Volunteer Review: Gregory G., General Journalism Projects in South Africa
After the initial excitement of finding out about Projects Abroad I had actually decided against going, opting to go straight into work after studying. However, after accompanying a friend to a Projects Abroad information evening I decided there and then that I wanted the excitement and eye opening experience that was part of working in a country nothing like home.
The day after my final exam I boarded a plane for Cape Town not knowing what I might expect. My knowledge of South Africa was pretty limited to say the least, but I was keen to find out about its deep and interesting past, as well as the picturesque scenery and climate. I had been told it was going to be approaching winter; however, in my uneducated head I thought ‘As if Africa knows what a winter is!’
My first impressions of Africa were not as I had imagined. Whilst there were townships, a lot of them, there were also a lot of middle class houses, with nice cars outside, with middle class people who have good jobs. As I sat in the back of an old van being driven to my host family, I gazed wonderingly out of the window at the townships, worried about what I had got myself into. That night I went out into Cape Town with some volunteers who showed me the area.
The weekend went slowly as where I was gradually sunk in. Monday morning was my induction, where I was shown how to use the public transport and where I would be working. It may sound silly, but the Africa public transport is far from what I am used to here in England. Days soon turned into weeks and without realizing it, I felt comfortable, safe and almost at home in South Africa. Work built up and became interesting and the weekends were action packed.
My journalism placement
My placement at the Cape Chameleon was different from what I had imagined, but in ways it was possibly better. It was far from a busy newspaper that had hardened journalists running around looking for their latest story, pushing young helpless volunteers out of their way. It was a small friendly office with just a few volunteers and a few staff worked together to produce a small monthly magazine.
The first few days were a little tedious, leaving me to think about changing to the more popular Human Rights projects. However the Journalism project is just like real life – it is what you make it. Once I moved on from the small articles I started an interesting xenophobia story, allowing me to meet and interview some very interesting and occasionally angry refugees who had stories to tell, unimaginable to someone from my background.
The project allowed plenty of freedom, so if you really wanted to sit and stare at facebook all day then that’s your decision. If you want to get something valuable out of it, the reason I went, then there isn’t anything you cannot do; be careful about where you take photos though.
My host family
One of the main concerns that I had when looking into traveling was where I would be living. We hear how dangerous South Africa can be and since I was going to be there for a while I quite liked the idea of being safe, as well as comfortable. I was told I would be staying in a gated white community at one of the meetings and it was far from living in a township like I had imagined.
The security was high, with several locked gates before the barred front door, and with bars over the windows that looked out onto a wall; it did give the impression of being in prison at times. However, this is how they live. I actually found it a great highlight to be living with a family who could talk about the history of South Africa having been the ones who lost out.
They cooked during the week, usually a chicken or rice based dinner, but always tasty. How they were so welcoming to so many different volunteers really shocked me, they just seem to thrive on having many different cultures and people under their roof.
I shared a room, which I will admit was the first time I had done so in my life, so was a little concerned. However when my roommate went away for a week, I genuinely felt lonely and missed sharing a room. It takes a few weeks to adjust to the entire way of life out there, but once you have, you love it and wonder how you will cope back home.
My free time in South Africa
There really is a social opportunity for all. There is a weekly social event for the newcomers to integrate with other volunteers, but I went to just one in my entire trip. I just didn’t have time! Having a car meant we were the people to know, so were often invited out every night allowing us to go out in different places, not just the volunteer packed Long Street.
The weekends soon become booked up with some quite different events, from climbing Table Mountain, to seeing Camps Bay, going shark cage diving or wine tasting in the famous Stellenbosch.
Having seen the city part of South Africa, it was only right to see the countryside. My room-mate and I set off in our rusty 1974 beetle up the mountain away from the town, wondering how far we would get before we would breakdown; 45km was the answer. The air-cooled engine worked fantastically when new, but the years of abuse had taken its toll and when climbing a mountain in stop start traffic the old girl gets a little flustered and overheats.
After a short cooling break we set off again. It took us two days to get to Plettenburg Bay, but it wasn’t a boring drive – it felt more like a Top Gear challenge. Plettenburg was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, with its stunning beaches and fantastic views. We stayed at a backpacker’s hostel for a couple of nights, where we met locals and a Braai each night.
Getting back to Cape Town felt like going home, even after just a few weeks I started calling it home. I never felt home sick in South Africa. I was there for just two months, which flew by, and now I look back it feels like a dream. The time has gone but I am a new person, someone who embraces life, who knows the difference between red and white wine and doesn’t take working brakes on my car for granted.
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.