When I signed up for the Care & Community Project in South Africa with Projects Abroad, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely anxious. I had never flown by myself, let alone gone to a foreign country and stayed with a bunch of strangers from all over the globe.
I had never heard of Projects Abroad until a friend a year older than me recommended them to me. He had done a project with them the previous year and had loved it. I decided to bite the bullet and just go for it, thinking it would be good for my personal growth and it would be a chance to see a new country. I never expected to have one of the best two weeks of my life, make new friends, and gain confidence and a better understanding of the challenging conditions many people live in and how lucky I really am.
My host family
I stayed in Cape Town with Faye and Aslam and from my very first day, I felt like a treasured family member. Faye and Aslam were both so kind and welcoming that I barely felt homesick and they would always join in games and share anecdotes from their lives, so that we all felt like one big, multi-cultural family. We all knew that if we had any doubts or worries we could go to them, but this never happened as we were all so well looked after. The accommodation was also excellent, as the huge table in the kitchen made it easy for everyone to socialise together and the single-sex dorms for between two and five people allowed lots of fun chatter in the afternoons.
The other volunteers
One of the things I was most worried about was making friends with the other 20 or so volunteers I would be sharing a house with, as despite being similar ages, we were from all across the globe: France, Italy, Nigeria, Denmark, England and America. For this reason, I was under the impression we would have nothing in common to talk about.
Although it was slightly awkward to start (“So, what A-levels are you doing?” “We don’t do A-levels in France.” “Oh…um…ok.”), we eventually found that it was our differences that brought us together. The French volunteers were horrified to find out we only had one hour for lunch and we were all confused when we discovered that an American volunteer had 400 people in her year group (I have the best part of 50) and had to go back to school in the middle of August. Every evening was filled with various card games, which we all got slightly overexcited about. You would have thought we were in a mosh pit with the volume of our screams when someone forgot to say “uno”! We all became comfortable around each other extremely quickly and even the shyest people came out of their shells quickly. We have all made lasting friendships on this trip.
My Care & Community placement
I worked at Tehilah Daycare in one of the townships with four other girls from my house and this was, unsurprisingly, one of the best parts of the trip. Everyone at the day-care was so welcoming, friendly, and ready to answer any questions we had. Without even knowing our names, the children would pounce on us, begging us to play with them, do their hair, or read them a story. Similarly, the teachers wanted to know all about my country and what TV shows I watch. They fawned over my hair, always stroking and plaiting it and saying how pretty it is. I can assure you that my very ordinary shoulder-length light brown hair does not get this kind of praise in my native England, but they made me feel like an extremely exotic specimen.
We helped out in every aspect of the day-care centre, from playing with the children to reading them stories, helping with their meals, teaching them to spell their names, and teaching them about proper hygiene. Working at the day-care centre was an incredibly eye-opening experience, as despite having almost no toys, the children were always smiling, laughing, and having fun in the playground just by dancing, playing catch and playing in the sandpit. It’s a lesson many of our parents nag us about, but seeing it in person really hammered it home: you don’t need material possessions to be happy.
My free time
Another great part of the trip was the wide range of activities Projects Abroad arranged for us. We did all the classic tourist activities, such as going to Table Mountain and Cape Point, buying many pointless keychains, and visiting numerous restaurant to try the local cuisine. One restaurant that we visited was particularly interesting, with a communism theme and many prints of Fidel Castro’s face looming over us as we ate our chicken. We also did unique activities, such as having a drum lesson with a professional group. We all agreed the lesson was great fun, despite our throbbing red palms after the hour-long session. Perhaps most rewarding of all was getting the chance to paint a local school, as we could immediately see the effects of our work, both on the school and on our clothes. Ten barrels of paint plus 15 teenagers is never going to end without a mess!
My overall experience
I cannot stress enough how highly I recommend volunteering with Projects Abroad. Any anxieties I had about it quickly melted away and I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My confidence and social skills have improved, and I have experienced so many new things. The South African people are some of the friendliest you will ever meet and I feel I have become a better and more understanding person after working at the day-care centre. If you volunteer with Projects Abroad, I can promise you that you are in for the trip of your life.