Joanne Davis - Combined Law & Human Rights in South Africa
A different route into volunteering with Projects Abroad
I had planned to volunteer in a foreign country just as soon as my degree was over, when I knew that my feet would start itching. What made me really lucky is that I actually won a scholarship to do any volunteering project in the world that I wanted to, and for an indefinite period. You might, then, ask what made me choose to work with a program such as Projects Abroad? Quite simply, I was attracted to the organization, honesty and the opportunity that the company displayed.
There I was, fingertips at the ready on my MacBook, wondering where to start the great search for a journey of a lifetime and up popped Projects Abroad in my search engine. I was looking for the perfect mix of freedom, yet stability. If I was going to choose to volunteer in a different country, with different cultures, and perhaps even some third world dynamics thrown in on top of that, of course I had to look at all aspects of both safety and flexibility.
When my research turned up South Africa’s ‘Projects Abroad Human Rights Office’ (PAHRO) I was immediately drawn to the sense of achievement that the office had gained, under the mentorship of local human rights lawyers.
Now, it was all very well that the project really resonated with me, but I also had to persuade the Pro-Vice Chancellor of my University (who was awarding only one scholarship). As I listened to his feedback on my presentation, in my surprised state, all I remember is hearing phrases such as ‘this is what we want our students to go on to do!’ and how the experience would be ‘fantastic for personal growth’. I had won the scholarship and in doing so had won myself a place in what would be one of my most cherished experiences to date.
Settling in: A home in South Africa
I loved the way that the program brought fellow volunteers together. Upon my arrival, I was placed in a very welcoming home along with other girls doing the same project with me. It was great to be able to travel to and from work together and spend the evenings playing many a game of UNO with our host mother’s granddaughter (who absolutely loved to pull a fast one on us by hiding cards in her shoes!). Our host mother provided us with a home away from home with all the comforts we could possibly want…and even the bonus of a swimming pool for the swelteringly hot summer days!
Our project also allowed us to socialize with local South Africans and get to see things from a local perspective. One of my fondest memories was being taken by our social justice coordinator to the Guguletu township and getting to taste a real South African braai at the infamous ‘Mizoli’s’. Through the friendships I forged, I was fortunate enough to experience a different side of the city-such as the beautiful coastal drives, music festivals and rallies within the city.
My Human Rights Project
One of the great things about PAHRO is that, as an intern, you are as heavily involved as you choose to be. You decide how many social justice projects you would like to be involved in and how many cases you think you can take on. Everyone in the office was extremely friendly and helpful so that made it much easier to ask those first week ‘silly questions’ about resources and formalities in the office.
I worked on many legal advice cases during my two months at PAHRO. I saw some cases through from beginning to end and was given a great insight into refugee issues in what is such a heavily developing country for refugee settlement.
Possibly my favorite endeavor at the office was being a part of the forging of links between PAHRO and the ‘ISIBANE Anti-Crime’ NGO in the townships. This was a project that I was a part of right from the very beginning of its action and so I was present for many meetings with community members to talk about prevalent issues such as crime prevention strategies and community development programs.
Opportunity and personal development post Projects Abroad.
In return for my administrative help and publicity material, ISIBANE also gave me a lot in return. During meetings at the mayor’s office with Cape Town’s ‘Committee Member for Safety and Security’ I secured a shadowing internship which led on from my time at Projects Abroad and allowed me to see some of the work that other NGO’s like ISIBANE had been undertaking in order to improve conditions in the city’s informal settlements. I was invited to dine with Committee members and to see behind-the-scenes technology such as the city’s CCTV coverage and crime prevention from a whole new perspective.
I was supposed to return to England after my two-month internship with Projects Abroad. The opportunities that led from the project, however, caused me to extend my trip by a further three months and within that extra time, I managed to secure a further internship working with incarcerated juveniles to teach them drama and arts. I got to spend Christmas in true South African style and even made good friends with the owners of the infamous ‘Obz Café’ which led to Harley Davidson cruises along Cape Town’s coastal route and day trips on yachts docked in the waterfront!
The Projects Abroad experience
I couldn’t have asked for more from my experience with Projects Abroad. I was well looked after, the weekly social activities meant that I had adequate time to unwind from a long day at the office and the work itself was truly rewarding in every sense of the word!
Thanks to the organization, I now have life-long friends and will most definitely be returning to Cape Town in the near future, perhaps even to study further. The memories I made both within the project and during my extended stay will last a life time and for that, I am truly grateful!