Community Day: Volunteering in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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A group of little girls giggle as they blow bubbles into the air.  Behind them, their friends at the face-painting stand are being transformed from little children into zebras, lions and butterflies.  Others are leaning over a piece of paper, in deep concentration as they colour in the picture on it.  As I pick up the football that has rolled to my feet and return it to the group of boys enjoying a Sunday morning kick-about, I take in the scene around me. 

I could be anywhere in the world.

Then the music begins, a catchy Zulu beat that is distinctly African.  A group of girls begin swinging their hips, a move that comes naturally to those born in this part of the world, where music is deeply imbedded within the local culture. 

I could be anywhere in the world but I am not – I am in the Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa.  And today, there is no place I’d rather be.

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The Mdletshe and Mandlakazi Community Day that we enjoyed being a part of last weekend, evolved from a series of conversations between local community leaders and African Impact Thanda staff.

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The idea was to bring the groups together for a day of fun.

The plan was to combine face painting, colouring-in, lucky dip and a clothes sale stand with local music, dancing, a fun run and football match.

The hope was to take another step towards creating a long-lasting partnership between the organisation trying to raise conversation awareness and the communities’ that directly benefit from it.

By the end of an exhausting but entertaining day there was no doubt it was a resounding success.

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The morning belonged to the young children.  They approached us shyly at first, but gained momentum as they watched more confident friends unwrap toys from the lucky dip.  Before long their older siblings arrived and as the morning chores were finished in the villages, a steady stream of locals of all ages headed to the remote field that was host to the day.

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Two local football teams arrived.  The team wearing white shirts warmed up on the sidelines, stretching in time to the music.  The team wearing yellow shirts warmed up with a short match against a Thanda team.  The Thanda group were enthusiastic but no match for the competitive locals.  The main match followed with a penalty shoot out deciding the result.

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Then it was time for the main event of the day: the Talent Show.  There was no shortage of enthusiastic entrants, no shortage of energy and passion and certainly no shortage of talent.  I felt moved by the vigorous reading of a poem about protecting rhinos.  I was soothed by the melodic harmonies sung by a choir.  I tapped my feet in time to the music as local dancers stomped the ground in gusto and felt more than a little jealous of their natural talent, of which I have none!  I felt amused by the local women screaming with laughter, singing out loud and dancing enthusiastically between every act.  And I was a little scared of the two older grandmothers who had more energy than anyone and threatened to drag me up to dance!

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The day had well and truly evolved into a local party, with the Zulu culture of these communities on proud display.  And we felt privileged to be welcomed into it.

The key characteristics of this culture – pride, strength, compassionate and warmth – feel symbolic of the traits required to fight battle to converse the rich and unique wildlife and landscape of the region.

Here’s hoping this community day provides a leap forward in fighting the conservation awareness fight:  a battle fought in partnership between African Impact and the local people.

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I’m volunteering in July/August on a photography project at Thanda Game Reserve.  To find out more visit African Impact’s website or Thanda’s Facebook Page.

 

 

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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