Volunteer Review: Nicole C., General International Development Projects in South Africa
I was on the path to a conventional life in America. I graduated university, worked as a business professional, bought a home and was continuing down the path most traveled when I decided to go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. This is where I found South Africa. I knew I wanted to use my skills and experience to give to those in need. Once in South Africa, I soon realized that South Africa was actually giving me what I needed and more.
The Projects Abroad program was perfect for me because the schedule has flexible start dates, the staff is well-organized and helpful, and there are projects specifically designed for business people. I received continues support from the Projects Abroad office. All of the staff, from the director to the coordinators, at the Projects Abroad office in Cape Town was such a pleasure. I could not have asked for better people to work with. They gave me tours of city, showed me how to get to work, planned social events, came to visit me at my placement office, and were available to me at any time by phone or email.
My Business Placement
My placement in Cape Town, South Africa was a transformational experience. I worked with Sunrise Educare Center located in the heart of one of the oldest segregated communities formed during the apartheid era. It has become a multi-racial, multi-cultural community with many transplants and refugees from other African countries. The community exhibits all of the characteristics of a severely underprivileged community. The goal of the Educare Center is to help young children develop good values and create opportunities for them to explore the possibilities outside of the community.
I worked at Sunrise Educare Center for one month. I helped the staff with strategic planning and business development by creating a business plan, investor pitch, financial summary, sponsorship brochure and mock grant proposals. Also, and maybe most importantly, I formed a lasting connection with the teachers, children and surrounding community.
My project focus was business; however, during a break from business planning at the Educare Center, I got to know the teachers and children. The teachers and I would have lunch together, talk about popular culture, our families and our futures. I shared an office with the head teacher, who was very kind and accommodating. Many of the classroom teachers invited me into their rooms to help teach the children. Often this was my favorite part of the day.
I typically began my mornings by feeding and singing with the children ages 6 months to 2 years. After that, I would go into the head teacher’s office and research new ideas and develop needed business documents. During lunch time, I either played with the children in the playground area or shared some quality time with the teachers and principal.
My afternoons ranged from continuing and completing my morning tasks, to taking pictures of the Educare Center to upload in various documents, to walking around the community with one of the teachers to visit the other community centers in the area.
My most memorable moment at the Educare centre was when I was saying goodbye to the children in the 6 month to 2 year old classroom. I had become fond of one of the children, Linden. Linden was a 1-year-old boy that did not talk or whine, barely cried and generally showed little emotion. I often fed him breakfast, danced with him during the morning song and played with him on the playground. Although I was becoming attached to him, he did not seem to be reciprocating the feeling.
On my last day, while I was giving hugs goodbye to all of the children and teachers, Linden came up to me with a pink teddy bear and put the teddy bear’s nose to my face and gave me a kiss. It was a precious moment that I will never forget. I can only hope that moment was just as special for Linden.
My Host Family
It was wonderful to live with a South African family while in Cape Town, and I miss my host family dearly. My house mum treated us like sisters and we were included in all family activities. We came together each evening for dinner and conversation. We talked about our day, shared stories of our Cape Town adventures, and got to know our host family and roommates.
I was lucky to have a room to myself my entire stay. Three other girls stayed in the bedroom next to mine and we shared a bathroom, living room and kitchen. Our living quarters were separated from our host family’s house, which provided the appropriate amount of comfort and privacy when needed.
There are also plenty of amazing opportunities for site-seeing and adventure. South Africa is an amazing country and Cape Town has so much to do and see. During our time off, I traveled to the southernmost tip of the country, I climbed Lions Head mountain, I visited the most beautiful museums, I viewed Africa’s “Big Five” animals up-close on a safari, I bungee jumped, I rode an ostrich and so much more! I cannot wait to go back!
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.