About 5 years ago, I was invited to partner up with a charity in Swaziland called SKRUM so I could send them out volunteer rugby coaches through my organization Volunteer Vacations. The ﬁrst thing I did was look at my globe as I had never heard of Swaziland. I found it surrounded by South Africa on three sides and Mozambique on the fourth.
A visit was called for and I persuaded a friend, Sharon Oliver, to join me as she was going to be in South Africa just before I arrived. I ﬂew to Johannesburg and then met Sharon at the airport and we took a 1 hour ﬂight into Swaziland.
We were worried about just what we would do for a week as there was little in the way of information available in guides or on the internet at that time. We stayed in some accommodation just opposite the SKRUM headquarters and spent a lot of time beneﬁtting from that good old African hospitality having drinks on the veranda and meals with the founders, Michael and Linda Collinson, ﬁnding out about the charity and how the volunteers would ﬁt it.
“Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDs ﬁgures in the world”
some 42% of the population are infected and the average life expectancy is just 32 years. Michael, a Yorkshire man who has lived in Southern Africa for several decades and a highly qualiﬁed rugby coach himself, had been in business when he had a car accident some 12 years ago resulting from a bull walking out onto a dark road at night and landing on the car.
He ended up in a wheelchair and to cut a long story short decided to make a life changing decision creating a charity to combine his passion for rugby with educating the people of Swaziland about HIV/AIDs and SKRUM was born!
We accompanied the 2 Swazi coaches out visiting schools and communities so got to see a bit of the country often taking dirt roads. It’s beautiful, green and mountainous - about the size of Wales and has so much to offer.
“A Kingdom run by a king with 60 wives”
he chooses a new one in the Dance of the Reeds every year, there doesn’t appear to be that racial tension you get in neighboring South Africa.
We would arrive at a grassy ﬁeld with nobody in sight. The coaches would start to unload their equipment - balls, cones, etc and gradually children would run over from a school in the distance clearly looking out for us.
Often dressed in their school uniforms, they would play tag rugby barefoot not wanting to dirty or damage their precious school shoes. Girls loved the rugby just as much as the boys.
Whilst playing, the kids would chant
““Pass the Ball, not the Virus””
and at the end would have a classroom session on HIV/AIDs education with leaﬂets handed out to take home.
At the end of the session, the coaches would give out donated rugby kit and the smile on the kids' faces showed just how excited they were to have some real kit even if it was second hand. With at least 650 schools in the program, Swaziland now is rugby crazy and beneﬁting from all the usual health improvements that sport brings but also the children are being taught how to stay safe and avoid catching the dreaded virus. I always like to do some leisure activities when sussing out a new project, so I can recommend them to the volunteers for their spare time which often involves pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
So we rode the zip wire across canyons in one park (terrifying!), did white water rafting (am I completely mad? I was 52 at the time), rode horses around another park and realized there was much more we could have done - visited more parks, done 2 day walks, done quad biking, cycling, visited caves….Bradt have now brought out their own guide speciﬁcally on Swaziland and the Swaziland Tourist Board are working hard to promote the country as a travel destination as it has all the necessary ingredients for a successful travel destination.
I have been sending volunteers ever since and they all have a great time, sometimes returning the year after and recommending the project to their siblings and friends. However, none of them have ever done the zip wire or white water rafting!
If you would like to visit SKRUM, they welcome all volunteers - maybe you would like to accompany the coaches and made a video which would be used for publicity or take photos.
You could help with the classroom presentations, taking the girls off separately so that they open up and ask questions, teach English, coach netball, help paint the charity’s logo onto the outside of schools….Just accompanying the coaches, you will get to see the country off the beaten track and get to know the people and all their problems. For more information drop me a message.