The Village of Vukuzenzele OCCE Project
“Wake up and do it yourself” is the translation for Vukuzenzele, a village of 162 homes, nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal province of the southwest region of South Africa. Traveling down the Makofu highway, usable during the winter and made impassable with summer rains, one can see the striking differences from relative poverty in the mountains of Appalachia and urban areas such as New York City and absolute poverty in most areas of South Africa. Language is the ethnic marker in South Africa and the people in this area speak ‘Amabhaca’ a combination of isiZulu and isiXhosa, which shows the fusion of two major speaking groups of South Africa. Traditional healers (sangomas and inyangas) are key stakeholders in this area, from whom 80% of the people rely on to help rid demons or treat the common cold. In addition, electricity has not yet been introduced into the village and cow dung is used for fuel. Children Household assets show that of the 200 homes only 15 had pit latrine toilets while other households had no toilet facilities at all, (Community Survey 2007). There are communal springs, which provides water to the residents, and many use water from the nearby river. The main food crops are maize and sugar beans. The residents of Vukuzenzele want to eradicate poverty and disease on their own, but they need help. This is why the 501(c) 3 non-profit, Organization for Cross-Cultural Exchange (OCCE), was developed. Its purpose is to help those who need guidance and financial help through capacity building. OCCE’s mission statement, “Bridging the communication gap between traditional and western ideals through research and cross-cultural exchange,” establishes the philosophy to fully recognize and respect the culture and traditions of the people who need help to reduce poverty and maintain a decent quality of life.” Interviewing traditional healers, providing access to quality treatment for patients and addressing associated poverty issues are the tenets of OCCE. Below are some photos and documents from the people of Vukuzenele:
According to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, civil society should “support efforts to assist in democratic institution building, strengthen communities, promote equitable access to resources and ensure respect of rights and diversity.” Thus, OCCE’s vision meets these specified goals. Approximately 93% of the people in Vukuzenzele live in mud homes and according to Father George the priest at Lourdes Mission the poverty rate in the area is 95% (versus 45% nationally) with unemployment the highest in the nation, (Statistics South Africa 2007). Chronic illness is rampant in many of the households and HIV/AIDS and TB has become an imminent threat.
It gives me an overwhelming feeling to be invited to help address health and poverty issues raging in this rural community. Nosipho Mbanjwa, a resident of the village, Mr. Rogers Mwabe, the traditional leader (induna), and several community members have expressed an interest in becoming involved with this pilot project. The local school, Cetswayo, needs rudimentary items such as pencils, paper, and books. At the pinnacle of their wish list is a library and two computers once electricity is installed in the village. Poverty does not cause AIDS but it has been shown to be one of the factors. The aim of OCCE is to address this devastation and buffer the village of Vukuzenzele. By providing appropriate mechanisms to establish public health projects and build capacity against poverty Vukuzenzele can conquer poverty and provide the standard of life its residents deserve.
Update on the Vukuzenzele Project
In January 2009, OCCE partnered with Kettering University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). We arrived in the village and did an assesment on the water situation.
Brenda Gonzales met with Dave Pool and Donald Smith, agriculturalists and herbalists from White River, Mupumalanga Province, South Africa, to discuss a medicinal garden OCCE project for the women in Vukuzenzele . This income generation project will be a boost in income for the women and traditional healers.
Nosipho Mbanjwa’s Community Based Organization (CBO) Masizakhe Community Development Project (MCDP) has been registered with the South African government. This partnership is part of the sustainability for the village.