South Africa: Swayimane

The heart of the trip was to visit the village of Swayimani in the province of KwaZulu Natal and teach the Zulu women trade skills to establish better living conditions and sustain their own economy. We came as the Zimele team. Each team member would teach finance, another fashion, baking, medical, daycare, and I taught photography and computers. The skills they learn would help improve their quality of life, and even help them grow or start their own business. Zimele does not give hand outs, instead, they encourage each adult to find a way to generate and save money as a community.

I was assigned to teach two classes a day for three days. Each class had just over a dozen women, eager to learn. While their native language was Zulu, some spoke broken English and we had a translator in each class. The women were donated a handful of new digital compact cameras, yet they’ve never held one before. It was amusing to watch them fiddle with the devices, and humbling to watch their eyes light up when they were able to take their own photos for the very first time. One of the youngest students had the greatest potential, as she immediately grasped the concept of composition and light/shadow. Once I assigned homework for them, the women spent the rest of the day taking photos of everything. This was by far the most rewarding lesson I have ever given anybody.

We brought as many extra luggage per person possible with donated items such as medical supplies, sewing tools, bake ware, calculators and toothpaste. We would ride in the back of a “bucky” every day back and forth from our B&B to the village. It was quite uncomfortable flying through the rough dirt terrain, and even worse after a full day of sweat and dirt, however we made the best of it. Being dirty and uncomfortable in a group made the experience a lot more tolerable, sometimes funny, and always a bonding moment. The number one thing that kept the group intact was our sense of humor.

The kids were one of the greatest joys of being with the Zulu people. While we didn’t know their language well enough to communicate verbally, it was not necessary for us to bond. The act of being there, playing soccer with them, taking photos of them, was more precious than words. They lit up when they saw us, as did we.

There were two nights we stayed at the village in their rondavels to experience a small taste of their living conditions. It was close to comparable to camping, no electricity, no plumbing. We just roughed it out for 2 days and 2 nights with sleeping bags and air mattresses. Being guests at their village, the hostess Thanda would prepare amazing meals for us with a full table setup. We were very honored how much effort they put in to make us feel comfortable.

While the community lives in poverty, none of them acted like it. They were always cheerful and were always grateful of what they had. Their lands were beautiful, the people even more so. We felt so welcomed, as time passed we were feeling like this was our second home.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4

1 Comment South Africa: Swayimane

  1. John June 23, 2012 at 3:48 am

    It was a wonderful thing that you and your Zimele team did for the people. It’s nice to know that there are people in this world who care. Teaching the women a skill in order to start a business and be self sufficient rather than depending on someone else to survive is really a great thing.
    Great images of the country, food, and people especially of the children. I love the puppy. Hope to see more of your work soon.

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