for a further year. I have yet to decide on how I will travel to Kigali from Uganda as I am torn between two options. I could fly which would be fine or I could take a bus. There is a bus that goes between the two capitals of Kampala and Kigali and only costs about £10. It takes about 8 hours but goes through the most beautiful scenery ever. The only draw back is that it is quite uncomfortable and I will have my entire luggage with me – that’s luggage for a year plus!


I will do a separate post giving you all an update on Rwanda and the situation there, as I am sure many of you are like me and only know it for two things: genocide and gorillas!


For the time being I have to learn yet another language: Kinyarwandan. French used to be the official international language there but it is slowly being replaced by English. So hopefully I will not have too much of a problem communicating and getting around.


However, for now, mwirirwe or goodbye!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

50 (Realistic) Things To Do Before I Die

During a conversation with a friend the other day, the topic of what we want to do with our lives came up. Both of us are hitting the big 3-0 in the next couple of months and with me making such a life-changing decision it has kind of thrown her for a loop. So we decided to challenge each other and make a list of 50 things that we want to do before we die.

Now there are lots of things like 'end world poverty' or 'find a cure for cancer' that I would love to do but that is not realistic. So it took me a good couple of hours to think and get 50 realistic things to do and a few of them I know I will achieve fairly soon (hopefully).

Anyway, enjoy the list and perhaps I can challenge you to make one of your own!!!


  1. Set foot on each of the seven continents of the world.
  1. Spend a significant period of time in another country learning the language and culture.
  2. Visit every capital city in Europe
  3. Dive with a whale shark
  4. Scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef
  5. Take a bush plane ride into Africa’s interior.
  6. Travel down the whole length of the Nile from source.
  7. Learn how to do a back handspring
  8. Photograph an endangered species
  9. Spend some time in the Amazon rainforest studding the wildlife.
  10. Teach English in a foreign country
  11. Cross a developing country using only public transport
  12. Shake hands with someone who has truly changed a country
  13. Sail through the Northern Passage
  14. Road trip across the USA
  15. Walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu
  16. Learn how to pilot a plane
  17. Find the love of my life, marry him and grow old together
  18. Shower in a waterfall
  19. Gallop a horse along a deserted beach in the sun
  20. See a killer sunrise and sunset
  21. Explore the Galapagos Islands
  22. Visit the Holy Land
  23. Become debt free
  24. Design and build a house
  25. Visit Niagara, Victoria, Angel and HannokiFalls
  26. Ride something larger than a horse
  27. Fly first class
  28. Get a tattoo
  29. Learn how to say hello in 20 different languages
  30. Experience weightlessness
  31. See the Northern Lights
  32. Go to the Carnival in Rio
  33. Learn to play chess
  34. Take up photography
  35. Go on safari for more than 2 days
  36. Create a photography bucket list
  37. Visit Tibet
  38. Read the Bible in a year
  39. Attend a Superbowl game
  40. Keep a journal/diary every day for a year
  41. Put a pound away every day for a year and then donate the money to charity
  42. Send my mum on her dream vacation
  43. Be a voice actor in a Pixar film
  44. Stand on both the international date line and the equator
  45. Learn to play the guitar
  46. Fly in a hot air balloon
  47. Go to a Broadway show
  48. Fill every page of my passport with stamps
  49. To be able to say, in everything, whether success or failure…I tried

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Sad Endings and New Beginnings

 The past few weeks have been crazy, crazy, crazy with exams and coursework, rehearsals and concerts, fundraising and organising tour, and of course the tour itself. And in the whirlwind of this I lost sight of the fact I was actually leaving. It only really hit me this week when I had no rehearsals at lunchtime and I could leave school at 3:30pm – wow that felt weird.


I will not miss the late nights and the weekends spent working. I will not miss teaching kids that really don’t want to be there and I will also not miss having to yell and nag at the choir to shut up!!! However, I will miss the pupils in the choir; I will miss all of the songs we used to sing. There was a very poignant moment at lunchtime yesterday when we were watching the Germany DVD and they were singing along to a recording of them. I had a sudden and blinding realisation that this was the last time I would get to hear them singing and hear those songs. And I don’t know if they realised it but it was the last time for them too as I have taken all of the music with me since it was mine.


