I handed the woman 50 African Rands (about 5 dollars) as the man next to her placed five large cabbages into a cloth bag; probably the biggest cabbages I had ever seen.
“Thank you,” I said, and the woman nodded. My friend Mary also bought five cabbages, and was waddling behind me as we struggled to drag them to the bus (who would have thought cabbages would be that heavy? Well, they are).
I looked over at the other members of my group as they all carried potatoes, carrots, bananas, heads of lettuce, onions, pears, and maize (a type of grain, which could also be referred to as corn) to the bus. My friend Jas was struggling to hold a bag of carrots, a large bag of potatoes, and a bag of apples as he purchased a bag of oranges.
“I couldn’t say no,” he said as he dumped all of the vegetables and fruits into the bus.
I was on a month long volunteer and adventure trip with an organization called International Student Volunteers that visited South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique. We were currently in Swaziland, a small country in Africa that is surrounded by eastern South Africa. Later on that same day, we were going to visit an orphanage. We were collecting food to bring to the 327 children.
When we arrived in the town that the orphanage was located in in Swaziland, we were immediately assimilated into their culture through a ceremony with the chief of the town. The girls on my trip wore a sarong that we wrapped around our waists, bearing the face of King Mswati, the king of Swaziland, as a sign of respect for the village.
As we entered the village, we all sat down and were greeted with a beautiful song and dance from the chief and children. They carried sticks as part of their dance, and sang with strong, beautiful voices. The boys on my trip were called up at one point to dance around with the children!
Then, the girls on my trip were called up. It was so much fun, and I loved having the opportunity to participate in this tradition. The children danced all around me, with beaming smiles on their faces and laughter that sounded like bells. They then showed us how they make baskets and how they carve rocks for tools.
After the ceremony, we walked to the orphanage. There were hundreds of children running around, playing soccer, chasing each other, and staring in awe as we headed towards them. Each child was absolutely gorgeous, and they were all giggles and smiles.
We played with them for a little while before we handed out the food we brought for them. We split into two groups; one group helped cook rice and stew, the other group lined up behind a table to hand out fruits that the children could eat right away. Pears, bananas, apples and oranges were taken and munched on left and right. I was so amazed at how thankful the children were just for that piece of fruit, for just one small thing that is so easily accessible in the United States.
Then, the leader of the orphanage gathered the kids, who all stood in front of us. My group and I stood next to them, and sang them a butchered version of “In the Jungle,” which led to many laughs and unpleasant reactions on the kids faces (I can’t blame them). Then, they sang for us- the most wonderful song I have ever heard. They all sang in unison; a beautiful melody. The two year olds sang with the ten year olds, and their voices molded together as their practice shone through.
Most of the children at this orphanage have HIV. Unfortunately, they do not have the proper medicine and medical attention that they need. I learned on this trip that the organization I came with (International Student Volunteers) is the main source of food for these children. The government is unable to send them food, and as a result, these children eat mostly pap (it’s similar to porridge, and has maize and water in it) and maize.
These children, though, are so thankful for everything they have- for our visit, for the food that was given to them, for their ability to sing, for their ability to run around all day. It was hard for me to believe I live in a place where people get angry if their entree at a restaurant does not get to them within 10 minutes at a peak hour (Which I then got to experience at my job as a server in NYC this past summer…let’s not go there). Everything about these children was absolutely beautiful, and I am so thankful I got to be a part of their life, even if it was for just a couple hours during one day.
Check out International Student Volunteers here:
I have many, many more stories that I will be posting from that trip, and strongly recommend to anyone interested to definitely participate in their program.