Five weeks. I remember thinking before I left home that five weeks was too long to be away in Swaziland. Away from family, friends, the big city, and all I already knew and was comfortable with. After landing in Johannesburg, I was even jealous of those volunteers who were only staying here for three or four weeks. Looking back at those first thoughts, I do not know what I was thinking. Five weeks is not enough. I want to stay longer. Over these past five weeks I have learned a lot about myself, made friends, embraced the Swazi culture, helped others, and made memories that are going to last a lifetime. I have no doubt in my mind that my time here has been the best, happiest time of my life.
My internship was just one of the amazing parts of this trip. The other nutrition intern, Emily, and I began a pilot study to determine if the food product e’Pap would be effective in aiding proper growth of the children at All Out Africa’s Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs). The children receive at least one cup of the e’Pap every day, and Emily and I would take their measurements, height, weight, and mid-upper arm circumference, once every other week to monitor their growth. Although the children were easily distracted and we struggled to get them to stand still, I loved working with them and I can only hope that either the e’Pap helps them grow big and strong, or we find an alternative, a better way to help them. These children have a place in my heart now and I only wish them the best and that they stay happy and be healthy and go on to do great things.
Although I loved doing my internship, this trip would not have been as wonderful without all the amazing people that I met. The children, aged three to six, at the NCPs always had smiles on their faces. They would run over and give each of us volunteers a hug when we arrived. When I took out my camera, a swarm of children would run over to be part of the picture. Their happiness made me happy. Oh how they could frustrate me and make me tired before it was even ten, but I still enjoyed every moment with them. Seeing their smiling faces, made my day every day.
At university in the United States, I rarely called my apartment “home” because home has always been where my family is, but in Swaziland, it was different. Lidwala and the All Out Africa office became my home. The atmosphere in the office made me feel welcomed. There was rarely a dull moment and people were always talking and laughing and were willing to help you whenever needed. The other volunteers became my friends. When in Kruger National Park we would sit around the camp fire for hours getting to know each other. It is amazing how twenty people from around the world can come together and laugh, play games (lots and lots and lots of card games), joke around, and then become close friends. And the group was so inclusive. We almost always did activities in a large group. We would walk down the street with a giant mob. Trying to take just one combi (mini bus) was impossible and coming home from the bar took five or six taxis. We would have to make reservations every time we went out so that the restaurant can prepare one long table. It was always an adventure but always a great time. These twenty people have become my friends, and I will miss them dearly. I will miss everyone: the staff in the office, the staff at Lidwala, the many children at Mvutjini NCP, and the girls I tutored at an afterschool homework club. I will miss Swaziland.
Five weeks ago I was scared to fly across the ocean by myself; I was excited to go home after the first few days; I was nervous every time I had to take a combi to the NCP; I was a shy girl trying to fit in. Now I want to stay here longer and continue making memories. I have no problem standing in the packed combi and yelling “Stesh Lidwala” when it looks like the driver is not going to stop. And now I am more outgoing and willing to be myself and just have fun! BUT I am definitely still scared to fly back across the ocean. I have gone on a five day safari, zip-lined through the mountains, competed in a potjie cooking competition, rode quad bikes, went horseback riding through a wildlife sanctuary, helped teach preschoolers numbers, tutored students at homework club, and help start a tooth brushing program at the NCPs. And that is just naming a few things I have done. Sometimes you just meet the best group of people and have the best time of your life. This internship has been absolutely amazing and I am more than happy that I got to spend the last five weeks here in Swaziland and am sad that I have to leave. But don’t worry Swaziland, I’ll be back.
Catherine Joppich (Nutrition Intern – July 2017)