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Wednesday, 2 February 2011


I don’t often discuss personal blogs that are written by people who are just passing through Swaziland, or who are here on some volunteering / missionary work, but this one might strike a chord with readers.

It is written by Katie Grace, a volunteer with the United States Peace Corps, who came to Swaziland to work in AIDs/HIV education, near Mbabane. She signed up for two years and is giving up after eight months. Here, she explains why.

I know that Katie has received some unkind responses to her original blog post. I am reproducing some of what she says here because I think readers will find what she says interesting. I give it without comment.

Through the looking glass and what Katie found there


... as a volunteer here in Swaziland I feel as if I’m nothing more than an enabler. Being here sends a message to the country and community that it is ok to not work to fix things because a volunteer, foreign aid or an NGO will come in and do it for us. Not only that, all motivation to make things better by and for the people is removed, because if things improve, then aid will no longer be readily available. I say this with reference to what has recently been reported by the IMF about the economic status of Swaziland and other countries like it.

The dependency of this country on NGO activity, foreign aid and volunteers from all over the world is deeply disturbing and sickening. I’ve spent time teaching in the schools, the overall mentality of the school staff is, don’t worry about showing up, the volunteers will.

Same with respect to teaching within the community and income generating projects, don’t worry about it, World Food Program will come give us food, Action Against Hunger will fund our gardens, NERCHA will take care of creating clinics, World Vision will take care of our kids…

And of course there is always Peace Corps to build those other proverbial bridges we need. What this country really needs is a giant push out of momma birds nest, sorry to mix metaphors, but it’s time to learn to sink or swim. It breaks my heart to come to these conclusions, as a self proclaimed bleeding heart liberal, I want to bring what I can to provide for everyone and take care of everyone in the world, maybe I’m old enough now that my maternal instinct is kicking in and I can finally see coddling and pandering is not the best way to do this, time to fly baby Swazi birdy.

Aside from my issues with Peace Corps (PC) mission, I also have issues with Swazi culture itself. I have whined and complained for months about the sexual harassment I face here on a daily basis. There are some days the emotional toll is so heavy, I don’t even want to leave my hut for fear of being cat called at or grabbed. PC staff has tried to work with me on this issue, but the solutions have been thin… How much can a safety and security officer in Mbabane actually do about me getting my ass grabbed by an anonymous person in the bus rink in Manzini? Or boys who catcall in my community?

In an earlier blog post, Katie wrote.

So sick of swazi male culture. this is not a game, marriage and love proposals are not funny, sexual harassment is not a joke, it’s dehumanizing and degrading.

I am not your baby, my name is not ‘mlungu’, or ‘wena’

I am not going to love/marry/fuck/date/pay attention to another god damn word a swazi male says.

I am not going to bow down to you/do your wash/serve you your food/ or kneel in your presence. I am not less than you, I am not less of a women for having an education, I am no less feminine because I have a desire to have a career, I will not tolerate the way you treat me or any other female…. I’m so fucking fed up with the men in this culture and the way women just accept that there could not possibly be any other way of life.

Another post

I hate getting groped by gross swazi men, getting sexually assaulted and harassed daily, I hate the needy hand out mentality that organizations working here have instilled upon the people of this country, I hate waiting for meetings to start then finding out the people I’m supposed to be serving as so god damn apathetic they don’t feel the need to show, I’m terrified of the scorpions and snakes, and there is no reason for me to be here at all…

This place needs behavior change, not education… 70 volunteers in country and all we can do is teach what they already know but won’t practice, build relationships with the dying only to watch them die and live in fear of getting raped or mugged. (Several volunteers have been brutally attacked and mugged, one while walking though his own community, a couple of volunteers have had their huts broken into, two good friends of mine were robbed at gunpoint…)

Why am I here trying to help those who don’t want the help, who don’t even want us here at all? I’m reaching my wits end… This country needs motivated nationals, not outsiders coming in.

You can read the full blog here.


Anonymous said...

According to the US Embassy, Swaziland's Peace Corps program has one of the highest drop out rates in th world and volunteers show the same emotional and psychological signs as volunteers from post-conflict and confict prone countries.

I agree with everyone Katie says and I myself, would rather be living in a post-conflict country where the people at least have somewhat of an excuse for their disgusting behavior and greed of the elite.

The only way I can make sense of this place is to assume that the ten commandments have not yet reached Swaziland. The amount of aid and NGO money, combined with a low population could be used to uplift the lives of every Swazi citizen. It angers me to see that the elite just do not care.

Anonymous said...

Katie you have my admiration for trying to improve the situation in Swaziland, however I would question the wisdom of those who placed you there.
As an experienced palliative care sister I was involved with a UK Charity in a project in Swaziland - developing the hospice services.
I was able to access a considerable amount of funding from a foreign charitable fund to train Hospice carers to work as volunteers in their communities. After starting the programme it was "discovered" that the funding had vanished. Transfered from a bank in South Africa it had apparently been "highjacked" en route to the Hospice bank account and ended up elsewhere. I say no more other than there was complete apathy, on the part of those individuals running the organisation, when it came to the investigation. I wonder why?
Sadly it the obscene greed of the few in Swaziland that deserve our contempt, and God willing, they will have to answer for their behaviour one day soon.

The vast majority of the ordinary Swazi people I met were completely down-trodden. In a busy clinic the patients would sit for hours with heads bowed and in total silence. I have worked in other African countries and have never witnessed a more broken spirited people

Well done Richard Rooney for publishing your blog