Mawotsheni project- Willen & Doen


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Africa » South Africa » Eastern Cape » Coffee Bay
December 14th 2014
Published: March 3rd 2015
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The project

From the beginning, we decided we wanted to volunteer in South Africa and give this beautiful country something back. Many projects asked for a lot of money, which we couldn't afford. During our trip we had the chance to meet, Riff Micho, who is the project manager of Willen en Doen South Africa. In 2009, this project was founded by the association Stigting Willen & Doen based in the Netherlands. The project is situated a few kilometers from Coffee Bay, on the top of a hill in Mawotsheni. The goals of this project are Early Childhood Development, Sustainable Living, Nutrition through permaculture gardening and teaching of life skills. They are currently revamping the project to host volunteers, who will do outreach work in the communities. The Mawotsheni Team consist of Riff (Project Manager), Ann (Administration), Nomaphuzi (Teacher), Thozama (Assistant Teacher), Dillon (General Assistant) and Kenny (Gardening), who are daily involved with theirs hearts and souls to make this project come true. They are assisted by the awesome team of volunteers in the Netherlands who raise funds to sustain the team at the project. With the upcoming Volunteer program, volunteers will be able to get involved with all the principles this project is working on, including a Project Portfolio, which with the help of the volunteers, will set up gardens at schools, orphanages and communities in and around the Mqanduli District.

Back to the roots

Arriving our first day at the project, we realized very fast that all our luxuries would be over, back to the roots for the nexts couple of weeks! At the time we were there, the Mawotsheni community was cut off from running water. This happens sometimes when Coffee Bay is really busy and needs to be approvisatiated with more water than usual. For that kind of problem, the project has installed big tons to stock raining water. This is also a way the project tries to show the community how to be self-sustainable. Unfortunately, this is not something they already do or understand as they live day by day. In that week, many people from the community came to us for water. The water was used to cook, make our tea/coffee with and do our dishes. You can imagine that no running water, also means no shower... So for a week, we had to go down to Coffee Bay to take a shower at the backpackers. This is a moment were you hope for rain and realize the important role water plays in your daily life and how much we take it for granted...

Living back to the roots also mean no constant electricity! We had sunpanels and for days without sun, this meant having very little electricity. Therefore, we had many very romantic dinners by candle-light. Moreover, does little electricity mean we had no fridge, so we could not buy any food that had to be conservated fresh.

As we have to live with the same resources as the community and every house in Mawotsheni posses a stinky, full of flies compost-toilet at the end of the garden, therefore so did we! So of course no flush and quite an adventure when you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, having to look out to not step on a snake or to be biten by a spider and especially a hateful adventure when it's raining like hell. But like they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! Furthermore, did living with the same resources mean life on a small budget! We ate mainly vegetables from our garden and only once a week meat (the day we went to the supermarket). Wasting food doesn't exist here!

Let us not forget to explain you our nightly "spider hunts" before going to bed, as we both already experienced a spider bite with antibiotics as result of treatment. So with a big kitchen spoon, broom and our front light we smashed the spiders and mosquitos against the wall and removed the cucarrachas from our room. Over and over again, every night we nervously laughed like scared kids when we saw a 'big' beast somewhere in the room.

Living back to the roots seemed some how a bit difficult at the start, but we discovered very soon that it wasn't so difficult and that even princesses like us became used to it all.

Christmas and New Year at the project

We went for a couple of days to Port St. John before Christmas were we slept at Nick's place, which was the boyfriend of Kate. She is the person who worked at the Mawatsheni project before Riff. Kate and Sue (the mother of Kate) joined in the car on our way back to Coffee Bay, as they really wanted to come take a look at the evolution of the project. We had an amazing time with them and Kate learned us a lot about permaculture gardening. They were going to leave the evening before Christmas-eve, so we went to Friend's cafe for a Christmas dinner, which was a night full of laughter and a lot of wine bottles.

Spending Christmas far from our family and our traditions was not without a little twinge in the heart and without change, it was a Christmas without Christmas-tree, snow and a big culinary family dinner. Our Christmas was on a hot sunny day having a barbecue with all the people involved in the project, the son of Anne and his girlfriend, the headman of the Mawotsheni community and some of the children from the area passed by during that day. In the evening, we went down the hill to have a party with our friends. Even dough it was not are usual Christmas, we enjoyed ourself very much and it was definitely a success.

For New Year, we enjoyed a delicious big T-bone at the Coffee Shack Backpacker together with many travelers. A tent was set up with a dance floor and the DJ was playing some swinging song. So we showed our moves on the dance floor that night! And yes even in a poor village as Coffee Bay, we had the chance to enjoy some fireworks for the start of the new year. Afterwards we moved up the hill in Coffee Bay to see Riff who worked at a festival with trance music. There we enjoyed dancing in the open air under some coloured nuon lights and watched the sun coming up in the sea.

Our experience

We could not decribe you in a descent way the amazing feeling that this place gave us, but we can try to describe the beautiful scenery. We gardened, tinkered and played with the kids on the top of this hill which gives seen on small round houses, the sea, the hills, and the sheeps and cows. We lived in this basic place surrounded by the beauty of nature and the peaceful sound of birds, wind or playing kids. Moreover, were we able to watch the night sky filled with stars, as there is no light to be spotted in the surroundings. We were also surrounded by enthousiastic and lovely people that showed their passion to help others. We moved down to the Coffee Shack Backpackers in the bakkie sitting in the open back enjoying the fresh air in our hair and enjoying the spectacular view of Mawotsheni. It finally felt for the first time, we were really experiencing the South African adventure.

We experienced this chance of volunteering at the Mawotsheni project as an opportunity to give something back to a country we felt in love with and we believe that volunteering here gave us a way to be close to the local people and learn more about their culture. Moreover, it was a way to help and share our knowledge with them.

We enjoyed giving our time, energy and love to play football, making drawings and paint with the kids, learn them new games, etc. Nevertheless, this was not without a challenge, as they didn't speak English, so communication happened using sign language. Beside playing with the kids, we enjoyed spending time in the garden. We covered the soil with grass we just cutted, we made some constructions for the tomato plants, we cut the weeds and watered the gardens daily. The children loved that last part of gardening, they almost fought to hold the garden hose. Hélène went almost on a daily search for new vegetables that were ready to be eaten for dinner.

We also participated in building some useful attributes that were needed in the house. The first thing we decided to built were two night cabs for the volunteer room, as there were only two beds in the room. Starting by drawing the night cab design and choosing the wood we needed, the real work of mesuring, cutting and building started. This day cost us a very big sunburn, which we only realized at the end of this cloudy day. We wanted the volunteer room to be more colourful, so we decided to paint the night cabs the next day with the children.

We are not only proud to let you know that we loved helping at the project, but also that we became some very professional handy men's.

A special thanks

We would like to thank some people we met during our stay, who contributed to make this experience unforgettable. A huge thanks to Riff, who made this experience possible and a really fantastic one as he is an enthusiastic, lovingful and motivated person who always encouraged our ideas and work. Moreover, did he succeeded to make us feel home by all his efforts to take us everywhere and meet everyone. We would also like to thank two amazing persons, Kate and Sue, for sharing their knowledge about gardening and long talks about visions about the future of the project, but most of all for the love, laughter and fun. A special thanks to Pierre, Charlotte, Tobi, Nhaza, Gerrit, Herbert, Garrit and Brandon to have made us feel part of a place and contributed to our happiness during our many visited to the magnificent Coffee Bay. Last, but not least we would like to thank Maya, Uprise, Julia and Daniel for their craziness.


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