Archive by Author

The Power of Reflection

9 Jul

When reflecting on our volunteer experiences, there is always something that stands out amongst our memories. They may be an encounter, an event that taught us a lesson in life, or even a chance experience. For me, however, it was something as simple as hearing the melodies of people’s voices. Singing in a pastime activity for Swazis and Africans in general.

By sharing stories, experiences, triumphs, learnings, and personal journeys, whilst being an overseas volunteer has allowed me to revisit my most cherished memories that would otherwise be locked away. It has allowed me to relive my successes, challenges and reflect and learn more from my retelling. Such a power that lies in reflecting, and indeed can be adapted to learn from all life’s experiences.

Wildlife

5 Jul

A memorable  part of being an overseas volunteer is enjoying the nature and gifts of the country where serving. In my case, this meant the renowned African wildlife.  Witnessing the magic of animals being in their own natural environment, rather than being confined in a torturous zoo for the public’s amusement gave a feeling of freedom and an acknowledgement that I was entering ‘their territory’ and playing by ‘their rules’. I was shown this by being charged by a fully grown African elephant! Probably one of the most scariest moments of my life!

Moments before being charged...I was driving!!

Still leaves me speechless

Something that also got my heart pumping was my personal encounter with lion cubs. The feeling of being up close and personal with my favourite animal was breathtaking! Feelings of nerves and excitement were expressed by shivering from head to toe. I could have spent all day here being at one with one of the most feared animals.

Just as personal was the crocodile that migrated to the dam in the back yard of my uncle’s farm. My cousin and I named him Steve. He was shy and would need encouraging to come out and play.

These experiences and encounters till this day remain a highlight in my overseas experiences. A must for all. The majestic views that a painter will envy, and a photographer sigh for in vain, the freedom of the wildlife and abundance of flora, untouched natural beauty stretching up to 350 km North to South (at Kruger National Park, South Africa), are but a few reasons what makes Africa unique.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Community Building Initiatives

30 Jun

Junior Youth empowerment programs was one activity I was engaged with whilst in Swaziland. These programs are aimed at junior youth between the ages of 12-15 and are designed to assist them during these crucial years of their lives where they are in the midst of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. These programs also empower them to direct their energies towards the advancement of their communities and civilization in whole.

Though it was hard for me to sustain my own JY group whilst in Swaziland (due to continuous travelling to initiate and continue other activities) I had the bounty of training JY animators-those who initiate, facilitate and sustain JY groups-whose role is more of a mentor and leader by example rather than a teacher. I also travelled to South Africa and stayed in a farm house all alone where I was engaged in tutoring future animators for a two week block.

Junior Youth group in South Africa

A major component of JY groups is, as mentioned earlier, service to the community. These acts of service can include anything that the JY froup can think of and is assisted by the animator. One such activity we did in Swaziland was the renovation and beautifying of Baha’i property which also runs as a pre-school to residents in the wider community and where community events are held.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A friend of mine also did similar community building activities with Junior Youth whilst serving last year at the Baha’i House of Worship in Dehli, India. He beautifully documented the campaign where conscious people from the wider community saw the need for Junior Youth development programs and were trained as animators. This video will not only be appreciated by those who volunteered in India, but by all who have a sense of the need for such community building initiatives and is highly encouraged to watch in order to get an appreciation and better understanding of all of our endeavours put in action, albeit through a different approach. This video can be watched at http://vimeo.com/25659149 and the password is “junioryouth”.

It is hoped that by instilling such qualities as selfless service to humanity, coupled with moral guidance, these junior youth will grow up to be leaders for positive change in their future lives. These JY programs are systematically run world-wide by both Baha’is and non-Baha’is who are interested in creating change to advance their fellow-men and uplift society.

Identity

26 Jun

This photo was taken at an event this week in celebration of National Refugee Week. The first thing I thought of was all of us and the work we are engaged in.

Keeping in mind our personal journeys and collective ideals, let’s put together our own acrostic poem of the word “ETHNOPEEPS” that can be used as a backdrop and representation of our efforts!

Ill begin with:

Enlightened educators
T
H
N
O
P
E
E
P
S

🙂

The Oneness of Mankind

26 Jun

Last Tuesday I attended a community building event that revolved around Indigenous peoples and their struggles. The attendance was minimal, but the learning unlimited. Though I took a different approach and stance to one of the guest speaker’s views (an Indigenous activst), I still felt positive afterwards.

His retrospective attitudes and beliefs were backwards, harmful, prejudiced to all races but his own, and in essence tried to fight fire with fire. Today, this won’t achieve any real change. Rather than leaving disheartened, I left feeling further enlightened to the need of humanity’s best interests-the upliftment of the ‘human race’ rather than the exaltation of any one race or culture.

Taking a prospective approach to such injustices is a far more effective method. This is summed up perfectly in the following counsel of Baha’u’llah:

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

The Joys of Teaching

22 Jun

 

Me: “Bhut (brother) its not travel teaching unless theres walking involved!” (AND LOTS OF IT)

Isaac: “yea your right, bhuti. Maybe one day in the future it wil be car teaching!”

