Volunteer in the Spotlight: Holly Gautreau
‘In Bulembu everywhere you turn is like a new glimpse of God’s goodness’
Greetings from Bulembu, Kingdom of eSwatini! As you know we often welcome volunteers here in the village and nothing blesses us more than a person who loves God, responds to his call and comes willing to serve in whatever area is needed at the time. Holly Gautreau is one such person and we’re very glad that she’s become a regular! Here are her reflections so far.
Holly, can you tell us about your trips to Bulembu and what you did?
I’ve been three times and every trip has proved to be some of the most rewarding and impacting times of my life. From the moment I stepped on the property in April 2018, I had complete peace that there was absolutely no place I’d rather be. Our team stayed ten days and did painting, sports programs with the kids, and more. I knew without a doubt that I was called to come back and God made a way for me to return six months later in October ’18 for two and a half months. I was placed in the youth and kid’s church and worked on creating a family devotion booklet, running a youth dance team, organizing a youth conference, directing a Christmas play, teaching kids church, etcetera. I got a team from my church in Canada to join me at the end and we would ran a kids camp during their Christmas break. Mornings were for 5-12s, afternoons were 13-15s. They had an awesome time, the kids theme was Jesus, light of the world and youth camp focused on trusting God, looking at Joseph and how God directed his life. I had a Children’s Pastor job lined up at a church in Canada so after camps I left, but with anticipation of returning again someday. When my head pastor allowed two weeks vacation time that was all I needed! Six months later I headed back for my third trip! This time I was again placed with the church and my main goal was to invest in the relationships I had built while also helping out however I could. I helped the youth department plan holiday programs, designed a talent show poster, taught a dance to some youth, and joined in sports programs and clubs. It was a lot of fun and it fulfilled every hope I had in coming!
What are your favourite things about Bulembu?
There are so many! I love the landscape, Bulembu is surrounded by hills and trees that exude beauty from all angles. I asked one of the youth what their favourite thing about Bulembu was and they said the landscape, because the way the mountains encompass the orphanage makes them feel protected. My heart melted and I fully agree, the feeling you get is one of safety and security, everywhere you turn is like a new glimpse of God’s goodness. Another thing is the relationship focus of the culture. People really put people first, no matter how tired or busy they are, they go out of their way to ensure others are valued. I felt so loved, like no matter where I turned there was
someone extending a kind hello or ensuring I was OK. You’re never just a face, you’re someone worth pouring into, always. The people are the most irreplaceable people you will ever meet, the smiles and warm welcomes of the children, youth, and staff of Bulembu are forever situated on my heart. Above all, the people of Bulembu are my very favourite. They are the reasons I’ve returned twice and fully intend to continue. You have to experience it yourself to fully grasp it, but from the warm welcomes and frequent laughs from the lodge staff, to the sassy teasing youth group, everywhere you go there are awesome memories to be made!
Did anything surprise you when you first came?
Hmm, not really, going to Bulembu was my first experience of Africa which I’d pictured being very hot, grass huts and wildlife around. I wasn’t well versed other than what I’d seen on T.V and such. When I came to Bulembu it was A LOT nicer than I’d expected. The elevation makes it decently cool even on the warmest of days. The lodge and volunteer house are pristine! I felt so at home and so cozy, like a nice warm hug haha. I felt like I didn’t deserve the luxury I was receiving. I learned to value the blessing and be thankful to God. The openness of the people was really nice, all the kids and aunties and staff were so quick to welcome me and make me feel like I belonged even though I was coming into their home. I never felt like an outsider or nuisance, just a valued new friend. Bulembu exceeded my expectations in all aspects and I wish everyone could go there to experience the blessing that I received from being there.
What have been your most interesting cultural experiences?
One that took some getting used to initially was the timing of everything, people start their day around 7am so by the time 8:30/9:00pm comes around everyone is heading to bed! In Canada we don’t usually start work until 9:00am and are rarely in bed before 10:30. I remember hearing this was how things worked in Swaziland and thinking that was so weird but once I was there it made sense! My body woke me by 6:30am or so and by 8:30pm I was ready to call it a night. I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the amount of walking I was doing, but I just got right into the swing of things without even trying. Another thing was the agricultural aspect. I remember joining a dance class at the primary school and the teacher announced “We’re going to start but the grade 7’s are going to be late because they’re slaughtering chickens.” I was shocked! I asked a teacher if slaughtering chickens was in the curriculum and she said they raise the chickens, then slaughter them and sell the meat. A representative from the city evaluates the quality of the process and the kids get graded. That makes sense as raising and slaughtering livestock is a part of life in Swaziland, but in Canada you would never hear of kids doing it! Its’s just funny how we’re raised to fit our cultural context and the context I grew up in is very different.
What advice would you give someone coming to volunteer?
Say yes to as many opportunities as you can. I was reading Bob Goff’s “Love Does” right before I came to Bulembu and Bob talked about the value in just saying yes to opportunities (of course use some discretion with that). You may have moments of doubt where you wonder if going is the right thing to do, or once you’re there wondering if you made the right choice, I think those are inevitable, but trust me when I say, saying yes to Bulembu is one of the best possible decisions you could and ever will make. The memories you make last a lifetime and you will grow in ways you didn’t think possible! Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given whether its running a youth group event, exploring a secret waterfall, directing a play, speaking at youth conference, or travelling six hours in a packed van to run a Royal Rangers program and spend the night on a hard wooden floor with no mattress or pillow. All of those and more were some of my yeses, things I’ll never forget and truly feel a better person after having done. Embrace the unknown and the adventure because though its scary to take the leap, its worth every second!
Do you have plans to come back?
Yes I definitely do! I have full intentions of returning for the form 5’s graduation as I’ve built good relationships with that group and would love to support them during that big moment in their lives. I hope to bring a team from my church sometime as I’ve talked so much about Bulembu that several people have told me they would like to go! I have no intentions of ceasing my visits and I’m excited to see how God guides and directs me to go back again
Thank you Holly, we’re so glad to have had you and look forward to next time!
If you’re inspired by Holly’s experiences and would like to consider a visit or know someone who might like to, head over to https://www.bulembu.org/visit- and-serve/ for details on how to apply. For those who would like to support the work of Bulembu from home, it’s possible to give online here at https:// www.bulembu.org/donate/
There are many ways to get involved whether from afar or here on the ground, we’d love to hear from you! Thank you for reading!