Janan Kothari - General Care Projects in South Africa
There was a point in my life when I needed a break from everything around me. A break that would help me learn something new about myself. A break that would give me time to reflect on my recent experiences. A break that would allow me to figure out the next move in my journey of life. The month I spent in Cape Town gave me the perfect opportunity for all of this and more.
In my eyes, it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. From the rocky mountains and sandy beaches to the fascinating history and vibrant mix of people - Cape Town has it all. The day I landed there, I was even lucky enough to see a double rainbow on the drive home from the airport.
Like most volunteers will probably tell you, I was initially quite nervous. I had never travelled alone to a different country that was so far away from home. It felt like I was blindfolded and dropped into the unknown; I had no idea what to expect and that made it quite daunting. However, the nervousness dissipated as soon as I was introduced to my host family.
My Host Family
From what I’ve gathered during my time in South Africa, most locals are friendly, approachable and talkative; my host family was no exception to this. The Davis family was very welcoming and so were the other volunteers who I stayed with.
Evenings spent at home were fun and relaxed. We would all eat dinner together as a family and play a few rounds of card games by the fireplace. Sometimes, my roommate and I would also sit down and watch a game of football on the television; our host father would often accompany us if he finished work early. Being a vegetarian, I also had some initial reservations about the cuisine; however, my host mother was even kind enough to cook a separate meal for me every day.
I spent plenty of evenings learning Afrikaans from my host mother and listening to my host father share his experiences of life during apartheid; and in hindsight, I can honestly say that I feel blessed to have had such a supportive and generous host family.
I vividly remember my first encounter with the children at the Sunrise Educare Centre. As soon as I entered a classroom full of three year olds, I felt twenty-seven pairs of eyes watching my every move. Within seconds however, there were smiles all around the room and then one of the boys stood up and gave me a hug. That was the first of many special moments I will never forget.
The mornings always started with a prayer, followed by breakfast. I would distribute bowls of pap amongst the children and feed the youngest ones of the lot. Every bathroom break thereafter, I was in charge of the boys, because without constant supervision, they usually wreaked havoc with the water from the taps.
Teaching sessions were integrated into a variety of activities. We did everything from sitting in a circle and teaching them shapes, colours, etc. to building different animals out of play-dough. Every Friday morning we would also have a gathering in the hallway to sing devotional songs (in English and Afrikaans). There were also scheduled playtimes throughout the day. Sometimes, I’d be a standing tunnel, for toys cars; and other times, I would be the shoulder the little ones sat on as they crossed the monkey bars.
When lunchtime came around, it would be a little less hectic. After a prayer, I would hand out plates of curry and bread to the children and then I would feed Liam. Unlike the other children, Liam never ate the curry, so we had to prepare a separate meal for him. Most of the time, by the end of the hour, there would be noodles all over Liam’s clothes and mine. Once everyone was done eating, the children would nap, until their parents came to collect them.
In all honesty, the days I spent at my placement were the best days of my life. It’s difficult to describe in words everything I felt, but the whole experience was so enriching. I learned so much about life, not only from the teachers, but also from the children. I met new people, made new friends, and even became a part of the family.
Weekends were used as opportunities to explore the city of Cape Town. Most Saturday mornings were spent eating delicious foods with other volunteers at Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. Afternoons, would usually involve trips to museums, gardens, and markets. Furthermore, I was also fortunate enough to meet up with an old friend during my stay. Together, we went to see the Constantia Winelands and Boulder’s Bay. However, the highlight of my trip would have to be the hike up Table Mountain via the Platteklip Gorge with my roommate.
Ever since I came back from Cape Town, my outlook on life has changed for the better. The time I spent with the children at my placement, helped put so many of my thoughts into perspective. I now have a clear idea of what I want to do in life and I have every intention of heading back to visit my new family when given another chance.
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.