Georgina Kate Adams - General Care Projects in South Africa
When I think about returning to my new home in southern Africa, I think of just three words: one-way-ticket. With its quaint but lively villages, hidden between statuesque mountains and framed by vivid blue skies, which turn to rich ochre sunsets, South Africa is quite simply: stunning. It is one of the last remaining absolute monarchies on the continent and clings tightly to the heritage of its culture. It is the ultimate rural African experience.
I was based on Malendela's farm, near the tiny village of Mahlanya, in Malkerns Valley and lived with several other volunteers in a cottage called Auchentoshan. We had two little bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and an even tinier bathroom, but a veranda that framed the sunset perfectly. Sugar cane grew metres from our door, and the nearest game park was just ten minutes away. It was incredible.
On my first day in the country I was thrown straight in at the deep end! Just an hour after my plane had landed, I was dancing in the market with a ring of locals and volunteers surrounding me. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.
I had chosen the Care and Community placement, so was based at the Neighbourhood Care Point (NCP). The NCP was set up by a local lady, called Madame Clope, and gave children who couldn't afford the schools' fees, a place to receive care, food and education without charge. She was an impoverished woman herself, who had had to overcome her fair share of challenges. But having worked hard to provide security for her own family, she gave the little that she had to provide opportunities for others struggling around her. She even gave some children a room in her home, and raised them as her own.
My time there was amazing. Every day when I walked through the gate, I was bombarded with cuddles, handshakes, smiles and twinkling eyes from children who so desperately wanted to be loved. One little boy, would always dive into my arms and say "SQUEEEZE!!" (A word I taught him), then squeeze me as tight as he possibly could, and I'd squeeze him back until my arms hurt. He was such a blessing, and yet, both of his parents had abandoned him.
This was a familiar story. Most of the children had lost their parents this way, or else they had been orphaned by the curse of AIDS. Yet they remained lively, happy and loving. They were charismatic, cooperative (well, some of the time!) and incredibly energetic. We loved to play dancing games, like 'Boom Chica Boom', which stimulated their natural creativity. I was shocked to see that some of the kids, aged just six or seven, had moves to make Beyonce or Jacko envious! They were fantastic.
My favourite part of the NCP day though, was when the children sang. They had song time in the morning before prayers, but loved to sing during playtime too. One humid afternoon I curled up in the shade with a four year old (the gentlest, and one of the most beautiful, little girls I have ever met). She stood on my lap and softly sang every word of a ten-minute hymn into my ear, in a whisper. It was beautiful.
Only three days into my African adventure, I was uprooted. Well.I say uprooted - we took a holiday! This was a great way of meeting people as all of the volunteers from conservation, teaching and care all went together. We piled into one little bus and headed to Mozambique.
Aah Mozambique! This is a must for anyone travelling to South Africa. Bordered on the east coast by miles of orange sand and a dramatic sea of the deepest blue, it truly is spectacular. We stayed at a campsite called Bamboozi, and shared a hut built out of bamboo and palms.
In Mozambique we really let our hair down. We partied hard, we made our own Afro-couture, we shopped and sunbathed until we could indulge no more. One day we even went swimming with Whale Sharks, which was very exciting. Unfortunately, I found it all a little too overwhelming and freaked out when I got into the water; convinced I would either drown or that a Great White was about to creep up on me. It was a great adventure all the same, especially when we spotted a school of dolphins following our rib playfully.
Holiday over; I was excited to return to the kids at the NCP. Sadly, we learnt that one student had passed away in our absence, but after years of illness it seems he was finally at peace. A funeral followed which some of the volunteers attended, and though I didn't have the opportunity to go, I hear it was a touching and interesting insight into Swazi culture.
As I fell into the routine of NCP life I grew closer and closer to the children. I must admit that, naturally, some favouritism arose, and there was one little girl I became particularly close to. She was eight years old, strikingly beautiful with perfect almond-shaped eyes, and very intelligent indeed. She was keen to learn, and loved practising the new words I taught her. She drew pictures of me, which of course I still have, and wrote my name and hers everywhere - including on the soles of my flip-flops!
I became engaged with the issue of AIDS in South Africa, as my interest in this area was the original reason for my visit. We spoke to a paediatrician, and then used his teachings to educate the oldest class at the NCP. Another volunteer and myself dedicated a week of lessons to this topic and covered everything from how you can and can't contract HIV to how to use a condom. The children in return taught us that condoms could be blown up to make balloons. I guess some things will always be universal!
Looking back, my most quirky and surprising memory of South Africa, is of the 'Reed Dance'. Here we became involved in an annual tradition of the country's culture, and joined tens of thousands of Swazi women in a performance where we danced for the King!
You see - anything can happen! But you'll never know what unless you go and experience it for yourself!