Probably one of my most fondest memories…walking all day in the middle of summer to meet old friends, acquaintances, and new faces to share with them ways of establishing a more healthy and unified community life. May I add-a great way to get in shape and lose any unwanted kg’s!

Sacrifice?

 

The Semi-Frustrated Volunteer

20 Jun

Spending nine months in Africa stirred an array of emotions-many positive, many enlightening and many frustrating. In many respects I could easily express concepts and beliefs whilst volunteering than I could not normally here. The reason for this is that most people here don’t have time for certain matters. In Swaziland, as well as most of the places that the rest of us volunteered to, we could stop and genuinely chat with strangers, neighbours, villagers etc, for hours on end. People were welcoming as many of us have learnt. Because of this it allowed me to express and directly share my beliefs with others. It allowed us both to learn, develop and appreciate the harmony and consistency of our (wrongly perceived) different beliefs. I shared the principles of the Baha’i Faith with families, city-dwellers, rural people, Priests, Pastors, teachers-people of all walks of life. With the backdrop of community building and unfolding peace and unity this was easy to achieve. Here in Sydney in everyday life is another story. How can people not want such ideals? Because of many people’s reluctance to give time, I find it sometimes difficult to express my most cherished thoughts and beliefs. I am constantly let down at some peoples lack of concern, indifference, and biased opinions. Despite this, I happily welcome the challenge and strive to detach myself from such negativities-easier said than done!

On a humanitarian point of view, the level of poverty, widespread corruption and disease was not something I could express every day whilst in Swaziland-this I feel is easier to voice here in Sydney. There I was living amongst it. Friends and families who I stayed with or constantly engaged with were affected by both poverty and disease-HIV/AIDS. How do you express your feelings of anger, embarrassment of ‘Western’ countries’ lack of concern, the luck (as Carlos would put it) that I have without offending them? What frustrated me the most, and continues to do so, is my helplessness in the matter. How can I contribute to the betterment of these peoples’ lives? I have a money tin sitting in my room with no idea what to do with the collection? I know I want to donate it back to others, but it’s petty.

I’ve come to understand that the most effective way I can contribute to such injustices is to raise awareness of the situation our fellow human beings are living in. To help enlighten others. To help inspire others to make a difference. Imagine everyone arose to make a difference-the changes would be infinite! If only people were to understand the TRUE meaning of sacrifice-giving up something of lesser value for something of higher value, rather than the widespread belief of giving up something of higher value for something of lesser value. The purpose of sacrifice is to better others and not focus the attention on ourselves, right? If so, then the former definition of sacrifice obviously makes more sense.

under barbed-wire fencing to share with 'neighbours' (kilometre or so away) ways in which to improve community and individual life.

Living away from home, learning to be self dependent, crossing over, under and through barb-wired fences, walking for hours in the heat of the Africa sun, are but a few examples of how my friends in Swaziland sacrifice their time (lesser value) to create a more united and better society (higher value).

Only a few hills, meadows and valleys till our destination

Arise and Serve!

15 Jun

While watching last night’s news I was surprised to see Princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini, the eldest daughter of the King of Swaziland, being featured. She was proudly showing off her new apartment in Sydney which she will call home, for this year at least while furthering studies at Sydney uni.

After passing the excitement of seeing little known Swaziland on the news, I was overcome by a feeling of sadness and eventually anger. Reason being-where does all the royalty’s money come from and how justly is it spent? This question, I feel, can be and should be asked by all of us to the countries where we served in! Yeah, AUSAID, USAID, various NGO’s, UN bodies etc like to boast how much they help fight poverty, disease and the like in ‘third-world’ or ‘developing countries’, but that is as far as their concern (not all, but many) goes. Are they truly concerned about the development and difficulties at the grassroots? Reflecting on their approach to just throwing millions of dollars annually at the leaders of such countries would suggest otherwise.

In the case of Swaziland, for example, I can guarantee that this money does not filter down to the grassroots and rather stays in the pockets of those with power at the top. This too, can be argued for many African countries, nay worldwide. Corruption, politics, money and greed can be seen as a vicious cycle of destruction. What saddened and angered me the most is that Swaziland has a HIV prevalence rate of about 33-49%. That is ridiculous! How many ethnopeeps are there of us? 23? That means about 7 of us are HIV positive and no doubt ALL of us know someone personally living with the disease and very likely have had direct family members already die of it! Hearing such stories of my friends who I grew to love, having grown up with no parents because they died of the disease, having to look after their siblings, rely on wider family for support and further burdening them, became a common story. It was rare to meet someone who had not been directly affected by the disease. Now tell me, are aid organisations doing enough? Do they really care?

The leaders amass stupendous sums of wealth and waste it on material pursuits rather than the betterment of mankind and the progress of the human race. That is where the money goes. This sad reality reminds me of a quotation that I reflect on, it reads:

“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”.

Were it not for simple yet profound guidance we have before us, such as the above, human beings would be left to their own devices and undoubtedly would fail. Changes are happening though. Slowly but surely. How can anyone disagree? We were all and are part of this change by the service we have provided to the advancement of humanity, right? If one were to disagree, why sit idly and argue and wait for change. Do something about it! Arise and serve!

