Rebirth of an abandoned town inspires growth in Swaziland

Children of Bulembu, Photo Credit: Bulembu International.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world. As a result, the country is experiencing a country-wide orphan crisis. With negative population growth and the current death rate, Swazi people will cease to exist by 2050.

In an effort to transform Swaziland, a Vancouver entrepreneur purchased a town called Bulembu, which was abandoned in 2001 after a mining company closed its doors. Thousands of people were left unemployed and the population dwindled from 10,000 to 100 in a few years.

Bulembu, Photo Credit: Bulembu International.

The Canadian Tenors spending quality time with the Bulembu children, Photo Credit: Bulembu International.

Renovation of the vocational training and conference centre made possible by a Canadian government contribution, Photo Credit: Bulembu International.

Children of Bulembu, Photo Credit: Bulembu International.

The Bulembu Foundation was created with a vision to convert the old mining town into a vibrant, self-sustaining community, and to care for two thousand orphans within that community.

The Voices of Bulembu campaign raises awareness and money for the transformation of the town. In this year’s campaign, Bulembu produced three events, including the capstone event – a sold-out benefit concert featuring The Canadian Tenors. Over 1,000 guests attended, raising more than $945,000 for the transformational work taking place in Bulembu.

Canada, through private Canadian donors and foundations, has been associated with Bulembu since 2006. This year, the Government of Canada made a contribution of $480,000 towards the renovation of a building into a vocational training and conference centre.

The centre will be used to provide students with the skills needed in the hotel and tourism industries, including kitchen, housekeeping, reception, and guest services. Students are also provided with internships to gain both academic and hands-on experience in order to improve their chances of gaining employment.

Four years in, and with $9 million already raised from donors, Bulembu is home to 2,000 people – including 270 orphans – and boasts 550 jobs at a sawmill, a tourist lodge, a bakery and other businesses. The golf course is now pastureland for dairy cows. Annual revenues are $3 million, with a $250,000 profit. All the money made is pumped back into Bulembu.

Bulembu International has an ambitious goal to support the ongoing care of 2,000 orphaned and vulnerable children by 2020. The organization is committed to providing holistic care for each child in a home, rather than in a large institutional orphanage.

Care will be provided for up to five children in each of the refurbished homes. These new families will be the thread that restores the social fabric of a nation on the verge of collapse due to the AIDS pandemic. 

“I strongly believe that Swaziland is a fatherless nation,” Zwele, Bulembu Ministries Swaziland’s legendary van driver says emphatically. “Many children grow up without the love of their fathers.

Some of them know who their fathers are, but they miss their love entirely.” Zwele has a large vision for the next ten years. “This decade we need more people to step up and be good fathers to their children,” he says. “A strong nation comes from strong families.”

Bulembu International is a Canadian charity based in Vancouver, British Columbia that implements programs through Swaziland to increase work opportunities for young women and men in the Bulembu community.