My name is Siyethemba Dlamini, class of 2021. I am a Political Science and Sociology double major. I just completed my internship at Phumelela Project, a non-government organization in The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland). My intention this summer was to work in the NGO sector; I saw this as my way of giving back. Therefore, I specifically looked for organizations that assisted young people in eSwatini, and Phumelela Project was one of the organizations that I chose to apply to. Phumelela Project stood out to me because it is the only organization in the country working to assist young people in conflict with the law and/or dealing with drug and substance abuse and gender based violence victims and/or perpetrators. I was very excited when they said they would be happy to have me work with them over the summer considering the fact that it is a relatively new organization.
As mentioned above, Phumelela Project is a new organization; it was established in 2016. The organization works on three different care tracks: youth in conflict with the law, gender based violence, and drug and substance abuse. Currently, the project empowers both young people who have and have not been institutionalized (care facilities or otherwise). Although the organization tries to offer the same wholesome care to each of their clients, the care strongly depends on the individual and their specific needs. Many of the young people who are supported by the organization come from disturbed and violent families. Some were abandoned at a very young age resulting to them being raised in homeless shelters or living in the streets. As a result, they are struggling to adapt to ‘normal’ life. The organization therefore, provides a vital platform to nurture those that are often forgotten through education, counselling and various life skills.
A lot of my duties required me step out of my comfort zone and do things I would have never imagined myself doing. One of these things was visiting some of our clients in prison. Prison visits were an enormous challenge for me because I had never stepped foot inside prison walls before. Our prison visits involved bringing our clients toiletries and other necessities; such as warm clothing, and giving them emotional support. Our clients looked forward to our monthly visits because for most of them, we were the only people who took the time to visit them and find out about their wellbeing.
Subsequently, my internship at Phumelela Project came with a lot of emotional growth and a broader view on life. In addition to helping our clients in prison, we also helped them reintegrate back into society once they are released from Prison. On one occasion I was tasked with accompanying one of my supervisors to meet with one of our client’s family and prepare them for his release from prison. His family was very welcoming and seemed eager to have him back home. Furthermore, I felt a huge sense of achievement when I saw some our clients enthusiastically try to turn their life around. Someone who has showed a change in character was a guy known as Bhekisisa. He came out of prison a while before I started my internship and I along with the Phumelela team helped him start his own shoe repair business, using the skills he had acquired in prison. He continues to come for his counselling sessions with Phumelela and is very eager to turn his life around. Such moments of victory made this whole experience fulfilling.
Some of my other duties apart from family visits and prison visits involved leading the weekly team meetings and writing reports, updating the organization’s social media platforms; meeting with beneficiaries and their families, plus assisting in the development of the organization’s marketing strategy. Each day –and week, came with new tasks and opportunities of engagement.
Although there were a number of triumphant moments, my internship taught me a lot about working in the NGO sector. NGOs have played a vital role in helping underprivileged individuals in The Kingdom of eSwatini, and in ensuring that the government does not infringe upon the rights of its citizens. The latter has been an extremely difficult thing to do since the King of eSwatini rules with absolute power. Therefore navigating through the politics of the country is always a difficult task. This, among other things was – and still is, one of the major setbacks that we encountered whilst trying to get our work done. However, working with Phumelela Project has since increased my interest in the role that NGOs have in bring about social change, especially in third world countries.
Furthermore, I was honored to sit and participate in meetings with other partnering human rights organizations in the country as a representative of Phumelela Project. These meetings were led by the Italian organization, COSPE, which works with the UN in ensuring that the member states of the UN uphold their responsibilities to the people they govern. These strategic planning meetings helped me learn a lot about the current policies and various human rights violations of minority groups in civil society. Moreover, being part of these discussions helped me realize and understand the role of civil society in holding their government responsible, and how difficult this is in a country like eSwatini where certain rights and privileges aren’t awarded to the populous; such as freedom of speech or the freedom to criticize the government. Therefore, NGOs, because they are not so heavily reliant on government funding, become our only hope. They are then tasked with doing the work that the citizens cannot do for themselves. In the context of eSwatini, NGOs, with the help of international entities such as the UN, seek to make sure that the Swazi government is held accountable.
Therefore, not only was I able to participate in the daily duties of the organization, I also got to see the politics of my country at play. Moreover, I got to implement some of the things which I have learned in my short time at Skidmore and hope to implement some of the things I learned over the summer into my school work. Lastly, because Phumelela Project is a relatively new and small organization I got to witness and assist in growth of the organization in Swaziland.