Volunteering in eSwatini
Discover volunteering opportunities in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) a land-locked kingdom wedged between South Africa and Mozambique.
A spectacular safari destination that is rich in traditional local culture, eSwatini offers volunteers a unique experience and the chance to make a meaningful difference.
eSwatini, officially the Kingdom of eSwatini and formerly (and still commonly known) as Swaziland, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. It is bordered by Mozambique to its northeast and South Africa to its north, west, and south.
eSwatini is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and one of the few remaining in the world. This form of government gives the head of state supreme authority that supersedes all written laws, legislature or customs.
The current king is Mswati III, who ascended to the throne in 1986 after the death of his father King Sobhuza II. By tradition, the king reigns along with his mother who is known as the Indlovukazi (she-elephant) while the King is referred to as Ingwenyama (lion).
eSwatini has close economic links to South Africa, which it depends on for about 85% of its imports and about 60% of exports. eSwatini is a member of the Common Monetary Area (CMA), with Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa. Under the CMA, the eSwatini lilangeni (the domestic currency) is pegged at par to the South African rand, which is also an alternative legal tender in the country.
Poverty has persisted despite the country’s lower-middle-income status. Nationally, 59% of Swazis lived below the national poverty line in 2017. Challenges to poverty reduction include slowing economic growth, adverse weather patterns, the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, high unemployment, and high inequality.
eSwatini is home to the world’s oldest mine. Ngwenya Mine, in the north of the Kingdom, has iron ore deposits that link to one of the oldest geological formations in the world. Sibebe Rock, which is located on the outskirts of Mbabane is the world’s second largest monolith, after Uluru.
Australian volunteers in eSwatini
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in eSwatini to achieve their development goals since 1988.
Volunteering opportunities in eSwatini support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Gender equality and women’s empowerment
- Reducing violence against women and girls
- Education (including science)
- Working with people with disabilities
- Human rights (including for LGBTQI+)
- Environmental management
- Strengthening institutions that promote stability, democracy and the rule of law
An Australian volunteer is helping break down stereotypes in eSwatini by introducing the country to wheelchair basketball.
Find out more
Life as a volunteer in eSwatini
Culture and religion
Many partner organisations are is based in Mbabane (the capital) and Manzini. Life in the cities is a blend of traditional and western cultures, with shops and markets that offer different types of goods, as well as some modern hotels and restaurants.
eSwatini is religious and culturally conservative. The population is predominately ethnic Swazis. The national language is siSwati, although much of the population speak fluent English. eSwatini is known for its excellent crafts and is home to several craft markets and shopping attractions as well as internationally recognised festivals.
Dress can be conservative and traditional. It is recommended that volunteers wear relatively conservative clothing and when travelling outside cities, and in rural areas women should wear long skirts in respect of local traditions.
The two main cultural events are the Incwala in December and the Umhlanga in August. The six-day Incwala is sometimes described as a first-fruits ceremony, and is a complex ritual of renewing and strengthening kingship and the nation, with songs and dances used only on this occasion. The Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, lasts for five days and brings together unmarried girls and young women to cut reeds for annual repairs to windbreaks of the queen mother’s village. Both events are held at the national capital of the queen mother.
The climate of eSwatini varies from tropical to near-temperate. Rain falls mostly during the summer months, often in the form of thunderstorms. Winter is the dry season.
Volunteers will need to buy a mobile SIM card and independently subscribe to an internet provider in eSwatini to use at their place of residence. There are a number of mobile and internet providers that offer adequate internet connections. Some rural areas may have limited connectivity or low signal strength, especially for video-based connectivity.
Most workplaces have Wi-Fi available to volunteers for work-related use. Communication with partner organisation colleagues is easily undertaken using mobile phones, landlines, email, messaging services and social media.
Dining and entertainment
Food options in eSwatini are generally meat based, with fewer vegetarian and vegan options. Some supermarkets in the cities have more options and variety, but availability of some products can be limited.
Outdoor activities including hiking, nature reserves and river rafting are available within a short distance of main cities.
Pap and Emasi is a popular meal for breakfast or lunch. It is made in the kitchen of Cheshire Homes where Australian volunteer, Jo Leung supported the Wheelchair Basketball Program.
Download the recipe for Pap and Emasi
Accommodation and transport
eSwatini in general has limited accommodation options of a standard experienced in Australia, and finding suitable options can be difficult. Larger hotel chains are available around eSwatini and self-catering holiday accommodation is available if visiting areas outside of main cities for short stays.
King Mswati III International Airport is the country’s international airport, located about one hour’s drive from Mbabane. It offers daily flights to Johannesburg. Public transport in eSwatini is mainly road-based with plenty of taxis, although these are only reliable in certain parts of the country. Used cars can be purchased by volunteers if needed.
The security context is very different from that which volunteers may be accustomed to in Australia. Vigilance, compliance with security guides and active responses to security and safety advice must be adhered to. Security presents a range of challenges and needs very careful consideration when selecting places to live, where to walk and how to travel.
Health centres and hospitals (private and public) are within reach, however, more specialist medical care may require travel to neighbouring South Africa.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in eSwatini, please do some further research on living in eSwatini and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
Australian volunteer Anissa Dove has taken her experience in the fashion industry to help women in rural eSwatini earn a higher income.
Weaving technique empowers women in eSwatini