Gary’s Bulembu Journey
Here on his fourth tour since 2008, Gary Todoroff is again providing two months of photography and graphics training for the Connect Department in Bulembu. As a volunteer with Overseas Resource Link based in Eureka, California, he also has helped with setting up a hydroponics system donated by American Hydroponics, and is working with Eureka Rotary Club on a grant proposal with Mbabane Rotary (in Swaziland’s capital) for a commercial hydroponics system.
Gary enjoys talking about experiences in Bulembu, especially to people who have the freedom to spend time as a volunteer here. “And if they can’t come, they can certainly pray,” he adds, noting how important the foundation of Bulembu is, the Rock Himself, Jesus Christ. “Underlying all that happens here is a deep love for God and His children, especially the over 300 babies and kids here with no family of their own.”
Being semi-retired has allowed Gary an almost annual visit here, which he encourages people in similar situations to do. “I recently read about an organization called Halftime. Their motto, ‘From success to significance’ guides retired people towards missions work. It turns out that was what I was doing here already.” Most people who stay for either short-term or long-term missions in Bulembu do so on their own or perhaps with a church or other organization. With a total of eight months in Bulembu, Gary admits that he feels qualified now to call his mission “mid-term.” Information on volunteering for whatever length of time can be found at www.bulembu.org or you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary says his photographs speak best for what he loves about Bulembu, so here are some of those photos along with captions in his own words.
School Sports Day brings out the spectators and umbrellas on a sunny day in Bulembu. Along with a wide variety of photographic assignments here, getting to photograph so many happy children over the years has always been a joyful time.
The town’s hospital, abandoned along with the mine, was simply locked up and left after the doctors’ last surgery. Used for storage shown here in 2008, five years later the hospital has been converted to a clean and modern clinic that serves Bulembu and the surrounding region.
With generous donations and a lot of hard work, the Bulembu Clinic is ready to treat patients from the community, dispensing medicines and non-surgery health care.
Half way up Emlembe, Swaziland’s tallest mountain, the view takes in all of Bulembu. Hiking with a group up the steep slopes, the extra weight of cameras is more than compensated by the excuse they give me to pause for a photograph, when I mostly need to catch my breath.
In 2009, I accompanied Vernon Puttkammer and a Swazi government social worker to fetch four orphaned boys from areas within an hour’s drive. When I see them around town now, bigger and taller, I’m reminded of their special day four years ago, being taken in by Bulembu with me along for the ride feeling a little like a midwife.
What is more exciting to first graders than new school supplies, especially your very own ruler? One thing too big to measure is the quality of care I see all over Bulembu to raise these children who have no other family.
Beautiful landscapes abound around Bulembu. And you don’t have to go far; this view is from my front porch.
Honey is one of Bulembu’s enterprises, with profits going towards orphan care. I’ve donned the beekeeper suits twice now, braving the wrath of a thousand disturbed bees to document a unique job that helps support the town with some of the best-tasting honey around. I’m always grateful to Joel (right) and his crew for sealing my suit up tight!
There’s never a dull moment in the Bulembu Baby Home, a favourite tour for visitors and volunteers.
Church is an important and cheerful part of the Bulembu Community. Back in 2008 this small room (now remodeled into the Hospitality Training Center) could hold everyone. The newly renovated Community Center now seats 300 or more. However, the established tradition still exists – on my first Sunday in town, the pastor introduces me as the town’s photographer, I snap a quick photo of the congregation, and from that moment, people are disappointed if I *don’t* take their picture!
Musical Chairs is a game apparently played around the world. I didn’t join in this game, but getting down to the children’s level in the Pre-Primary school certainly gives my knees a workout.
Kurt Puttkammer instructs the Young Farmers class in hydroponics agriculture at the new greenhouse next to the high school. American Hydroponics, near my hometown of Eureka, California, donated the system whose newest crop will train a future crop of farmers for Swaziland.
Dudu is one of about 45 Aunties in the Bulembu Baby Home who tend 53 children, ages newborn to four. For a photographer, you don’t get a more “target-rich” opportunity for capturing some sweet moments. Without further comment, here are a few.
At the toddler age, children are assigned to homes with two Aunties. Usually there are six or seven kids in each home.
