Tag Archives: Sweetwaters

#269 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 34

Sala Kahle

At some point or another, we must all say farewell. Farewell if not to friends and family, then at some point to life. Working with Ithemba Projects (and Zanini Bantwana), has at times been a harrowing experience, challenging, joyful and draining. To say it pushed me to my limits would be a lie. Rather, it exposed me to the limitless boundaries that existed within. That in fact, where before I would have given up at the slightest hint of being unwell or fatigued, here I was, on an ‘appetising’ cocktail of antibiotics, cough mixture, Sudafed and tissues, still ploughing through work, straining out songs and encouraging a waning appetite.

As a process of becoming naked, it explored the flaws, prejudice and darkness within me. How I despised those who were unwell, disfigured, and how through extreme grace, I began to see the least of the least, through, as Jethro in the Prince of Egypt professes, Heaven’s Eyes. I began to yearn to remove blood filled mucus from my creche babies noses. A patience to control my classes overcame me. An excitement to prance around gardens singing and dancing consumed me. I grew and became hopeful of life, just as Ithemba Projects desires to bring hope to the lives of the people of Mpumuza, Sweetwaters.

Three years ago I flew into South Africa and partook on what, really, was an act of poverty tourism. I spent 10 days sightseeing Sweetwaters. Glancing at the work of Ithemba Projects, gingerly holding hands with little Zulu children. If i’m honest, when I looked at the money I’d saved all year and considered buying a plane ticket back to SA, something stopped my heart. Every young Christian does Aid work in SA, it’s so cliche. Yet, the thought wouldn’t leave me.

I hadn’t entered South Africa with an agenda. I didn’t know I was being particularly ‘affirming’ in anyway. I just wanted to return to a place I had seen in a hazy dream, and really invest some time, invest my skills, and serve an organisation that I admire and respect. One doesn’t have to travel half way across the world to experience poverty, pain, desperation, abandonment, or any of the experiences I’ve catalogued here. We live in a world that reeks of such experiences.

Yet often, our eyes become focused when we step outside of our own environment, and then step back. When we begin to convert our pound Sterling into Rand, when we remember how we survived on x amount of clothes, then peer inside our wardrobes that are brimming with unworn, unnecessary garments. When we make the choice to embed these memories and experiences into our very veins, and let the focused insight we have gained, pulse through our bodies, through our very beings, and let it transform our very lifestyle.

I want to encourage everyone that has participated on this journey with me to be hopeful. I began this 5 week ‘diary’, with the statement: Ithemba means hope, and for the people in Sweetwaters, Ithemba means life. May your lives be transformed by this experience, may your lives be filled with hope, hope for tomorrow, hope for your communities, hope for the change you desire to see and create. May these experiences inspire you, and where you can, can I urge you to support the work of Ithemba Projects and Zanini Bantwana in whatever capacity you can. Either by telling people about the phenomenal work they are doing in rural Sweetwaters, by supporting them financially, or by volunteering. Their ministry is life changing, their progress forward-looking, and their vision ever hopeful.

If you have been touched by the work of Ithemba Projects, then I would love to encourage you to continue being involved in their long-term journey, by liking their Facebook Page, and by following the blog: Bridging Hope, which is run by my former colleague Stephanie, who is working this year with the charity.

Thank you for coming along with me. Keep a look out on the Ithemba Page for an article I will be writing for them.

Prayer for day 34: May God Bless and Keep you wherever you are. May Hope reign in your hearts, and may you continue to pray for the work of Ithemba Projects. For their protection, for their provisions and for their incredible journey.

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#268 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 33


When I stepped into the Ithemba office, my co-workers re-christened me Zahara in celebration of the famous South African artist of the same name, who I apparently resembled. Travelling through Sweetwaters, even without my guitar in tow, the name sailed through the air, as adults pointed and grinned. If you asked any of my students what my name was, Zahara and a cheeky grin would be first on their lips. So I became this elusive Xhosa woman from the Eastern Cape, the dual identity integrating me deeper into the community. I had never heard her music, never even seen her, but I was part of her, in some respects. In the eyes of my children.

On my last day working with Ithemba a surprise birthday party awaited me. Poems and farewell tributes were presented. I wanted to cry, but was unable to. My eyes were so dry they almost hurt; my heart hadn’t registered that an Emirates plane was waiting for me. Yet, in and amongst the farewell presents and cake, I was presented with my doppelgänger’s CD. With her hair scraped back, and her guitar cradled between calloused hands, I smiled at the sweet resemblance.


Packing, can be both a cathartic and painful experience. As Zahara’s rich voice filled my bedroom, twisting itself into the crevices of my folded shirts and skirts, I felt a loss. A deep loss. Because now that Zahara and I had met, we were parting. Now when South Africa and Ithemba had begun to mean something to me, we were parting ways. I was returning home to the sounds of Oasis and Tiny Tempah, whilst Zahara still had her guitar. She consoled me, telling me in her famous song Loliwe, to dry my tears and not be worried.

Yet it is painful,parting ways, moving on. Remembering, that in many respects it was just a dream. Not that one didn’t experience the pain, the joy, the hopes and fears, but that another reality, a tenable reality was awaiting back home. One where the slog of being part of a journey every day, where there is no get out clause, awaited.

