Carrie Upton - General Care Projects in South Africa
I went to South Africa at the end of July to go work in a pre-school in Steenburgh called Rainbow. I was going for a month and when I was heading onto the airplane a month seemed like such a long time and South Africa still seemed like so far away with the flight alone lasting 9 hours from London to Dubai, then a further 10 hours from Dubai to Cape Town.
On my first day I was picked up from the airport and taken to my host family; a family of four in the house who were all very welcoming and within minutes of me arriving made me feel at home. There was already one volunteer there when I arrived and I was relieved to find out that she was from Canada so we at least spoke the same language!
The following day was mine and my co-worker's first day working at the Rainbow Educare Center, where we were shown around the pre-school, introduced to the three teachers and the children, and we were met with lots of hugs, smiles and kisses (especially from the children).
On our first day at the school we were slowly introduced to the daily routine. Whilst we were waiting for all the children to arrive we would sing songs, often a mixture between African songs and English Christian songs. We would then dish out the porridge which was made by nuns from the local church and after breakfast we would then each divide into a classroom and play with or educate the children.
Tasks often included learning the days of the week and months of the year, mathematics and the weather. Then the children would often be allowed to go outside to play on the swings, or have what was called 'a water session'. One thing that particularly shocked me was how amazed they were by water; I showed one girl how to blow bubbles in water using a straw which kept all the children entertained for quite a while.
One thing that made this experience extra special for me was the fact that I celebrated my 21st birthday in South Africa. I thought I'd miss my family more than I actually did but that morning when I got to the school one of the teachers had taught the children how to sing 'Happy Birthday' in English, which really made me feel like part of the family. I was also presented with a homemade chocolate cake and a happy birthday banner. Continuing my birthday celebrations, the Projects Abroad volunteers decided to have a birthday celebration for me by taking me out to Long Street in Cape Town for drinks. The night life in Cape Town is very alive and buzzing with a mixture of different styles of music.
My housemate and I also decided whilst we were there to do some site-seeing, so one weekend we booked into a backpackers lodge in Cape Town for two nights and over the weekend we hiked up Table Mountain. It took us 4 hours and was unbelievably cold at the top but was well worth it for the views, although some people chose to cheat by using the cable cars. After that stressful exercise we then decided to go on a safari where we saw lots of different animals which we definitely do not get in the UK such as giraffes, buffalo, rhino and the springbok (the national animal of South Africa).
Whilst I was volunteering at the pre-school I also got to spend time with the community's Youth Group. This was very exciting as this group of young teenagers taught me many things; in particular their style of dancing, which I still enjoy doing today. One thing that these young teenagers should be rewarded for is that they used their stressful and difficult pasts to help others in their community to cope in hard situations. It gives you a completely new perspective on how people cope with life in the third world.
Unfortunately one month isn't very long at all! When I first came to this school I was told not to have favorites but the more time I spent in one class the harder it came not to have favorites. There is one child who had as much of an impact on me as I had on him. I started to bond with one child in particular, I found this could have been because he was being misjudged as being mischievous but really he was looking for attention or was just bored. So after getting to know him I realized he was a sweet and loving boy who stole my heart.
What really amazes me about this community is that they have so little yet they always offer so much, and never turn anyone away. Whenever I'm asked about my time in South Africa I'm always told that my eyes light up, but inside I'm sad because I miss them all so much. If I could go back I would and to the exact same place and people, and maybe this time I wouldn't come back.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.