Swaziland is the last remaining monarchy in Africa, a small country surrounded by South Africa to the north, west, and south and Mozambique to the east. Known officially as the Kingdom of Swaziland, it has a very small population of 1.2 million people. By comparison to other African nations, Swaziland has had a very peaceful history and has quite a developed infrastructure.
Despite its beauty, charm, and peaceful history, Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, an incredible statistic considering the country’s small size. This, sadly, has taken its toll on the population, leaving many children orphaned.
The unemployment rate is around 30 percent, but this number rises to 50 percent among youth; the minimal number of job opportunities available throughout the country means that Swazi youth have to grab every chance at securing a future for themselves. These factors combined lead to approximately 63% of the population living below the poverty line.
Young people, in particular, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of poverty. Almost one-third of children in Swaziland experience health challenges due to malnutrition, and on average children attend school for only seven years. Many of Swaziland's children have lost their parents, and thus face food shortages, lack of adequate shelter and care, and most of all lack of attention and love.
All of these layers of disadvantage and social strife make Swaziland one of the most important countries in Africa for international volunteer work. Swaziland is a nation on the rise, that needs a little help standing up to its full potential. Now that you understand the extent of the country’s struggles, here are 10 reasons why you should volunteer in Swaziland:
1. The children need you.
With the highest HIV prevalence in the world, volunteering with orphaned and vulnerable children is incredibly important in Swaziland. You can volunteer with children in Swaziland in all different ways, from teaching and sports development to conducting health and general hygiene lessons to general child care. But volunteering in Swaziland doesn’t necessarily stop with children; there are building projects, food sustainability programs, and even opportunities to work with the elderly too. All of the latter volunteer placements in Swaziland will dually serve children, whether directly or indirectly.
2. The local people are friendly and welcoming.
All countries will have their “negative Nancies” and dodgy people to keep away from, so you should keep your street smarts up when you are traveling anywhere in the world, including Swaziland, and make informed decisions. In general, however, locals in Swaziland are usually happy to integrate foreign faces into their way of life and show volunteers all the authentic places you may not get to see in Swaziland on a planned holiday. The moral of this story is: volunteers have more fun than tourists!
3. The climate is moderate all year round.
There are days when it feels like a desert outside and there are nights when you’ll be shivering under a blanket, but either of these days are usually during the extreme seasons (summer from December to February and winter from June to August). Other than the extremes, there are many days when the sun is high and the breeze is cool, which makes it quite easy for volunteers to adjust to the climate, and provides ideal weather for adventuring during free time.
4. Swaziland is just the right size.
The country is small enough to experience a Savannah setting on one end and tropical setting around a waterfall on the other, all in a few hours. Swaziland has a multitude of terrains and scenery, so from one place to the next it will feel like you’re in a different world each time!
5. Communication & Comforts.
The infrastructure and telecommunications systems are developing fast, so there are very few places in Swaziland where you won’t find cell signal or internet access via your mobile device. On the hottest of summer days, volunteers will be happy to find that most offices and all malls, where there are shops, cafes, and cinemas, are air-conditioned.
6. Cultural immersion is possible (along with comfort).
You’ll be able to easily immerse yourself fully in Swazi culture every day, but you’ll still be able to return to your creature comforts at night while volunteering in Swaziland. Expanding on the last point, most volunteer organizations in Swaziland help volunteers arrange to stay in the accommodation of their choosing, from bed and breakfasts to backpackers’ lodging to home-stays with Swazi families (Hint:The last one is the best option for cultural immersion!).
7. Everyone speaks English.
The vast majority of Swazi people speak English, mostly due to local schools using English as the medium of instruction. Children are taught how to speak English at a young age, to expand their professional opportunities in the future. Volunteers will, therefore, have no problems getting around the country, speaking with public transport operators, or getting what they want at shops or food outlets. The local language is called SiSwati, but it is only far out in rural settings where you may struggle slightly to communicate with locals.
8. The food is delicious!
Swaziland has an eclectic mix of Western and African cuisine, with Asian cuisine on the rise due to a growing Asian population. Whether you’re looking for something simple that reminds you of home or not, there will be quite a few restaurants serving up Western fair, including anything from roasts and barbecued or smoked meats to pizzas, burgers, shakes, and fries. Getting out to local shebeens, or pubs, will offer volunteers a more traditional introduction to the local food. All volunteers must try pap, a maize meal that is like a stodgier version of grits.
However, all that being said, DON’T just go off to any shebeen, girls especially. These local “pubs” are rowdy and can be a little seedy. The best way to venture into this local experience is to ask your volunteer organization in Swaziland for some recommendations, as they can point you toward ones that are safer, but still authentic local spots.
9. Swaziland is safe.
Swaziland, as mentioned previously, has a very peaceful history. There have been no civil wars and no invasions, and in general, locals are a very docile and peaceful people. Volunteers shouldn’t worry too much about things like protesting, striking, or civil unrest during their volunteer work in Swaziland.
10. Age old traditions are still very much alive.
If you come at the right time of year, you’ll get to be a fly on the wall and watch age old traditions and practices take place in the form of the Reed Dance and Incwala ceremonies. These are practiced every year and are deeply ingrained in the Swazi culture. This is not just for show for tourists, these traditions are the real deal!
So there you have it. Remember that wherever you volunteer in Swaziland (or anywhere in the world), you should always be on your guard and do a bit of research into your location. Always, always travel responsibly, and CHOOSE Swaziland for your volunteer abroad adventure.
This article was contributed by All Out Africa, a responsible travel company founded in 2004. Based out of a head office in Ezulwini, Swaziland, All Out Africa’s foundation, which offers volunteer opportunities in Swaziland, South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana, is dedicated to giving back through research, wildlife conservation, and programs for vulnerable children.