Our efforts today will lay the foundations for their futures

Nothing in life is more rewarding than seeing the smiles you can put on someone else's faces 🙂

the Reed Dance-Culture at its Finest

11 Jun

How many wives do you have? King Mswati III has about 14 or so. Impressive? Nahh. His old man had over 90!! Now that’s impressive (for some, at least). But don’t worry, King Mswati still has time to catch up, and he did so last year and probably is around about now!

Each year there is a cultural celebration in Swaziland where the King chooses a new wife. The event is called the Reed Dance. Maidens from all over the Kingdom arrive (by army truck loads) to one of the King’s residences. Here they stay for a week and partake of celebrations and activities. During this time they ALL go out and collect reeds from the rivers. These reeds are then presented to the King as a gift. In short, the King chooses a wife, or two or however he feels, in return. Last year the King had over 80 000 ‘maidens’ to choose from!!! The reason why I emphasise maiden is because I had seen the decay of promiscuity in Swaziland. A friend once said to me, “when living in the rural areas there’s nothing to do but have sex, there are no community activities, no sports, no tv etc, what else do you do for fun?”

Horizon-horizon full of maidens to choose from!

Interestingly, most of the girls I met (educated or not, from the city or rural areas) would have loved to be chosen as a wife and live the life of seclusion. Reason being they would have unlimited shopping funds, and their families would prosper. There were, however, some who had outlived this practice and disagreed with its degrading attitude towards women.

Seeing as I love immersing myself within any culture I come across, I boldly decided to dress myself with the traditional Swazi attire! By doing so, I was immediately transformed to a celebrity! A white guy dressed as a traditional Swazi=instant fame and attention. I even got interviewed for a local tv station covering the event. EVERYONE wanted a photo with ‘that white guy’. I even had a chat with one of the princes. I got so tongue tied that he abused me! I think I had offended him by dressing in his way.

traditional Swazi attire with animal skin around waist ('majobo')

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Perhaps the most amazing experience I had was capturing this awesome photo of the King as he walked by me. It was as if he stopped and posed for me while I took the shot.

I guess the main reason I captured such a shot was because the King was amused to see a white guy (apart from my cousin who I persuaded for so long) dressed like him!

In memory of a friend. A fellow lover of the Baha’i Faith. A humanitarian. A volunteer like us all.

4 Jun

His name was Mbuso Dlamini, pronounced em-bu-so.

He was one of my first friends I made in Swaziland. Each occasion I had with him, he was smiling and welcoming. He was a ‘home front pioneer’- he served as a human resource person within his own country, actively spreading the glad-tidings of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith to his fellow men, and selflessly engaged in the spiritual, social and intellectual developments of his society. A true source of encouragement and inspiration to myself being an international pioneer.

Mbuso attempting a mid-air pose

He died at 23. The cause was never fully determined. But it was obvious, he was drugged by the evil workings of a family member by the help of a witch doctor with the use of mutti (as defined in my previous post ‘Outdated Practices-the Ugly Side’, a mixture of really whatever the witch doctor feels!).

I remember waking up to a heart-wrenching cry from my best friend, Isaac. He had just received a phone call informing him that Mbuso had died. Isaac was also a home front pioneer who lived with Mbuso engaging in the same community building activities.

What happened was Mbuso’s estranged uncle took him to see a witch doctor together. Naturally, Mbuso felt no harm in accompanying his uncle. There, Mbuso was told to drink some mutti with God knows what was added. The next couple days he went missing. On the third day he was confirmed dead. What friends and family of Mbuso believe is that the uncle was persuaded to believe that if he sacrificed his nephew (or any family member for that matter) he could get rich quick! One of many reasons people engage in harmful practices. A somewhat common practice, similar to albino body parts. He obviously had wrong intentions as he wasn’t to be seen after Mbuso’s sickness and consequent death. Had he cared, or did not know the mutti was poisonous he would have contacted his sister (Mbuso’smother) and offer condolences, let alone attend the funeral. Instead he fled back to South Africa to pursue his prize.

His funeral was the first I’ve ever attended. The lives he touched were evident in the faces of the friends and family in the room. He brought together people of diverse religions and backgrounds. His service to humanity was appreciated by all.

Isaac (L) and Mbuso (R) sharing the Baha'i Faith at a local store

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sad, but common story. What I learnt was that family extends beyond blood. We were connected spiritually. We shared a deeper, more sincere, true and appreciable bond that I don’t even share with some blood related family members. It is because of this connection that I can travel anywhere in the world and have a family member, something I’ve experienced in Israel, Africa, America, all over Australia, even in Singapore.

I wish this small caption of his humble and inspiring life, for myself and many others in Swaziland, can be appreciated by you all-active agents of change engaged in the upliftment of mankind. His service to humanity resemble much of what we all have and continue to be part of.
As Baha’is we believe true life is the life of the soul. May his soul progress in the spiritual worlds of God.

%d bloggers like this: