Volunteer Review: Katie J., Teach English and Other Subjects in South Africa
These were all very familiar feelings to me, whenever the prospect of South Africa arose. What was entirely foreign, however, was the intense sensation of being entirely overwhelmed, upon arrival in ‘The Mother City.’ Sea. Sky. Mountains. People. They all just jump at out at you, and engulf you in their uniquely Capetonian buzz.
For the next two months, Grassy Park, a dilapidated suburb of Cape Town, home to a struggling yet resilient population, became my home. Being a white girl in a colored community like this, is a unique and sometimes baffling experience, both for the locals and myself, as you both wonder how you are ever going to fit in! The curious cries of ‘Hey, White-y!’ were always a friendly reminder of where I was.
Fitting in was never going to be an issue however, as within this community, I found myself the most recent addition to the Valley family. My time spent in this loud, orange house, with Nazeema, my host mother, her four daughters and the hundreds of other family members who floated around, has harvested some of my fondest memories. I’ll always remember the girls telling me that their stomachs hurt from laughing so much over dinner the previous night!
They also hugely enjoyed trying to teach me Afrikaans, and laughing hysterically with me at my appalling accent! I never did really get the hang of ‘Goeiemôre…’ (pronounced hoi-a-mor-a, meaning ‘Good Morning!’) The arrival of other volunteers in our house, brought an entirely new aspect to our family, but yet again an intensely enjoyable one. Being the amusing foreigners in such a close knit community, as well as living simultaneously in such close quarters, instantly pushed us together, and I know that I’ve certainly made friends for life.
Nazeema herself was an incredible character, who welcomed me into her family as if I were her own. Her calm, ever-giving nature made me feel completely relaxed and at home, as well as in awe of her capabilities. She was equally interested in my life as I was in hers, and always got very excited whenever I produced anything from home. She found a particular pride in offering her house guests the ‘English Tea’ I’d given her! Aside from her constant tuition in Capetonian lifestyle, Nazeema also really opened my eyes as to how difficult and sometimes dangerous life in modern Africa can be, and really made me appreciate the daily struggles that many within this community have to face.
On the flipside of family time, life at school was equally as rewarding. I’d arrived on my first day armed with books and other teaching aids, yet quickly realized that I didn’t need them. In my experience of teaching, common sense and a huge enthusiasm were my most vital tools.
I spent my first few weeks really getting acquainted with the youngest children in the school, the gorgeous Grade Rs. Singing, dancing and general organized chaos was the name of the game, as I hopped, skipped and jumped around the classroom giving help, assistance and reassurance. There is no feeling in the world like entering a classroom and having over thirty children hurling themselves at your legs for a hug, simultaneously all shouting your name and clamoring for attention!
Later on I began to alternate between Grade R and a few Grade 2 classes; it was interesting to interchange between different teachers and observe how their teaching styles all differed, yet their control and respect gained by their pupils did not.
The kids’ favorite activity, ‘surprisingly’ was not Reading time, or Mental Arithmatic, but Bingo! They had such fun forming separate teams and all choosing team names; the shouts and jeers of excitement from ‘Manchester United,’ ‘The Wildcats’ and ‘Team High School Musical’ seemed to ring through the school!
A moment that will remain with me forever was with one child, Aerifa, who particularly struggled. After weeks of fruitless explanation and assistance with a particular area of mathematics, my method suddenly clicked for her! She suddenly understood! Seeing comprehension dawn on her face after working so hard for it was such a gift. After that, whenever the topic came up in class, she would grin at me, and I’d wink back at her – a secret understanding. That was the moment I knew that my project had been 100% worthwhile.
I couldn’t have wished for a more beautiful, eclectic, exciting city to undertake my project in. Through their own passion for Cape Town, the caring, informative Projects Abroad staff really helped me to achieve what had always been one of my fundamental goals – to experience the city as a local; to live the life, rather than just hovering on the outskirts of it. This truly is a city to embrace, and the affinity I felt to it was just amazing. Even the little things, such as having the ladies in the local smoothie branch greet me by name and ask if I wanted my ‘regular?’ gave me a kick.
My stamina was certainly put to the test as I regularly arrived home from a hectic day at school, only to race out again in search of new thrills, sights, sounds and adventures. And Cape Town certainly is the city for an adventure, a city you’ve got to experience from all angles. From the dizzying perch of Table Mountain, to the frothing water world of surfers’ paradise at Muizenberg, smoldering sunsets at Lion’s Head, to the jabbering hordes of penguins at Boulders beach, this rainbow city will always dish up something new and exhilarating for you to experience.
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.