Jennifer Clack - Teaching English & Other Subjects in South Africa
I had always wanted to visit South Africa. I arrived in Cape Town in March 2009 and spent four of the best months of my life there…
For my first placement, Journalism, I worked as an intern for The Daily Voice newspaper. On my first day, less than two minutes after arriving at the office in downtown Cape Town, I was told to accompany one of the reporters to Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships in the Cape Flats. We were there to cover a story on a riot that had broken out at a local high school... standing in the courtyard as a young white woman in office clothes, I’d never felt more out of place. That was my first taste of life at The Daily Voice and before the end of the day my eyes had been opened (and on day two, the smart pants swapped for jeans!)
For the first few weeks I was shadowing other reporters and later I was given the opportunity to conduct interviews myself and write my own articles. I didn't have any experience of journalism but the editors were happy to go through any amendments to my articles and advise me accordingly. I had several small articles published and was lucky enough to have a front page story published along with subsequent follow-up stories.
During the month I was there, I was involved with many different stories; including those covering drug-related violence, child rape, and death. At times I felt overwhelmed but I always had a reporter or photographer by my side. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to visit areas of Cape Town that many tourists never get to see and be a part of giving a voice to the people of the townships.
For my second placement, teaching, I spent two months at Hyde Park Elementary School in Parkwood. For the majority of my time there I alternated between two Grade R classes, which consisted of children aged 4 - 5 years old. There were about 30 children in each class and on the days when both of the teachers were absent, I had my hands full with 70 kids! You need a lot of enthusiasm and motivation to keep 70 kids entertained and engaged for a day, not to mention eyes in the back of your head, but I loved every minute of it. The kids were so eager to learn new things and whilst I was only teaching basic literacy and numeracy, it was so rewarding when one of them learnt the difference between a triangle and a pyramid, or finally wrote their 2s and 5s the right way around.
The kids really enjoyed dance and music activities and I often set aside some time to join in with them and teach them various songs. The school was lacking in resources, which was a cause of frustration for the teaching staff. Before I left, I bought a CD player and audio ‘read-along’ story books so that the kids could continue to enjoy the activities whenever they wanted.
Living with a host family was one of the best parts of volunteering with Projects Abroad. I had the most amazing host parents and they treated me like one of the family. By living the Bagleys I was able to experience real Cape Town culture and traditions. Dinner time was a big deal and I loved sitting around the table with everyone, catching up on the day’s events and tucking into my host mum’s home cooking. And then there were the braais, (local BBQs) ... eating until I could burst!
In the three and a half months I was there I went from being the only volunteer at the house to one of 2, 3, 4, 5 and then 6! There were always people in and around the house and there was never a dull day in the Bagley household. I would often sit out on the balcony (built by my host dad) and came to love the view over Parkwood; of the dismantled cars and neglected land against the backdrop of Table Mountain and the postcard skyline.
During my time in Cape Town there were new volunteers arriving all the time, of all ages and from all backgrounds. It was such an eclectic mix of people and I made some really great friends, many of whom I have met up with since returning to the UK. There is a really great social side to volunteering with Projects Abroad and many nights are spent at the various bars on Long Street or trying ostrich, kudu and springbok steaks at some of the various African restaurants.
You also have the opportunity to do entirely what you want with your free time, which I took full advantage of! I tried to do as much as I could at weekends; climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, visiting Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, staring out to sea at Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, seeing the penguins on Boulders beach, shark diving near Hermanus, basking in the sun in Muizenburg and Camps Bay, picnicking in the Botanical Gardens in Kirstenbosch, wine tasting in Stellenbosch, bungee jumping on the Garden Route, taking a trip to Jo'burg, seeing The Big 5 in Kruger National Park (well, 4. I’m still waiting to spot a leopard, no pun intended)!
I am returning in January next year to visit my host family and experience South African summer. I absolutely adore Cape Town and you simply cannot help but fall in love with the place. It holds a very big place in my heart.