The Bulungula Experience
‘It had been a long drive along the South Eastern coastline. The Toyota landcruiser advanced capably to the peak of the hill like the beast that it was. A steady hum reverberated through the vehicle, it seemed to be grunting stoicly from the effort of the incline. The vehicle carried a driver and three passengers, who had all been looking forward to the one thing for the past day and hundreds of kilometres. They found what they were looking for at the top of that hill. A wooden pole was positioned to the left side of where the dusty gravel road became two at the peak of the hill. It bore an announcement they had all been waiting for. ‘Bulungula,’ the sign declared. And in that moment, the whole world seemed to exhale.‘
On the 18th of August, I arrived in Bulungula, Eastern Cape with two other members of our Cape Town team. Having left the mother city the day before, we had driven for almost 20 hours by the time we arrived. We had lost count of the many times we’d shifted restlessly in our seats and been lulled in and out of slumber.
We had been met with the village’s bumpy roads long before we saw the welcome sign declaring that we had in fact arrived in Bulungula. The cheers and salutations from school children along the road seemed to convey that the world shared our joyous relief. We reached our destination, the Bulungula Lodge, after even more kilometres on the long, winding dirt road.
The Bulungula Eco-lodge was a unique experience. The lodge, which welcomes both local and international guests, is well-located and creatively eco-conscious. The eco-lodge is not only an accommodation, it is a social hub for locals who drop in for weekly Friday pizza nights and drumming under the clear evening skies around the bonfire. The lodge boasts an incredible view of and access to a quiet, sandy beach.
Our first visit was to the Bulungula Incubator, a non-profit organization based in Jujurha Preschool in the Elliotdale District. The Bulungula Incubator is our longtime partner in the community. The organization has an established history of work with the local community, district government, municipality, and traditional leadership. They support the networking and coordination with these key stakeholders and support the management of local work contractors. On our visit we not only met with Rejane Woodroffe, Dave Martin (co-founder of the Bulungula Incubator), and Lihle Mbikwana (Vibrant Villages Manager). We also interacted with the adorable preschoolers who looked at us with keen eyes and waved excitedly as they ran to and fro the compost toilets during their lessons. Lihle told us about the programs and medium-term plans for Vibrant Villages. The programs Lihle described were responsive and empowering. You can find our full conversation with Lihle on our Instagram page.
Thereafter, we spoke with Tess Peacock, founder of the Equality Collective. Tess leads a community centered rural law and advocacy organisation committed to the advancement of access to justice. The Equality Collective is dedicated to building the capacity and infrastructure for collective participation, as well as sharing research and learning to create a more just society. The organisation’s advocacy work is focused on empowering the community in the maintenance and grass-roots monitoring of the Mncwasa Water Scheme. Our conversation with Tess was a reminder of the incredible change we stand to effect in the community when we partner with likeminded organisations.
Art for WASH Training
Later, we visited one of our Art for WASH training sessions at the community hall. The training intends to equip local artists with the skills and tools to leverage and potentially monetize their passion for art by using it not simply for its ornamental appeal but its function as a mechanism for behavioural change. It was inspiring to see that both students and trainers dedicated themselves to the 10-day initiative. The result was a succession of vibrant classroom sessions. You can be part of this experience by watching the footage on our Instagram page.
The participants were not only engaging with the content, the were engaging with the cause. The training culminates with the painting of the walls of toilets at a local school in an effort to inspire school children to use WASH facilities. The idea is based on our Universal Languages for Behavioural Change approach. We believe that art, a universal language, can effect the change we want to see in society. Art activities can help to create a place of safety and security where students can learn from one another as they engage with themselves and their environment. We also believe that art activities can foster a sense of community. Our belief was affirmed as we saw the training room vibrate with passion and potential in equal measure.
Our trainers were Sanelisiwe Singaphi, Sivu Tembani, Lauren Fletcher, and Buzwe Zotshe. Tino Goche, our programs coordinator was present to oversee the training. During our time at the training, we heard the inspiring story of Mam’ Nolethile, an elderly woman who is also employed at the Bululgula Lodge. Mam’ Nolethile has an insatiable passion for art. She attended the 2021 capacity training for Walls for WASH and has been involved in the painting of some the walls at the Bulungula Lodge.
When we left for the Eastern Cape we had set out to see our project sites, support our Bulungula team and better understand our operations as well as the local landscape and conditions. What we found instead went beyond those meagre intentions. We found shifted perspectives in our personal and professional lives. Every encounter was a lesson. We embraced a different understanding of leisure, commitment, and making a change. We learned to see the bigger picture out of isolated encounters. As a result, we came to appreciate the impact and spirit of our projects – the very reason we do what we do.
Although the sound of the waves, the warm cocoon of our mud huts and the stunning view of the beach were simply bliss. Our experience was made complete by our communing with the warm and hospitable locals (like uSiya noYamkela who are nurses at a local health point) and moments of solitude on the quiet, green hills of Bulungula, where silence is the constant roar of the ocean.