Yesterday, apart from one incident, was a fab and sad day. We had a party at lunchtime for the choir and all through the morning they had been coming with gifts and cards for me so that by the end of lunch my desk was packed with them. I got some really lovely and thoughtful gifts and some wonderful cards. I had asked the DT department to make me some key ring fobs, in the shape of a guitar pic with different musical designs on them, as a gift for the students in the choir and I had made them a card. I wanted to also say something to them but I couldn’t as every time I started I got all chocked up. So we just ate and then watched the Germany DVD. They came back to see me at the end of the day and that was really sad – they didn’t want to leave the room and we all ended up in tears. The boys, in true style, were late but as they were walking out they kept shouting back across the yard that they’d miss me etc…that was so nice.


So, as I said today is the first day of my ‘new life’, my facebook status reads “I’m Freeeeeeeeee” but my head is also saying “yeah and you’re also unemployed!!!!” which is a little scary. I still do not know where I am going yet, it looks like it is Kenya but it could be Rwanda and I also do not know when, it might be the 12th July it might be a little later. However, first I have to get my house rented out. So these next two weeks I will be boxing and packing like you can’t imagine.


It will be weird not having to get up for school; it will be weird not having to work late into the night every night; it will be weird not singing any more and it will be weird being Jo again rather than Miss Stott or just simply Miss. I am looking forward to the new chapter in my life and I carry with me the memories from my old chapter – both good and bad! There are people I will miss dearly and there are people I am thankful that I will never have to see again.


I will update this blog regularly wherever I am in the world, so stay with me. Here’s to a new chapter and new beginnings!

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Black Saturday

I'm leaving Africa now.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

You Know You're In Africa When...


...You are in a taxi and the passenger in front of you is a goat.

...A traffic jam is caused by goats, cows or chickens not actual traffic.

...A Zebra strlls through your maths class.

...Your mode of transport stops every 3 paces to eat the surrounding, then rip it out of the ground and hand you the leftovers

...Random men ask if they can keep you

...A taxi meant for 15 crams in 20.

...Your t-shirt is covered in elephant snot.

...You cherish the times you drive on a tar road.

...Children chuck zebra poop at each other and dont see anything wrong with it

...You get a job offer every other day

...You are strolling back from the shops and 3 seperate random strangers stop and offer you a lift and then ask about your car. As the only possible reason for a white woman to be walking is that her car has broken down!

...Crickets not traffic keep you awake at night

Not happy

I had to say good bye to the team today as I'm going home on Saturday and tomorrow we are visiting children. I'll post photos of everyone later when I have downloaded them off my camera. The last week has been hectic, we had choir camp for a weekend which was so good to see all the children together again.

Nkomazi Choirs 1+2

The children had grown so much, the Nkomazi choir that I had helped train 3 years ago were now mainly all teenagers. The camp was so much fun; lots of games and singing and dancing (the kids taught me the can dance - that was hillarious. Basically you have a pop can in ether hand and you dance with them. The pop can dance is the video at the top of this post, now imagine me doing it...yeah exactly!!!)
We also had to do school work with the children as they should have been in school on the saturday. It is a shame because the teachers went on strike for 6 weeks, now the children have had their September half term cancelled and they have to go to school on a sat. WE had to go to the circuit head to get permission and he would oly give it us if we did 3 hours of school with them, so we did.

On Tuesday me, Jamie and Sharye (two Yankee volunteers) went on an elephant ride. Not only was it a ride on them but you got to play football with them and touch their trunk, ears, skin, tail etc. Anyway there we were the three of us on the elephant wandering through the bush and every 3 or 4 steps the elephant stopped to eat the bushes/trees. It started off as small bushes and whenshe had stripped them ofleaves and bark she would hand them back to us. Then the small branches got bigger and bigger until at one pont she handed us a small tree - I kid you not. It whacked us on the head and grazed our faces. I have photos and will post them later today when I have downloaded them.

Then last night we all went on a night safari in Kruger which was so good. I just saw the same animals as last time but it was just so nice and peaceful. We went in at 5pm when it was still night and went down to the water hole and as dusk fell the park fell silent. I think animals have it right and its us humans that have gotten it so worng. All they have to worry about is getting food, mating and staying alive - just think of all the stresses we have in see my point?

Any way got a meeting will post more with photos later on.

EMMA and JODIE - what did you get? And yeah one of the zebras got that close I could stroke it, it was filthy though ;-)

Thursday, 16 August 2007


You know there has been something puzzling me since I got here with the children and Ive not been able to put my finger on it until today. We work in primary schools, which in the UK means up to 11 yrs, here is is up to 13 though it can be up to any age depending on how old they started primary and if they pass the year. So I finally figured it out what it is - the kids are kids. In the Western culture it is expected and encouraged that children grow up quicker and quicker. Here, even if the children are running and heading their households they are still children. Unashamed to play games and just generally, well be children - it is so refreshing.
As I said in my last post this weekend is choir camp and we spent this morning packing the jeep full of games, crafts, sports and clothes for the kids. The age range now is 7-14 and I was saying you cant do that with the teenagers they wont do it (thinking of the 14 year olds I teach) and the chaperones just laughed at me saying you'll be surprised, and I hope I will. I am so excited about the camp, not only to see the kids I havent seen yet but also to spend some time with them, just...playing.

