Megan Bloomfield - General International Development Projects in South Africa
I spent 10 weeks volunteering on the International Development placement from September to November for an organization called “Heart Capital”, followed by a week volunteering on the Projects Abroad Conservation project in Botswana and arrived back home in London in December. I can honestly say that it was a truly life changing experience, and I made some amazing friends from around the world.
My host family
I stayed with Brenda and Charles Davis in Steenberg. I’d been told via previous volunteers on the Projects Abroad Facebook page that they were the best host family and that Brenda was an amazing cook... and I must say I agree. They made me feel welcome from the second I arrived, and throughout my stay, myself and the other girls staying there spent many evenings chatting with Brenda about her previous volunteers and all of our backgrounds and cultures; it truly did begin to feel like home!
Brenda’s food really was amazing; there were always cakes and biscuits available despite the fact we were constantly eating them, and the meals were so good; I think I had a second portion every night! Brenda was also amazing at keeping our rooms clean and social area clean; 5 girls can make a lot of mess but she was an angel for making the beds, hoovering, doing our washing etc.
Volunteering in Cape Town
Although I didn’t have any previous business-related work experience, I really liked the sound of the International Development project when I first read about it on the Projects Abroad website. I was nervous on my first day, but the other interns were really welcoming and gave me an overview of the project, and my bosses Peter and Mandy later turned up and explained in detail what was going on and gave me a tour of the site and introduced me to the workers.
In a nutshell, Heart Capital works with the “Sakhulwasi Women’s Association”, founded by Mama Rosie, in producing vegetables for the community. The issues lie in that the business is not self-sustaining; it currently relies on sponsors for seedlings, insecticides, compost etc. and there is no/little concept of money, so the main roles I undertook included creating a stocktake sheet, and editing and implementing a business tracker and standard operating procedures. I also had contact with a supplier regarding setting up a bakery, and organized and ran an event at the hub where Projects Abroad volunteers working at other placements came to visit and get a feel for what was going on.
I think it’s fair to say that the work was challenging at times; progress was often slower than expected and required a lot of initiative, and there were times where I thought I’d chosen the wrong project... but by the end of it I knew I’d made the right decision and I can honestly say I feel like I made a difference, which is what I set out to do! I also made some amazing friends in the other interns at my work, helped by two camping trips which Peter and Mandy organized.
On my final day at work, we all (the interns, some of their families who were visiting, Mandy and the local workers) had a huge farewell brunch... it was emotional but just goes to show how much fun we all had and again how well we got on; the people I was working with and for certainly helped make the project as amazing as it was!
Making friends and leisure time
As well as the other interns at work, I made friends with other volunteers from a variety of different countries and backgrounds, some of whom I’m hoping to visit around the world next year!
There is so much to do in Cape Town, and so much I didn’t get to do even in 10 weeks! Must-sees are Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, Muizenberg Beach (you can go surfing with Projects Abroad on a Friday afternoon after work), Bo Kaap, Bloubergstrand, Cape Point Vineyards Market, Woodstock Market, Cape Point and of course the Garden Route. Some of the highlights of that were bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge, which is the highest in the world at 216m, Addo National Elephant Park, whale watching at Hermanus and Knysna Heads.
Conservation project in Botswana
I spent the final part of my trip volunteering on the Projects Abroad Conservation program in Botswana, as an “add-on” to my main project. The weather was getting incredibly hot by the time I went (the first week in December), so we worked from roughly 6.30-9.30am and 3.30-6.30pm each day, and took the time in between to nap, play numerous games of Uno and monopoly and just chill out.
As I was only going for a week, I was slightly concerned about fitting in with the group since they’d already made friends, but again from day one everybody was so welcoming and I had such a great time! Some of the work was difficult (physically); it included digging and building roads and removing wires, fences and snares, but some of the easier tasks including animal censuses balanced it out. I was also lucky enough to take part in a “sleep out”, where we literally slept outside on the animal hide and took shifts watching out for animals; I managed to see a spotted hyena, a family of bush pigs and an elephant up close!
I really did have the time of my life in Cape Town: the volunteering, the people I met, the many sights to see, the socializing... I really would recommend it to anyone who wants an adventure; you will not regret it!