Volunteer Review: Alison B., General Care Projects in South Africa
Hi there! My name is Alison and I am from Canada, I would like to tell you a bit about my trip to South Africa. I ended up in South Africa particularly through a spur of the moment decision. I knew I wanted to travel, I knew I wanted to help people, and I knew I needed an internship but it all came down to a matter of actually doing it.
I had a family member go through Projects Abroad to Ghana so I knew a lot about Projects Abroad and the important role they play in aiding the traveler. It was the first organization I looked into, I looked into a few more organizations but their information wasn’t as complete and satisfying as Projects Abroad. I took months to decide if I was going to go. Also I had received this amazing brochure from Projects Abroad with all of the countries and places to choose from and I couldn’t choose.
The project I wanted really helped narrow it down for I was looking into something relating to occupational therapy. I spoke to the staff at the Projects Abroad Canadian office because I discovered that I needed to be in my Master’s program in order to participate in an Occupational Therapy placement. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in the OT project because my lack of experience. Projects Abroad was great in offering and finding related projects though!
They offered me a project working with children with disabilities in either Thailand or South Africa. The choice still wasn’t easy, I had to pick between two beautiful countries offering two great placements. I told Projects Abroad I would think about it. As I was debating the options I walked into my room one night and somehow my brochure was open to South Africa. I got really excited just seeing the words SOUTH AFRICA, I took my excitement as a sign and decided I wanted to go there. I cannot remember if I signed up online or mailed in the application, either way it was done within the hour and I waited for confirmation. A little while later I was on my way to South Africa.
Arriving in South Africa
I arrived in South Africa on a Friday and was taken around by Grant, a Projects Abroad employee, showing me the city and telling me the things I should and shouldn’t do. The next Monday I showed up at my project. I had no idea what to expect and I set no expectations. I just showed up and I was surprised. I don’t think I thought that the disabilities the children had would so be severe. The disabilities ranged from autism to cerebral palsy and many in-between.
The first couple of days I thought to myself over and over again, `’what have I gotten myself into?’, I was scared. At some point I said to myself, ‘well accept it Alison, you have signed up for two months of this, deal with it.’ And I did, and as you can probably predict, I fell absolutely in love with the place, the children, and the environment.
By day four, I was carrying the children off the bus, by day five I was bathing some children, by day six all the children loved me. That’s the thing with those with disabilities, they have so much love and it usually doesn’t take long for them to share it. They are not people to be scared of, rather people to love because you never know when or how they will touch your life, your mind, and your heart.
I left Africa deciding to head in the direction of helping children with special needs instead of Occupational Therapy itself. One thing is certain, one day you will see me working in children’s hospitals, and I thank South Africa for that.
The center for disabled children was my main placement. However, the care center went on holidays for three weeks so Projects Abroad set me up with other placements I could participate in. I worked on the building project for one week where I came very close to the townships (slums) and saw all the heartbreaking stuff occurring within them. I was able to help build one of the walls of a building we were creating for a local school.
Another week I was involved in the surfing project where I taught kids how to surf and swim. This was really cool because the kids who came to this program were not kids who were well off. The day they came to the surfing project was the day they looked forward to all week. It was eye opening for sure! My final week I worked in a different school where I taught kids everyday things, like their numbers, letters and colors. These different opportunities allowed for me to see so much of this country these people live in, the good the bad, the hope and fun!
My South African host family
Now I want to talk about my host mum. Eleanor Thomas. What a wonderful woman. When you travel with Projects Abroad they set you up with a place to stay for the length of your visit. Mine was in the small little town of Heathfield, a ten minute walk from my placement. I lived with five other volunteers, and we actually had a whole house to ourselves. Eleanor had a house to herself behind the house we stayed in.
It was like we lived on our own yet we had someone still cooking and cleaning for us, and not to mention doing our laundry for us. Eleanor would come and eat dinner with us and I would go on trips with her to the grocery store and what not. Therefore, even though we didn’t live together under the same roof, I still was able to get a good sense of who she was and the culture she was a part of.
After returning home
It’s been one year since South Africa, and I had a dream the other night I was back in Heathfield, on my walk to my placement. That dream was two days ago. It was such a good dream and such a pleasant memory, I haven’t really stopped thinking about my time with Projects Abroad in South Africa since. Sometimes I still get that, those days when you wish you were back. I hope I always have them because they are fond memories in which a lot of growth, friendships, and experiences occurred!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.