Volunteer Review: Olivia W., Human Rights in South Africa
Before going on my two-week volunteer trip, I knew nobody. I was flying and traveling on my own as joining was very last minute for me. This whole experience was initially daunting, but all of my fellow volunteers were in the same position as me. I had no problem getting to know all of them which reduced my nerves straight away. Here, I learned how to introduce myself and be myself so people could feel at ease much easier. Even the shyer people in our group quickly settled in which made the group more of a family unit than a bunch of strangers who’d known each other for only 24-hours.
First thoughts on South Africa
South Africa is a country that I knew very little about before my trip. As I had not been exposed to the country’s history in school, it was only when I saw the trip online that I started researching the country and the history of Apartheid. This made me more aware of the still distinct divides within Cape Town alone. Cape Town felt to me like a European city with its clear development which puts it worlds ahead of its neighboring countries. Another point of interest from my trip is that I was able to experience life as a local with a host family. I learned to lock the doors and gates, as well as making I was safe and sensible with my belongings at all times. These at first seem scary but after a couple of days, it became part of everyday life.
My host family
In my house, there were 17 volunteers from all over the globe, from places including the UK, USA, Italy, France, Japan, and Belgium. All the people were very easy and chatty, and we got to know each other over competitive card games. After two days it was as if we had known each other forever. We are all still messaging and planning to meet up sometime in the New Year.
I shared a room with two lovely girls. Sharing my two-week placement with them was amazing and I still continue to speak to them using Snapchat. When leaving the UK, I thought that I would be hungry in the 2-week placement, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. Every evening my host mum cooked and served a variety of foods, which everyone loved and devoured. On top of the main meals, dessert was provided every night, with brownie nights being the best for everyone. Brownie night was definitely a massive highlight.
My Human Rights placement – moot court
My two-week course was split in half; one week was focused on Human Rights in the Human Rights office, and the other on a more practical placement in the Imizamo Yethu Township in Hout Bay.
During week one, I worked on the defense team of a drunk driving case. Drunk driving is a very serious offense in South Africa so it took a lot of thorough research to try and win our case. Five other volunteers and I stated our case against the prosecution in a moot court. Although we had a stronger case, the defendant was proven guilty through a jury vote. Speaking enthusiastically in front of people we didn’t really know, working as a group with new people and working with a law that we were not used to was a brilliant experience.
My Human Rights placement – working in the township
In week two of my stay, it was Mandela Day. This means that for 67 minutes of the day, every South African would do a selfless deed in order to pay respect to Nelson Mandela. For our 67 minutes, we fitted a carpet in one of the classrooms in the Imizamo Yethu Township.
Connecting with the children and the local community of Hout Bay was very enriching. I learned to appreciate how lucky I was when talking and playing with the children, I also enjoyed forgetting about any cares back home and simply loved connecting with the children. A couple of the other girls and I often came home with plaited and thoroughly brushed hair.
On my final day in Cape Town, we spent the afternoon at a kid’s day center, taking care of them and cooking for the children and teachers. We did face painting, fed them pasta and mushrooms, and played ball games and musical chairs with them. This was one of my favorite days as it was so rewarding and fun.
The Projects Abroad team were so helpful in all senses, as well as being kind and caring. They would often join in on all the fun activities with us as well which was a great way to bond.
Exploring South Africa
Cape Town has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. This became clear on my trip up Table Mountain. The stunning scenery with the amazing contrast of mountains, sea, and forest all in one place. Table Mountain has to be one of my favorite places in the world.
The trip to Robben Island was also another highlight of the trip, taking a rather choppy but very exciting ferry journey across to the island. On arrival, you could feel the melancholic mood, and as we joined the informative tour, the feelings around the prison changed – showing the struggle of many who’d been incarcerated there – including the late Nelson Mandela.
Our trip to the market was a new experience for most of my group, having to barter to get good deals at each stand whilst constantly being bugged by sales men trying to make a living – challenging but something to fondly look back on. In my group, we all bought matching bracelets as a reminder of our trip away (which I am still wearing nearly two months later). Bartering for a price, as well as converting the South African Rand in my head to Pounds did prove difficult and tested my math’s skills, but in the end, it worked out.
I would recommend volunteering and traveling in Cape Town, South Africa with the Projects Abroad team – it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and will always fondly look back on the brilliant 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.