Sunday, January 15, 2012


After over a year of hard word, planning, changing course, and learning as we went along -- the preschool for Project 23.3 has been completed!  The total amount has been raised and the building was recently completed, much to everybody's excitement.  Here it is!

Alex came to visit Swaziland at the end of December and we all visited Cetjwayo to see the site of the new preschool.  Here she is on the front steps.  Go back a couple blog posts to see the boards propped under a tree which was the old preschool!

Nellie is pictured on the far left.  She's the preschool teacher who taught for so many years under the tree and will now be using the new building.  She was so excited!  Second from the right is Kathy Gau, our main partner in the building of the preschool.  It was her organization and dedication that allowed us to join efforts and have a building finished for the upcoming school year.  The other people are community members from Cetjwayo.

Inside, we were shown all of the supplies that have started to be gathered.

These 'chairs' are made out of cardboard boxes.

The whole group!

Another angle of the school.

Alex with Eric and Keri, who live about 2 hours from the site.

Nellie and Alex.  

Alex is reviewing the visitors' log, which Nellie keeps for all the visitors to the preschool site.

One of the girls who just graduated from the preschool in November.  She will be the last age in Cetjwayo to be able to say that she was attending school under a tree.  Which is good news for all the children younger than her!

Alex presented Nellie with a gift for the school: a globe which rotates on solar power.  Everybody got to see where Michigan was in relation to Swaziland.  On the base of the globe, the inscription says "From our hearts to yours."  It was a perfect sentiment for the special day.

The first day of school will be the 24th of January.  

It's been an amazing journey to see this project from start to finish, and we hope that the legacy of this preschool will be able to impact the children of this very remote village for many, many years to come.  None of this would have been possible without the amazing support of so many donors.  A huge 'Siyabonga kakhulu' (Thank you very much) goes out to all of them!  This all started as a way for one high school student from Michigan to try to show support to the children of Swaziland; to show that we're all part of a bigger family.  Sometimes we all forget that young people can make a difference in the world when they put their minds to it, but Project 23.3 will always be a testament to how much that is possible!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Preschool Close to Completion!

So much has happened in the Cetjwayo community since we last reported on the progress of the preschool construction in September.  I (Keri) had the privilege of going back to visit the Cetjwayo community for their preschool graduation on November 14 and to see the construction progress of the preschool, and I was AMAZED at how much work has been done.  I'm sure you will be too as you look at the pictures below.

Two of the boys who participated in the car wash visited the community with me to see how their hard work has paid off and also to show the community that even young people can make a difference.

A big thanks goes to Vusumnotfo and Global Giving for allowing us to partner with them to make an impact in a rural community.  The preschool is almost to its final fundraising goal, and the hope is to be finished with all the fundraising in the next few weeks.  If you are interested in still giving to the preschool, you can contact any of us directly, or go to the Global Giving site, linked above, to donate directly to Vusumnotfo.  We have talked to the director at Vusumnotfo, and we learned that there will be additional needs for furnishing and equipping the preschool once the structure is complete.

We look forward to having Alex visit Swaziland in December to see the preschool completely finished and meet the community members who will benefit for years thanks to her hard work and effort.

The bumpy dirt road leading to the community

Community members put stones here to build up the road so construction trucks can pass by

Our first view of the preschool structure

Inside the building - there are lots of windows for natural light, and there is a permanent bench built into the wall that can serve many purposes for the preschool children

Sakhile and Thembinkosi, my travel buddies for the day, loving the beautiful new space

Side view of the building

View from the back

The little ones who will be learning in a beautiful building rather than under a tree starting in January

The community leaders who are extremely grateful for this gift to their community

The 'gogos' or grandmothers enjoying the preschool graduation

The graduates!  They look so official in their gowns.

The children sang lots of songs for their ceremony, and they were able to answer many questions about themselves to prove that they are ready to go on to First Grade in January.

The tires are marking the space where the playground will stand.  It should be constructed by the end of December.

As a sign of completion, hope, and partnership together, the chief and I are planting a tree on the preschool grounds.  Hopefully this tree will grow for many years and serve as a reminder of the work that had to take place to build the preschool.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Confirmed preschool location and progress report

Let me begin this post by introducing myself.  My name is Keri, and I am Alex's sister-in-law.  Her brother, Eric and I live in Swaziland, and I have officially joined the Project 23.3 blogging team to update you on what is happening.

It has been some time since we have updated you all on the progress of Project 23.3, but that does not mean we have not been hard at work investigating ways to provide quality preschool education for children in Swaziland who otherwise would not have access to formal learning opportunities.

One very interesting and important lesson we have learned throughout this experience of trying to build something to help others is that sometimes you need to go to where there is already movement rather than trying to start movement on your own.  We thought we had found this movement at Ntjanini, but unfortunately the community has its sights on building a large multi-purpose community center rather than a smaller community preschool, and it seemed to be beyond the capability of Project 23.3.  We met with the leader of the community who had originally advised us on the site, and he felt bad that the community had deviated from their original thoughts for the preschool and gave us his blessing to look somewhere else for an opportunity to help children in need.

