Totally landlocked, lying in the northwest corner of south Africa, Swaziland is often overlooked as A gap year destination due to its miniscule size of only 200 kilometres across compared to its much larger neighbouring countries, South Africa and Mozambique. But after my experiences there I would definitely recommend it to anybody interested in doing a gap year themselves. The first language is the Bantu language of SiSwati but English is also widely spoken throughout the country so there was no need to struggle trying to translate too much. The project is located in the Ezulwini valley of central Swaziland.
This is the cultural heart of Swaziland and is where most of the tourist activities are based. Being such a small country meant anything I wanted to see was in a viable traveling distance. The project I decided to go on was helping to teach English and Maths to orphaned children. There is an estimated 200,000 orphans in the kingdom so it is something they desperately need. Other than just teaching, English and maths in schools, I was also spending time with the children out of school hours just hanging out, playing football and giving them a sense of a role model and somebody they could look up to.
It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever had the pleasure of doing; you can definitely tell you are making a considerable difference in their lives. Other than spending time with the children, there was a lot to do in such a small country; the most memorable was attending the Uhmlanga reed dance. The Uhmlanga ceremony is based on a tradition ceremony where young girls cut reeds and present them to the Queen mother to repair her wind break around the palace. Although it lasts for 8 days, the ceremony is only open to the general public for the last 2 days of the ceremony.
It mainly consists of dancing an every friendly vibes. It was one of the most cultural experiences I’ve ever had and if possible will be attending again next year! The reserve is home to some of the rarest species left on earth including black and white rhinos and elephants. It is also home to Swaziland’s own indigenous breed of cattle, the Swazi Nguni cattle which has been saved from extinction. You could go to the game reserve as a day trip but we decided to stay overnight to see as much of it as we could.
All of the rangers at the reserve were very clued up and you definitely tell they had a major passion for their job and that the animals were cared for spectacularly. After visiting Swaziland and returning back to the UK my life has changed drastically, I have really learnt to appreciate the things in life and not take things for granted. I can honestly say it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had and probably will ever have and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody thinking of taking a gap year to travel.