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Making a Difference: Opportunity of a Lifetime in Swaziland

As I reflect on the promise of 2014, I would like to share with you my story of what was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

About this time last year, I’d just returned from a trip to Swaziland.

For anyone not familiar with the country, Swaziland is a land-locked kingdom in Africa, bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has a population of about 1 million people, and the average lifespan of a Swazi is 48 years.

Yes, 48 years. (Just a few years ago, this was even lower at just over 30 years).

Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world at about 27%. As a result, there are over 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children who have been left to fend for themselves.

So what was I doing there?

Facilitating Crucial Conversations in Swaziland

I was in Swaziland because I’d been invited to facilitate VitalSmarts’ Crucial Conversations training to leaders in a town called Bulembu.

Bulembu is an abandoned mining town that was purchased by three entrepreneurs with the vision of creating an orphanage using existing infrastructure. The vision for Bulembu is to create a self-sustaining community that can support up to 2,000 orphans (currently at about 500).

A view of the many ex-miner homes that are being renovated into homes for children

A view of the many ex-miner homes that are being renovated into homes for children

This view shows Bulembu from the opposite direction (top row of homes)

This view shows Bulembu from the opposite direction (top row of homes)

The team at Creation Technologies has been supporting Bulembu for the last 6 years as the global focus of our Making a Difference initiative.

As a certified VitalSmarts trainer, I had the opportunity to share a cornerstone of Creation’s Leadership Development training with the great team in Bulembu.

For 2 days, I lead a Crucial Conversations training session with leaders from the childcare group, some of the commercial endeavours, and teachers from the school. Many of these people were volunteers committed to improving their skills.

As usual with Crucial Conversations training, there was a high level of engagement and we had particularly animated discussion around culture.

Most significant for me in this session was how evident it became that the objective of ‘Getting Unstuck’ is really a universal one.

Happy successful participants after two long days

Happy successful participants after two long days

A Success Story, How Bulembu Has Succeeded in ‘Getting Unstuck’

The Kids

The two days of training flew by and I was able to get some time with the Bulembu children as well, ranging in age from newborn to 22 years old. What an amazing experience.

The children are a pleasure to be with. They are happy and excited to engage with visitors.

When children are first adopted into the orphanage they stay for several months in a Welcome Center where they learn skills that will help them integrate into the community.

Before Bulembu, many children have never seen toilets or showers or eaten with a knife and fork. They have just been surviving. The Welcome Center helps prepare them for their new life.

When the children are 4 years of age and older, they are moved into small houses (which are actually renovated miner’s homes). There they live with their new family: five or six other children and a house mother or “auntie”.

Five young boys in their home on the hill

Five young boys in their home on the hill

Some movie time for young students

Some movie time for young students

Just like in many families, the Bulembu kids are expected to take on certain responsibilities such as washing their own clothes, (which they do in buckets and then hang out on a line to dry), taking their turns cleaning up after meals, washing floors in the dining hall, and getting their homework done.

The Town

A key component of the revitalization of Bulembu is building up commercial businesses that will be able to support the community long-term.

For example, there’s a water-bottling business that supplies a number of local communities with bottled water.

There’s a saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.

The saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.

There’s a saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.

A dairy and a bakery supply goods that are mostly used for feeding the children, but will hopefully be able to provide enough products to sell into other communities.

A recent addition is a Conference Center (where we conducted the Crucial Conversations session), complete with a training kitchen that, as part of the Bulembu Vocational Training Centre, will give vocational skills to students after high school. The Conference Center complements the existing Lodge that is open to the public.

How Will You Make a Difference in 2014?

Like I said off the top, visiting Bulembu was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

I would like to thank The Bulembu Foundation for inviting me, Creation Technologies for supporting my trip, VitalSmarts’ Influencer Institute for providing the Participants Kits at no cost, and the Crucial Conversations participants who gave their time and attention to learn new skills.

It was incredible to get to meet the kids, see firsthand the tremendous things that the people are doing to rebuild a community, and lend a hand by sharing some of my own skills.

What can you do to help Make a Difference in 2014?

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