Taking group photos of each toddler home gives me opportunity to capture some happy moments with the children at play, who pause just long enough for a photo.
Photography seems to gets me into some unique situations, like the middle of the Bulembu Sawmill. These hardworking guys are hopefully attending to a small concern for my safety, while I keep one eye in the viewfinder and the other on the organized mayhem around me. The sawmill is one of the major economic contributors to Bulembu’s vision to be a self-sustaining community.
Don’t you love a song with gusto? These students at the Primary School join right in to begin their school day with an energetic chorus.
The Bakery is a favourite Bulembu hang-out, with fresh bread, pastries and full cream milk right from the dairy. I only indulge in a fresh donut if I’m walking back home up the steep hill that works off a few of the calories.
One of my favorite jobs is taking the profile photos that are sent to sponsors who support orphan-care for Bulembu. I get to meet every child and capture a bit of their hearts to encourage people far away who care for them.
Volunteer teams come year-round to help out in Bulembu. The G&J Parking Company in Edmonton, Canada has sent people for five years for some hard work around town, in this case, installing playground equipment at the schools and park.
Was the twenty minutes it took to set up this group photo worth it? At the Pre-Primary school, I feel more like a sheepherder than a photographer. Then I come back the next year and see the same kids growing up, with some of them even remembering me. Yes, it is definitely worth it.
On my computer laptop, a folder called “Townscapes” holds the photos found while simply walking around Bulembu. The Jacaranda and Australian Flame trees just below The Bulembu Country Lodge bloom in striking contrast in October, spring time here in the Southern Hemisphere.
Natural springs in the hills above Bulembu provide pure drinking water for the Bottling Plant. On shopping trips into Swaziland’s bigger towns, I am always delighted to see the Bulembu brand on supermarket shelves.
Nondomiso teaches Form Three (USA high school sophomores) at the Bulembu Christian Academy.
Architecture photography has always been one of my favorite endeavors, especially to capture that brief moment when indoor and outdoor light balance and seem to reveal a bit of the personality of a building. The Bulembu Country Lodge needed an update for its tourist brochure.
On another Bulembu “walk-about”, this Acacia tree made a fine frame for the northern hillside part of town called Dvudusi.
House Aunties in the Dvudusi homes are hired through careful interviews for the job, and then they are trained and assigned to a family of six children.
On a walk through the neighboring village of Malanda, our tour-guide introduced us to friends and family, including Ellen, who praised God out loud and welcomed us with open arms.
Jessica greets her school teacher at Sunday morning church.
On another Bulembu walk-about, the gum trees near the Community Centre made the perfect frame for people heading home in the quiet of early evening. I often encourage people to volunteer here; when they do, work hard I say, but be sure to stay long enough to also hear the whisper of Bulembu.
Westerly storms seem to funnel right up the South African valleys directly into Bulembu. Sometimes the thunder is one long, continuous roar with flashes going off like angelic paparazzi.
Sport photography is not one of my specialties, but I enjoy the action here in Bulembu. The local clubs take soccer very seriously, along with the crowds who show up on a weekend to cheer on their favorite team.
When you don’t have far to fall, there’s nothing like a friendly wrestle on the school lawn. I was also flat on the grass for this shot, but stayed safely away from the combat.
The Bulembu Connect Department co-ordinates communications, graphics, publications, and volunteer individuals and teams. They are responsible for all the Blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook postings, and the Bulembu Beat Newsletter. And, amazingly, the Connect Department and I are the ones who get to document and report on what happens in Bulembu with the unique and privileged position of getting to see it all!
By Gary Todoroff and Bianca Puttkammer
Photographers often express interest in the kinds of equipment used to capture images. For Bulembu, I have used the following cameras. An Olympus C-8080 helped me make the transition from digital to film in 2005 and was my backup camera for an Olympus E-330 DSLR on my first trip to Bulembu in 2008. The next year I brought two E-330’s, one of which became the backup camera to my Canon 5d MarkII in 2011. This year the same Canon with 24-70mm lens and a Leica M9 make up the kit. I use Leica M lenses that were slowly acquired since my first Leica M2 in the 1960’s, plus some Leica R lenses that adapt very nicely to the Canon DSLR. Some of the history of the cameras is recorded on a web page at