Prayer for Day 33: For a smooth transition back to home life. For a hopeful attitude to overcome me, hope for what is to come.

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#267 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 32

As I wrap up this experience, before I write two final posts evaluating my time in South Africa, i’d like to leave you all with a final montage of images. Below are some of my creche babies, who I was afraid of and fell in love with by the end. Please continue to pray for them and support them.

Akhona, one of the brightest students, full of life and intelligence.

Girl. Beautiful, precious child.

 Olwa, he would blink at you all the time. Blink, blink, blink. Great baby dancer too!

 My faux baby, we had a special bond. She cried whenever I left…

 Ma Cornelia. As her team grows, I have faith the crèche will become a wonderful establishment.

Prayer for Day 31 : Pray for the children and the crèche. Pray the education in the crèche blooms and sets the children up for an incredible life

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#265 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 30

It takes a surprise farewell to realise, what you thought was average, really meant something to them.

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#264 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 29

One of the, approximately 20 cards, I was presented with as I delivered my last assembly at Mountain Home Primary School yesterday.
It wasn’t saddening at the time, in fact, I hardly feel as though I’m on my last 48 hours here. I’m worried the realization will hit whilst I sit in Dubai’s excessive airport early in the morning and realise, I won’t have to work out what my assembly will be, or what i’ll teach them, how ill translate ‘There’s a fire on the Mountain, run, run,’ into fluent isiZulu ( kunomlilo entabeni, baleka, baleka).

The cynic within questions whether these students really will miss me, or if they’re just being polite as I disintegrate into a fragmented image. Yet, maybe they really will. Maybe what happened over those five weeks, having an english teacher from the UK, having a black female english teacher from the UK, has had an unprecedented impact on them. Maybe my presence really has expanded their eyes, at what they could potentially be. Maybe they saw themselves in me, saw a relationship a recognition? Maybe I really will be missed. Either way, the sentiment was both touching and encouraging; being here was a worthwhile adventure.

Prayer for Day 29: The the process of transition and leaving will be smooth, and Mountain Home Primary will build on the teaching that’s taken place over these 5 weeks.

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#262 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 27

“Now you are really Zulu”,

They said as Savuka played in the background,

the hair-raising harmonies

lifting their legs, as they danced on carpeted floors

and brought sunshine through the office doors.

Siyabongakakhulu, i thought

substituting my mother tongue

for the rolling sensation

as S’s slipped into G’s, which clutched at the back of our throats


“Now you are really Zulu”, they said

But it wasn’t that I had become Shakka’s wife

Rather, the African within

had come back to life.


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#261 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 26


Today, I found out that Girl has a name. It turns out in Zulu culture, it is quite common for male children to have the nickname ‘Boy’, and a set of twins can be affectionately named “Boy and She.’ Yet it turns out, Girl’s ‘real’ name is Kwanel(e).

When I found that out, a peace settled over me. I had initially thought she had ben called Girl because she was unwanted in her parents eyes. Perhaps she had been an unforeseen pregnancy, and out of bitterness she hadn’t been given a ‘real’ name. Or, maybe her parents had thought Girl was exotic, because it was English, and didn’t realize it literally meant girl.

The discovery that Girl was also named Kwanel(e), was the start of a new experience for me. As I drove through and around downtown Pietermaritzburg I had the muted revelation that my colleagues were real people. It sounds absurd, perhaps even patronizing, but I had looked at this month working with Ithemba Projects as my experience. Seeing things through my eyes, how did it affect me. In doing so, everyone else had become like a prop in the play, or, as DiCaprio expertly explains in Inception, a projection of my mind. My colleagues were real people, yes, but their existence and presence only lasted for as long as I was concerned. I had never really looked at them and imagined their pasts, imagined their fears, their dreams. Never thought that when I was hungry, lonely or tired, they were too. That just as I was meeting people and having community interactions, they also were breathing the same air, struggling up the same hills, creating and loosing friends, acquaintances. The flesh that sat beside me in the car wasn’t just a projection, it had a history, and also a future.

Often, I think in retrospect, we are so focused in channelling our experience of life through our own two pupils, we miss the people who are moving within our irises. Looking through my photos, I was struck by the notion, that when I return home, people will ask me: How did you find it, what was it like, how do you feel now your back? They’ll wonder – who’s that man singing, or that person smiling next to you? 

And those extra shadows in my memory will continue to live an exist in the world. They will continue to have a present, a future and a past. And I will have been a tiny speck of dust plopping into the vast ocean of their life streams. We will have crossed paths briefly, for a short instance, in what may be lifetimes stretching beyond sixty years.

Surely, one can’t form relationships, invest, share memories, moments, fears, hopes and dreams with projections? Surely, we must build on these experiences, as they have changed us. It chills me to think, that when I show friends and maybe even my own children in the future, this blog, or these images, and they ask me – so what is so-and-so doing now, i’ll not have the foggiest idea.

So, I find myself, as i’m supposed to turn my gaze homeward, trying to find away somewhere on that London-bound horizon, back here. To make an investment. To remember a promise, that could have been made a long time ago, in a half remembered dream. To come back.

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