Me and Heather took the stuff to the camp this evening and it was the funniest experience ever. Its in a private game reserve and as we pull up on the veranda to the accomodation stood 3 Zebras munching away on the trees. And as we were un packing they just wandered around munching away completely oblivious, and there was a cute little ?foal? who was just shedding its baby fur - so cute.

The tar road just ending in Steenbok village

I had a really nice night this evening. Everything has just been hectic and I am so tired at the moment and with camp we are just going to get more tired. So me and Heather decided to take a couple of hours off this evening and go out for a meal. Our house backs on to the river boundary of the southern edge of the Kruger park, although some inconsiderate sod has built an 8ft high brick wall at the back so we cant actually see anything. Anyway, down the road is the fantastic restaurant called the Deck which is basically a deck hanging over the river boundary. So we went there for dinner and ate as the sun  was setting over the Kruger mountains and as the animals came out for their last drink. There was a hippo fight which was amazing to watch (and hear) the Springbok and Impala ran for it and I dont blame them. The crocs swam down stream away from it it was that fierce, and from the deck we just watched. I am so annoyed that my memory card was full on my camera it would have made fab pics.

Kruger river boundary from standing on top of the whopping great big wall at the end of the garden.
Just for you Sarah (add to that green look)

Anyway off for an early night - boy do I need it.


Ann L - Hiya *waves*
Lettuce - Hows the green tan coming on?
Erin - when are you back from tour?

Wednesday, 15 August 2007


I dont have much time but I thought I'd just quickly post. Things are going really well, I cant believe there is only 10 days until i get on that plane to come back (if I do).
I had a wizz trip to Johannesburg to pick up Heather 1400KM round trip in 24 hours - nice. She had been staying with some of the young Africans (ex choir) in a place called Vereeniging, bar of chocolate to anyone who gets the pronuciation correct!
I am so excited as this weekend is choir camp where the kids from the two Nkomazi choirs come together for a fun weekend. I cant wait to see all the kids as I have only seen about half of them so far. The camp is in a private game reserve on the edge of the Kruger so there is lots of animals roaming around.
Next week I am going to Mozambique with some of the guys to link up with some NGO's to see about an ACC base  and choir in Mozambique - more stamps for the passport.

Mzinti school with (some of) the musical equipment

For you mum, click on the image then right click and save the big photo

Another for you mum (are these ok?)

Anyway off to bed am very tired it is so hot here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The man with the big gun, he say nooooooo.

I’ve had a good week now to reflect on some of the things that I posted about at the weekend and whilst I have had no blinding vision, I have had a quiet realisation. That is; I cannot do anything to help all those people out there, but I can do something to help the few we work with. The ACC have a motto 'Helping Africa's most vulnerable, one child at a time', that seems pretty good to me. I can do what I can whilst I am here.  I can’t solve it all but I can certainly help, and that has put me in a better mood.

An update for the house. Thank you to the kind couple of people who gave in a donation to finish the cement work, along with your money and some other donations the ACC got we have now bought the cement and sand for the walls. You should have seen the grandfathers face today as we drove up with the Landrover packed on top with bags and bags of it, there were tears streaming down his face with joy. Now the walls and floor can be finished its just doors and windows and then the house will be all done. I would really love to go and see the house on my last day here and find the family all moved in, miracles can happen, so I hope and pray the house gets finished.

Now on to the title, yes I did meet a big scary man with a sub-machine gun, in fact I met 5 scary men with sub-machine guns. They were the police, thank God! I pulled into the dust yard in front of the ATM to draw money and out shot 6 police men with guns from this van by it; I thought they were coming after us in our Landrover. Luckily they were just there to guard the machine while the bank guy filled it. I went to use it after he had done and this police man with a gun came at me shouting no, no, no so loud I fled into the van and locked the doors. Though what good a lock is against a bullet I do not know! I turned round and the chaperones were in stitches laughing at me. Apparently you have to leave the machine 10 mins for the bank guy to get to the bank and activate it, its a safety precaution to show he filled it and got back safely. Now honestly, I have never once felt unsafe or uneasy. (MOTHER WARNING -don’t read the next bit) I have wandered around the villages on my own and drove around the countryside on my own and generally done what I needed to do without a second thought. SA is very dangerous if you don’t have your wits about you, but so is crossing
Old Chester Road

The villagers have been so welcoming, we drive in and the children chase the van waving and shouting 'hello, how are you' the only English they know and I reply 'secona', and that cracks them up - a white person speaking Siswati. The gogo's (grandmothers) and hladla's (head of the houses) welcome us and we have a conversation neither of us understands what the other is saying but that’s fine. I jabber away in English with the odd Siswati word and they jabber away in Siswati with the odd English word and everyone is happy.

We have a long weekend this weekend, tomorrow is a bank holiday, national women’s day. I celebration the
UK should have I think *nods*. And most government buildings are not opening up Friday so 4 day weekend - whoooooooo. Off to Blyde River Canyon
on Sat which is the third deepest canyon in the world with stunning views. But before then I am spending Thurs and Fri doing school work as I have a lot to do for the new school year which is getting ever closer. I wonder what Mr Quinn would say if I rang up on the first day back and said 'Hi, I'm still in Nkomazi and don’t know when I'm coming back'.!!!! Wonder what my mother would say, and my bank manager...oh you can but dream cant you!

Ok I’m off to dream about my other life here in SA, I promised myself this post had to be a LOT shorter than the other. Sorry it’s still quite long.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


I know its been a while since I have posted anything substantial but to be perfectly honest I have been having a really hard time of it this week and couldn't really put it into words until I had time to digest it.

Poverty is disgusting. We all know that, we've all seen the pictures in the newspapers and watched the items on the news. We've all shook our heads and thought 'There by the grace of God go I'. In another life, by other parents that could be us. I've been there, watched the news, read the newspapers and got angry and upset about it. But half an hour or an hour later something else has taken up my mind and its forgotten. It hasn't been until I've experienced it that I can truly say with full meaning that POVERTY IS DISGUSTING.

This week I have been battling with Social workers and social aid agencies, builders, schools and contractors just trying to get people the basics to live off and not to die. Now that sounds very melodramatic, and yes my mum will be the first to agree that I have a melodramatic streak, but consider this case which has been my priority along with 6 others.

One of the choir kids lives with his grandmother and 8 other children in a mud 'structure' it is not even a house. Now this is a common situation in Nkomazi, the mother is dying of an AIDS related disease so their grandmother is bringing them up. Now in SA there is no such thing as the dole or social welfare, if you don't have a job - tough. Nkomazi with a population of about 800,000 people has an unemployment rate of 82%. There is however, child welfare grants and whole families live off these. A child welfare grant for one child whose parents have no jobs is R250 (£20/$40) a month, so this family was receiving  R2000 (£150/$300) a month, which is an ok amount to live off, you can do it.  There is also another grant for orphaned children which is R800 (£50/$100), this family qualify for the orphan grant due to the fact that their mother cannot look after them and their grandmother is. This would bring their income up to something comfortable for the area. So the social worker came out last July, assessed the family and recommended that they receive the orphan grant, so the child welfare grant was stopped whilst the application for the other went through. As of last week it was still being processed - A WHOLE YEAR LATER!!!. Thats a whole year with ABSOLUTELY no money coming into that family what-so-ever.

So last Thursday me and Muzi went and camped out at the social workers office until she would see us (only took us a hour of shouting and arguing). When we saw her she was perfectly pleasant and apparently the problem wasn't with them, she had passed on all the relevant paper work to the courts, a court order was obtained last October for the orphan grant and passed on to SASSA (South African Social Services Agencies) for payment. It got lost at SASSA

SASSA was our next stop so we rang for an appointment for the following day and went in. The guy who had all the answers was not in and I wanted to smack the people in the office they were so rude. They talked over our head, ignored us and laughed in our faces when we said we were not budging until we got some answers or an appointment with someone who could give us answers. Anyway they called the boss who said he would be in on Monday morning so we made them ring him back for an appointment time as we were not going to turn up to be told he was 'out'.

When we went to see him on Monday he was great - I was so surprised. Apparently he took over SASSA last year and has been spending his time uncovering corruption and incompetance ever since. We put our case forward and basically told him that without our food aid parcels every month this whole family would have been dead long before today. He there and then went into the computer system, over rode everything that had been written to deny the money for this family and they will be getting their payment on the 1st September. Along with R74000 (£4500/$9000) back pay - enough to build them a house of a decent standard.

On Wednesday I went to visit a building project we have been funding. This is a house for another choir child and her family. They had been living in two single roomed mud huts that were infected with parasites and bugs. 

We were building them a 5 roomed house, 3 bedrooms,a kitchen and a sitting room.

But we had to go with the news that they had to stop work after the kitchen as we didn't have any more money to finish off the sitting room and the exterior. How do you give that news to a grandfather who has been breaking his back trying to build a house for his grandkids to live safely in. For once I was thankful I didn't speak Siswati and therefore I wasn't the one to tell him. But I was standing right next to Johannes as he did and I saw the grandfathers face fall, and his shoulders sag. Then we got the biggest hug off him, with the widest smile. I was completely thrown by this and when I asked why apparently the man was just so thankful for all we had done, he never thought he would see his grandkids living in a brick house before he died and he feared one or more of them would die ahead of him through parasitic infection. We are now looking into the budget to try and find the extra R1000 (£100/$200) to finish the house for him.

Thursday was probably my toughest day so far. We had been asked to go into a school where two of our choir kids go to try and help them with a problem. It is a combined school, primary and high school in one, and approx 60% of their children were orphans or looked after children and about 80% of these were not getting the grants they were entitled to. Now this is due to a number of reasons. Nkomazi is right by the Mozambique and Swaziland boarder so there are lots of immigrants from there and under the old apartheid system if they applied for job or ID or benefit then they were sent back - that fear is still there so they will not apply. Despite the governments best efforts they still will not get ID's. Without ID's they cannot apply for benefits. Also without death cert they cannot claim Orphan benefits for any children living with them. The children also need birth cert which usually they do not have. All this conspires against them in getting the financial help and assistance they need. As an NGO we can help with this situation and we have access in getting them to home affairs to get the necessary docs but we need their co-operation. The school had tried many times and failed so they asked us to try.

We called a guardian meeting for Thursday of 40 families on the high at risk register, expecting about 10 to turn up, in the end there was 26 which was better than the school had ever managed. We had to take a history of who the kids lived with, what their relationship was, where the parents were, death certs, ID's, birth certs of kids etc. Basically a complete history of the child's life so that we can build up cases. It was ok, I had the principal translating for me so in a way it was if I was one step removed. But I was hearing the same story over and over again. I am the grandmother/aunt/sister, the mother is dead of AIDS related disease, she has no death cert as was buried quick due to heat/body back in Moz/Sawzi anyway. Father abandoned children. No birth certs, I don't have ID. This same story was repeated with some variation over and over again. Until I got to my last guardian.

This man had been sitting there for 3 hours waiting to speak to us, the only man in a room of women guardians. He had with him his ID, the birth cert's of the children and the death cert of the mother. And he proudly gave these over to me to document. It was all in order, he has been so meticulous in keeping them. Before I documented it all I needed the history. He was the step grandfather of 3 children, the mother had died of an AIDS related illness and the children came to live with them. He worked 2 jobs in order to feed and support the children and he stressed he always made sure the children were clean and had food in their bellies at night. The principal actually said to me they were one of the best looked after children they have at the school.

I opened the documents to check them and when I got to the mothers birth cert it was as if time stopped, I sat there staring at it - she was younger than me, born in 1980 and died in 2006 at age 26. The three children sat in front of me just looking at me, these could be my children, this could have been my life in another world and in another life.

You know we take so much for granted in our lives. When I was out three years ago teaching at the school in Cape Town the kids were asking me about my life in the UK (it was before they went on tour) and I told them about my house I had just bought and the new job I was starting and they kept asking me all these questions about it all. One of the kids piped up 'Auntie, are you as rich as the Queen then?' And I just laughed, with my student debts and a mortgage and bills etc I felt no where near as rich as the Queen. And when i told them this their answer was another question - do you have cupboards to put food in? I thought this a really odd question to ask and when I inquired why his reply was astounding.  'If you have cupboards to put food in then that means you have food to put into them'.

This isn't meant to be a preachy we have it good and there are people far worse off than us - but I have found that out to be a reality and one that I'm finding really hard to come to terms with.

There is also so much joy out here and despite of the poverty I am having a great time. We went up against the social system and won for 6 families. We are in the process of trying to get 26 families access to the benefits they deserve. The choir kids are continuing to flourish and the school programme is going well. The training of the team is really starting to pay off and they are now beginning to think and act like teachers instead of people who go in and do a bit of music and dance for 90 mins.

This week has been hard mentally, and if you have got this far in the post CONGRATULATIONS. I know its a long one, its one I have been turning over for the past few days trying to make sense of it all and I have come to the conclusion that I doubt I ever will.

So I'm just going to get on with it, do my best, help what little I can in the areas that I can.

ERIN - I am so, so sorry hon. Yahoo not working so I cant chat. *big huggs*