Over the past 13 years, students from Bedales have raised money to assist rural schools in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. Every year, a group of sixth form students has visited Eswatini to see how this money has been spent and to help with installation of water systems, agriculture facilities and, most recently, solar energy. 

Most recently a group of 23 Bedales Sixth Form students spent their 2019 Autumn half term break working on a 10-day project in Eswatini to install running water at a rural primary school. In consultation with the Eswatini Government, Mhlabubovu Primary School was chosen for the project as it did not have a permanent water supply serving the 500+ pupils and staff houses.

Working with a local water bore hole specialist and alongside staff and pupils from the school, Bedales students and staff installed a bore hole supported by a solar powered water pump, and the associated pipework for three fresh water taps. This involved significant digging of trenches and holes to provide the infrastructure. In addition, the students repainted three school blocks and toilets, and repaired perimeter fencing. The students raised in excess of £12,000 in advance of the trip to fund all the project work. Fundraising activities included sponsored walks, bike rides, bake sales, and writing original poetry. They also donated classroom stationery and sports kit.

Aims

The aims of the Eswatini project are to provide:

  • A transformational and sustainable improvement to a rural school in Eswatini working alongside the local community.
  • A significant educational experience for Bedales students through an international outreach project involving fundraising and physical labour to make a positive and sustainable difference to other people’s lives. 

Background

Bedales has undertaken a significant international outreach project in Eswatini every year since 2006. The connection goes further back than that. Waterford Kamhlaba School was founded by former Bedales Head of English Michael Stern in the then Swaziland in 1963. Waterford was founded as a direct response to the apartheid system in place in South Africa at the time, and became part of the United World Colleges network of schools in 1981. Swaziland changed its name to Eswatini in 2018 to coincide with its 50th year of independence.

Resources

Twenty-three students visited Eswatini for 10 days in the 2019 Autumn term half term break, accompanied by five Bedales staff, and two local volunteers. In advance Alex McNaughton took the lead in planning and preparing the students for the trip. The students raised over £12,000 prior to the trip to fund the project work.

Impact

Before this initiative, Mhlabubovu Primary School was reliant on the generosity of a local homestead which allowed them access twice/week to a limited supply of water. On completion of the project, the school comprising 500+ pupils and staff housing, had its own permanent supply of fresh water, with supporting water pump powered by solar panels. They also benefited from repainted school buildings and secure repaired perimeter fencing. All the work was funded through volunteer time and student fundraising.

In identifying a suitable partner school in Eswatini, Bedales was advised by a senior Eswatini government official from the Department of Water Affairs and a local water services expert. They helped identify a school where the provision of a permanent water supply would have a transformational effect on the health and wellbeing of the community.

Mhlabubovu Primary School 

On completion of the project, the primary school held a thank you ceremony of dancing and poetry readings, presented the Bedales students with necklaces and sarongs, and served a traditional meal. The ceremony included a speech from the Headteacher Ncamsile Nkambule who described the project as a “dream come true” and said she found it “difficult to find sufficient words to say thank you”. A representative of the local chiefdom also expressed the gratitude of the local community.

Bedales Deputy Head Academic, Ed Mason, commented on behalf of the Bedales visitors: "It has been a great privilege to work in partnership with the pupils and staff at Mhalbubovu Primary School. The opportunity for our students to experience a different culture and to deepen their global awareness is invaluable. Watching the young people from Bedales and Mhalbubovu work, play and learn together, offers a shared promise for a better future for us all. I am very grateful for the welcome and hospitality of Principal Nkambule and her teachers, and the chance given to me to learn from and share ideas with other educators."

Since 2006 Bedales has worked with nine primary schools in rural areas of Eswatini. In this time Bedales students have raised in excess of £170,000 for water and education projects and have, amongst other things, helped provide nine schools with their own safe drinking water supplies, repainted countless school buildings, installed and repaired perimeter fencing, repaired and refurbished at least 150 school desks and taught many lessons.

Pupil involvement

Twenty-three Bedales Sixth Form students participated in the project in 2019. The projected supplied a new source of fresh water to the primary school which impacted on the 500+ pupils and staff at the school. The final morning of the visit saw a netball game between the hosts and visiting Bedales students.

Since starting this initiative in Eswatini, 300 Bedales students have been directly involved.

Bedales Sixth Form students who participated in the project in 2019 commented: “I will forever be grateful to Bedales for providing the opportunity to go on this trip which felt rewarding and having a genuine sense of achievement from knowing the impact that we had on the local school. Connecting with the children and making friendships that have been imprinted in my heart was one of my favourite memories. Looking back at the joy and the gratitude that the staff and students showed at the ceremony on the last day was unforgettable and will be part of me forever.”

“Eswatini was an eye-opening experience that gave me a unique opportunity to help those less fortunate than me. From this trip, I made memories that will stay with me for life, whether it was getting all of the kids involved in a big football game or coming back after lunch to a group of primary school kids wielding pickaxes and digging holes.”

Project leader: Alex McNaughton