So, now we are onto Plan C, which is very exciting, already has some tremendous momentum, and will meet all of the goals of Project 23.3.  We have partnered with Vusumnotfo, an organization in Swaziland that specializes in community mobilization and sustainability projects. Early childhood care and education is a large part of their community building campaign, and they have a long-standing training program for community preschool teachers.

I was able to go up to visit Vusumnotfo, meet with their leadership team, and visit the site of the preschool that is already in the process of being built in the rural community of Cetwayo.  The fundraising goal for the project is $14,000, and with the money already raised through Project 23.3, there is less that $2,000 left to raise!  Please spread the word about this exciting project that will help the youngest children in this country receive quality preschool education.

Donors who want to give more to the completion of this project can contact Alex, Eric, or myself for more information.  Remember that any donations given directly to Project 23.3 are 100% directed towards helping these young children.

Here are some pictures I took during my visit:

This is the current classroom where the children at Cetwayo learn.  Four boards under a tree.  When it rains they aren't able to have school because there is no shelter.

Here are the children posing by their 'classroom' with their teacher.  They stayed extra late the day I visited just to show me around.

Another picture of the children with the teacher, teacher assistant and me.

The kids are SO PROUD of their new school site.  They happily led the way and walked me to where the school is going to be built.  You can see that progress has already been made to collect the building materials.

This picture shows how big the building will be once completed.  There are four children standing at each of the four corners of the structure.  The building will have one large classroom, an entryway, and a space for a kitchen so the children can eat.

You can also check out the official project site at

Thank you for your continued support towards the children of Swaziland!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fundraising ... in Swaziland too!

This Saturday was a special day for Project 23.3. Fundraising efforts are just starting to get rolling in America as the word is spreading. But this weekend was unique because funds were being raised IN Swaziland for the preschool too! And not just by Americans living there ...

Seven Swazi teenagers gave up their whole Saturday and held a car wash in Mbabane (Swaziland's capital). They know Alex's brother Eric through some after-school mentoring and sports activities. They heard about Project 23.3 and came up with a way to help.

They held a car wash at Eric's house from 10am-3pm. Lots of co-workers, church members, and other Americans in Swaziland were told about it. Some of the money was given to the teens: they themselves are vulnerable youth who all come from very impoverished neighborhoods. They each ended up taking home 95 emalangeni (about $14) and that was more than any of them had ever made in a day -- even though some of them have worked full-time before!

The rest went directly to Project 23.3. Besides the money that was raised, a bigger accomplishment of the day was the unity that was created. Swazi teens from a struggling city neighborhood in the capital city joined together with a teenager in Michigan to build a desperately needed preschool in a village none of them has ever seen. What could be greater than that?

After the car wash was complete, everybody got on Skype together to talk with Alex in Michigan. It was an exciting moment in technology for most of them who had never seen anything like Skype before! They got to share with her the amount that was raised. She was able to share her appreciation for their help, plans for Project 23.3's next steps, and some fun discussions. By the boys' request she even went outside and fetched some Michigan snow to show them through the camera. It was a big hit; none of them had ever seen snow before!

Big thanks to Thando, Menzie, Mduduzi, Bhabha, Sakhile, Samanga, and Celumusa for all their hard work and for joining our efforts for Ntjanini's children. Thanks to everyone who came out to get their cars washed, and for those who contributed even if they we're getting a wash. Project 23.3 is now about 10% of the way to the total fundraising goal. With great partnerships like this, we're confident that we'll make it all the way!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

We have a new site for the preschool!

Big news, everybody!

That's right, we have changed the site for our preschool. In a way, it is a little sad. We wanted to work in Vuvulane and help the children there. Unfortunately, the government officials there were not fully committed to a good partnership with us and were creating a lot of obstacles. This is often a problem when working in developing countries.

We always had a Plan B in mind, knowing that this was a potential outcome. We think it is a strength of our project that we are flexible enough to change course when it is best for the work we are doing. We are also very conscious of being wise with the money which our generous donors have been giving us. It will NOT go to waste!

That's what brings us now to ... Ntjanini!

This is Ntjanini. (The "T" is silent, and the "N" is just a quick sound at the beginning of the word.) It is a village in the Shiselweni Region of Swaziland.
-- Quick geography lesson! Swaziland is divided into 4 regions. Shiselweni is the one in the South. It is the poorest of Swaziland's regions and is mostly very rural. Some parts are mountainous and other parts are low and flat. Ntjanini is between the mountains and the low plains.

OK, back to our village. It has about 3600 people, it is very rural, and they have needed and wanted a preschool for a long time. They are SO excited about this project!

Except for these newborn kittens found in Ntjanini yesterday. They are only excited about milk.

Anyway, we'll be talking a lot about Ntjanini in the coming weeks. They have hopeful and longstanding plans for a preschool and we are happy to be partnering with them. Of course, if something happens during the planning time where we don't feel like our work can be completed effectively in that village, we will move on -- the work being done for the children is too important to get stuck in a situation where the efforts will be wasted.

