Books for Swaziland: A Different Perspective of Life in Swaziland
My name is Sagal Osman. I am a Youth Development volunteer serving in the Kingdom of Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa.
I was born in the horn of East Africa, in Somalia, but I grew up in Seattle, Washington. When I first arrived in Swaziland, Driehaus, the Country Director was frank with me and told me about the challenges I would come across as a black volunteer. He informed me that many Swazis have a narrow definition of Americans; it is widely believe that all Americans are white. I soon found out that this was true. Oftentimes Swazis speak to me in the local tongue with the assumption that I am a Swazi and they appear confused when they find out that I am not fluent in SiSwati. At first, I did not think much of these encounters, but then it became a common occurrence. After what seemed like the hundredth time of telling locals that I am not a Swazi, I became annoyed.
However, my frustration was not so much about mistaken identity, but rather it was about the manner in which the locals approach me. The interactions always seem to be loaded with antagonism. My biggest challenges in Swaziland as a volunteer come from the constant mistreatment of women by men, and this is apparent to me when Swazi men mistake me for a Swazi woman. I am furious with the second-class treatment I receive from the Swazi men. Men treat women with a high level of hostility but no one, including the women, questions it. One incident in particular stands out in my mind. I was heading to town with a white female volunteer. Two seats were available next to the driver of the khumbi, a public transport van for approximately 15 passengers. The khumbi conductor allowed my friend to sit in the front but insisted I sit in the back, where there were not actually any free seats. I did not respond to conductor’s command but instead I jumped in the seat next to my friend. The conductor yelled at me in SiSwati but I yelled back, “I am paying for a seat” and then I shut the door behind me.
At first, it was quite frustrating, constantly battling racism and sexism but now I see it as an opportunity to address it. It is exhausting to constantly defend yourself and try to make others acknowledge their bigotry. However, through engaging in conversations with Swazis who have mistreated me, I have learned that the discrimination I face is often not deliberate. It is draining but it is essential that I continue to engage in dialogue with those who discriminate against me and make them aware of their actions. Furthermore, it is important to demonstrate to Swazi women that there has been an injustice and that they have the power to address it.
Although I have had some negative experiences in Swaziland, I have also had great times as well. Currently, I live with a host family in a traditional homestead and they are some of the most genuine people I have ever met. The Magagula family has opened their home to me and I am appreciative of their exceptional hospitality. The family is very protective of me and treats me like one of their own.
Currently I am working on two projects that may seem to be unrelated on the surface, but actually can be implemented simultaneously to develop literacy and empower youth. My primary project is working with schools in my community. I teach life skills classes addressing topics such as hygiene, HIV/AIDs, gender roles, self-esteem, decision-making, healthy relationships, and nutrition. The classes are designed to help students build critical thinking skills, which they can use to make more informed decisions about their daily lives.
My secondary project seeks to establish a library for a local school in my community with the help of teachers from the school. English is a failing subject in Swaziland, which means a student can only proceed to the next grade upon successfully passing English class. However, the schools in Swaziland employ an education curriculum that mainly focuses on memorization with little consideration for comprehension. The teachers say something, then the students repeat it; that is how the lessons are conducted. But literacy does not come from memorization. The first phase of the library project is to make books accessible to students in my community. The second phase to ensure the utilization of the books and I am working with teachers to design lesson plans that incorporate books from the library. With the availability of books, students will be able to select a book from the library, and at the beginning of each week, share something they have read with their fellow classmates. Implementing activities like book reports are a way to get students involved in their own learning, which is what fosters critical thinking. Furthermore, critical thinking leads to behavior change in areas like gender empowerment. Therefore, the library project, in conjunction with life skills lessons will not only help with literacy improvement, but will also empower students to develop the skills needed to think for themselves.
My community and I are grateful for the support we have received from Little Black Village. The library project will not only establish a library for the children in my community but also for twenty-nine other communities across Swaziland. I believe the best approach to development is one that allows the beneficiaries to build the skills needed to address their own challenges. Education is the best armor for poverty. Thank you for supporting Books for Swaziland project!
.*If you are interested in supporting the library by making a modest donation you can do so on the Peace Corps official website at Books for Swaziland