Rachel and I are bereft. Our volunteers have buggered off to Joburg (or home, in James’ case) and left us all alone to suffocate amidst a mountain of evaluation meetings, report writing and goodbyes. How are we going to make it through this final week without the familiar refrain of James muttering ‘oh bloody hell’ every ten minutes, or April getting at least eight times louder after half a Savannah and berating us all for laughing? What will we do without Billy to amuse us by reacting with unbelievable awkwardness to any camera pointed in his direction, and without Tabi to come out with daft comments like ‘You can’t get malaria just in a weekend, though’?

But I guess this is part of what we signed up for, so we’ll plough onwards.

This week has been tough, I don’t mind saying. It’s been a bit of a slog having so many boxes to get ticked and only limited time for seeing the volunteers and chatting to them about normal things and not project outcomes. That said, it has also been incredibly gratifying doing focus groups and getting back evaluation questionnaires which have had such incredibly positive outcomes. I guess it’s just nice to have a confirmation that the work the volunteers have done over the past eight weeks has been worth it. They’ve done such a great job and worked so hard, and I know that it’s been really tough at times, but hopefully they’ll be going home feeling like they’ve achieved something this summer – because they really have.

As it’s been the last few days in school, this week has been all about getting things wrapped up. The volunteers have all been given some presents by the schools they’ve worked in (a beaded tie, a flare shirt, some handmade skirts), but nobody’s presents have beaten ours: bright orange, mid-calf length, silk frill-trimmed dresses; vogue a la 70s dinner lady. Not my style – but at the same time, so so sweet of them to get us anything at all. They’re tailor-made and everything. Siyakhula primary also threw us a goodbye function, at which speeches were made and performances given – it was bloody brilliant! Some learners from Grade 3 sang some songs and made an adorable if slightly strange speech, thanking us for working in the school but also throwing in phrases like ‘Down with xenophobia, down!’ Very odd coming from the mouth of an eight-year old. We were also treated to some ‘unprepared readings’ (kids literally reading paragraphs from a randomly selected page in a book) and some drama (which was brill).  Altogether a very nice send-off considering how little time we actually spent working in the school; we massively appreciate how welcoming they were to us.

We’ve also spent time this week doing some focus groups with the learners and the teachers who worked with the volunteers, which have been in equal part interesting and hilarious. The learners’ responses to some of the questions have just been pure gold, making our excessively busy week a lot more enjoyable. The best answers came in response to the question ‘what have you learnt from the volunteers?’ Apparently they have learnt to be ‘truthful and faithful’, ‘to love each other’, and to ‘be humble’. Sometimes I think the kids we spoke to were just a bit too young to grasp quite what we wanted to do. One Grade 4 learner gave the same answer to every question – I think James had obviously done a very memorable session in Life Skills.

“What did the volunteer do in your school?”
He drew a guitar.
“What did you like about the volunteer?”
Ummm he drew a guitar.
“What could the volunteer do better?”
He could MAKE a guitar!!!
“What have you learnt from the volunteer?”
How to draw a guitar.

It was very hard to keep a straight face.

So Friday came very fast – too fast – and before we knew it we were at Clara’s attending the goodbye party that she’d very kindly put together for the volunteers. Rachel and I weren’t aware that she was going to invite the whole neighbourhood (almost), so we were a bit late in getting there, but soon enough we were dressed up from Clara’s vast collection of traditional garments and clapping our hands and dancing with the rest of them. After all the songs had been exhausted we were all treated to a traditional feast, which included spinach made in three different ways, chicken feet (cold), and cow heels. Yum yum.

It was so lovely of her to put all of it together, and Netto made a very grand speech thanking her and Lindiwe for hosting volunteers and welcoming us, probably in anticipation of the fact that being British, we are crap at making speeches with appropriate gravity and scope (I can just about stretch to ‘Ta very much, it’s been lovely). Before we knew it the boys had to head home with Lindiwe, and that was the last time we were going to see them – it was a bit beyond belief that that was it. Rachel and I stayed around chatting for a little while, trying to put off the moment that we would have to say goodbye to the girls as well, but eventually it came.

And that was it – now they’re gone! And we’ve got a whole week ahead of us where we don’t have to think about anyone but ourselves (OK and all the partners we’ll be meeting, placement heads we’re saying goodbye to, UK project team with a big to do list for us to get completed, etc etc)!

I’m getting sad myself now. I keep getting hit with big waves of premature nostalgia for all the people we’ve met and the things that we’ve done since we’ve been here. I’m going to miss this project so much and it’s going to be hard to see it go. It’ll be tough next year keeping out of it when I know all I’ll want to do is get back here and finish all the things that we’ve started. But I won’t be leaving Tenteleni – I’ve now been given the role of UK Communications Officer, so I’ll still be a part of it all. So I’m sad, but also excited, and the next year will be interesting and challenging enough for me to shelve my memories of this place and concentrate on what more there is to be done.