Speaking of the kids ... here are a few in Ntjanini. See how they are making a toy car out of old wire. That's a common thing to do here; it's often the only toy that kids will have. These boys are all orphans.

Best of all, we have a site for the preschool where the land is already secured. This is a big step in Swaziland, and would save a lot of time. Here it is!

It doesn't look like much now, but imagine seeing a picture of this field in 9-10 months with a newly-finished preschool ... the first one this community will ever have had.

Those are the updates in Swaziland. Meanwhile, back in America, donations are continuing to come in. Thank you for being partners with us in this exciting effort. We hope more people will continue to contribute so we can reach our goal and bring some real goodness to a part of the world with so many needs.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Challenges of working in Africa ...

... come in all shapes and sizes!

Unfortunately, our account with PayPal has been shut down.  They say that they are unable to work with charities that operate in certain countries which they have determined to be "high risk."  And Swaziland is on that list.

We're bummed about their decision and we hope it doesn't slow down our efforts to help vulnerable children and orphans in this country.  This is part of the process of working in Africa; you find yourself in a "high risk" country in more ways than one!  PayPal may be worried about the risk of fraud occurring in this country, but we're mostly concerned with the "high risk" of suffering and even death for the forgotten orphans here.

We hope that all of you will continue to join with us in our cause.  If you are interested in donating, there are still various ways to do it.  One is to send money directly to us via old-fashioned checks in the mail.  For those who would rather go the online route, we are working hard to have a new online payment system in place by early January.  Stay tuned!

And Merry Christmas to everybody!

Eric and Keri Dziuban's Christmas tree in Swaziland.

Monday, December 13, 2010

We're starting to grow!

Project 23.3 is gaining momentum!

- We now have a Facebook page -- go ahead and search for it (and then "like" it)!

- Generous donations keep coming in; one person is even giving a set amount out of each paycheck!

- Fundraising ideas are coming from all around as new partners join together with us to help make an impact for these children, and let them know that we haven't forgotten them at all.

- Our partners on the ground in Swaziland are working with the local community to make arrangements for finishing the preschool. Here is a picture of its current condition. As you can see, it still needs a lot of work. That's where we come in, and it's why your help matters a lot!

And here are some of the playful faces which could be filling the school once it finishes:

We're so excited that things are moving forward and we're working toward our goal in Vuvulane. If you are new to the site, check out the post below for more details about this project. There are real struggles and dangers every day for so many children in this village. We have the chance to give them something really positive that can impact their lives in a big way ... thanks for being a part of that!

A reminder that life in rural Swaziland can be very different than most of us are used to:

Let's keep working; these kids deserve our best effort!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What is Project 23.3?

Have you ever been to Swaziland?  Many people may have never even heard of this tiny African country.  Sitting tucked between Mozambique and South Africa, this small kingdom has an interesting history and faces enormous challenges in the present.

Swaziland has the world's LOWEST life expectancy.  The average lifespan for a Swazi is only 37 years!  A large part of this is due to the crisis of HIV/AIDS.  Swaziland has the world's HIGHEST rate of HIV infection in the world (26% of adults).  All of this leads to another very sad reality.  As of 2010, exactly 23.3% of the children in Swaziland are orphans.  This is where the name of our project comes from.  With so many orphans in a country with so much extreme poverty (60% of people in Swaziland live on less than $2 per day), there must be something that can be done to help.

(A woman in Vuvualne weaving a reed mat -- one of the few sources of income in the village.)

Every idea has to start somewhere.  For Project 23.3, the starting point is the small village of Vuvulane.  Sitting among the vast sugar cane fields in Eastern Swaziland, this village is about as different from life in middle class America as you can imagine.  There is no electricity.  There is no plumbing or running water.  Homes are made of reeds and mud bricks.  Children collect water from the nearby ponds.  Tragically, just in the last year, 2 children were killed by crocodiles while collecting water.  It's hard to imagine children who are more in need of a helping hand.

A Vuvulane girl, carrying water for drinking.

This is where we can come in to make a difference.  The people of Vuvulane have asked for help to build a preschool: a place where the small children can be safe during the day and begin an education -- probably the only thing which offers real hope for escaping this level of extreme poverty.  The building would also be used in the afternoons for other social programs: prenatal support for pregnant women, skill-building workshops, and even HIV testing.  A building was started ... but funding ran out and now for several months the structure has sat unfinished.

The half-completed preschool of Vuvulane.

Our plan is to finish this preschool and help the children of Vuvulane build a future.  This project was started by a 15-year-old in Michigan who was tired of the thought that American teenagers were unmotivated and self-absorbed.  Why not join together to prove that idea wrong?  Why not help make a real difference for children in the world who don't have all the opportunities that we do?

Some of the children, eager to learn.

We are trying to raise $20,000 to complete this preschool and get it running.  We have partnerships on the ground in Swaziland who are commited to providing the operating costs for the school and monitoring the progress.  No money will be wasted, and 100% goes directly to the school for the children.  We can't fix every problem for every orphan and every child in poverty in the world, but we can start here.  Do you want to join us and remind these 23.3% of children in Swaziland that we haven't forgotton about them too?