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Vicky Higgs - Teaching English & Other Subjects in South Africa

Me and one of the kids

For the first three weeks of my placement, I was based in South Africa. During this time I taught at Malkerns Primary school. This was really great and I met some really adorable children, who were so glad that you were there to help them and always wanted to talk to you. The children at Malkerns called me Miss Vicky, I found this really sweet! The teaching was usually done straight out of the text book and wasn't very imaginative so teaching at Malkerns was a great experience and I have so many happy memories from the school. All the teaching volunteers stayed together in a cottage, it was so nice all being together in the cottage and you make some really great friends who I hope to keep in touch with and stay friends with forever.

Me and some of my class

One of the highlights of my time was when all the volunteers went on a trip to Mozambique for five days; we stayed in a beautiful location right next to the beach. We all slept in a round hut with about 20 beds around the edge. The beach and the pub were right by us, it was amazing. While in Mozambique we swam with whale sharks! This was very scary as even though they are called "gentle giants" and only eat plankton, all I could imagine was a huge great shark and no cage in between us! The Mozambique trip was a really great trip where we got to know all the other volunteers from the different projects.

Teaching in a classroom with plastic lined walls

When we returned to South Africa I visited a small shack called the NCP (National Care Point) where I spent 2 days helping out there before I went to South Africa. The NCP is set up for orphans/ part orphans or severely disadvantaged children and is a care in the community project. Those first 2 days at the NCP were so hard, you could see the pain that some of these children had been through just by looking into their eyes. The children at the NCP were adorable and always wanted to be cuddled or just to have a little bit of attention.

A group of us hired a car one weekend and drove to Durban which was amazing, we only had one day there, but it was really good to be able to go and visit. On the way back on the Sunday we stopped at St Lucia where we saw hippos and a crocodile. It was a really nice weekend.

Working in the fields

Then I went to South Africa, I was taken to the South Africa border. Here I stayed with Eunice and Nomfundo who were mother and daughter. Eunice was also the teacher that I was based with in the school. The school was in the township just outside the main town of Barberton and my house was on the grounds of the school. The house I stayed in had no hot running water, so in the mornings we would boil the urn and put the water into a plastic baby bath! This was how I had to wash for 2 weeks! I helped in a class of 54 children while in Barberton.

After 2 weeks of teaching in Barberton, I returned to South Africa. Instead of returning to the cottage I went to another host family called the Rowberry's. They were lovely and I felt really at home with them. I am still in contact with the daughter now. I took over teaching the older class who were aged between 10 - 17 years and there were usually about 12 - 15 kids in the class. I taught them a mixture of English, Maths and Science. Whatever I taught them was all they got taught as there was no proper system of education at the NCP. The NCP is set up for children who can't afford proper education, it is somewhere for them to go during the day and get a basic education. These kids were really in need of the volunteers to go and even if it's just to give them some attention or if you teach them, it's all so worthwhile and fulfilling.

It was quite challenging having to organise a lesson that suited all the different abilities that I had in my class. I had to do extra activities for the more able ones and also make time to help the less able ones. I really enjoyed this challenge. At break times and lunchtimes the children were provided with a meal, which for many of them were the only meals that they got. It was really nice to be around the younger children during the breaks, the youngest were from 3 upwards. They were so cute to play with and teach basic things like the alphabet to. The NCP was definitely the most fulfilling part of my trip and it was so great to feel like you had a made a difference, even if it was quite small to these children's lives.

One of my most fulfilling parts of teaching at the NCP was when I divided my class in half and took the ones who couldn't do subtraction outside and talked it through to them. When I asked if they understood now, one little boy looked up at me with a huge grin and really excitedly he said "yes!" it was such a lovely moment as I really felt I'd achieved something. I then set some exercises which confirmed that they actually did understand.

It's so nice when you build up relationships with the children and even in the relatively small time I was there, it was possible to see them change. One girl in my class, when I first arrived would never stand next to me when I marked her book. She would either hide in the corner, under the table or run to the toilet. It was obvious that she had been punished for getting things wrong. After a couple of weeks, she would stand next to me and when I put the pen to her book she would say "tick," if she had got it wrong and I put a cross, she would say "oh madam" the first time that she did this, it bought tears to my eyes! To see that this tiny little girl trusts you when she was so obviously scared at first was a really heart warming but at the same time heart breaking experience!

On my last day I went with the children to their field where they grow cabbages. They hadn't been there for quite a while and the cabbages had grown loads, it was so sweet to watch how some of the children in my class got so excited about the size of the cabbages! Leaving the NCP was horrible! None of my children could understand it when I was tears on my last day! I had some very funny looks! I really did not want to leave them, that was one of the worst and hardest things about the trip! I would have loved to have the chance to have stayed longer. My memories of those children will stay with me forever!

The volunteers also went on a trip to the Kruger National Park where we camped in one of the campsites inside the park. While in Kruger we saw all the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion.) We also hippos, crocodiles, giraffes; at one point I was so close to a hyena (through an electric fence that surrounded our campsite) that I could smell its territorial smell! On our last night in Kruger I achieved one of my life time ambitions and slept out under the stars! It was amazing. While in Kruger, I also got offered 30 cows and a hippo to become the wife of one of the rangers and to go and live with him in the park. I said I would have to consult my parents and would get back to him!

South Africa is full of great people all of who are really friendly and want to talk to you in the street and think it's great when you learn the south african greetings! Wherever you go in South Africa you'll meet people, who want to talk and get to know you. During my last few weeks in South Africa I had my hair braided, with long black extensions, so I looked very African when I was in Cape Town. I didn't tell anyone so it was a surprise when I returned home! Altogether I have so many memories and so many new friends that I hope will stay with me forever. It was an amazing 3 months and I am so glad that I made the decision to do it, it was absolutely amazing and a chapter of my life that will never be forgotten!

Vicky Higgs

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