Jordan Wajs - Combined Law & Human Rights in South Africa
My name is Jordan Wajs, and I’m from Toronto, Canada. I’m a student at the University of Western Ontario in Law and Business. I came across Projects Abroad while doing research on international volunteering opportunities. What drew me most to the opportunity was the chance to gain real exposure to attorneys and clients as well as the social justice initiatives. I had never been to Africa before and knew very little about South African culture, but Projects Abroad put me in touch with alumni who helped me make my decision.
My Combined Law and Human Rights placement
I spent an incredible eight weeks in Cape Town. My placement was with the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO). I spent my days travelling to townships to meet with clients and researching and drafting legal documents alongside PAHRO’s staff. On Wednesday afternoons, I helped run educational workshops at the Bonnytoun Youth Juvenile Detention Centre. While much of what I worked on was challenging, I always had a strong support system in place. PAHRO’s staff was open to any questions and checked up consistently to make sure I was comfortable with my role. I became close with several other law students from around the world who were volunteering within the same placement. I travelled to and from the office, went for meals and to the gym, as well as did my work with them.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of a number of successful moments with PAHRO. One of our Bonnytoun presentations on Youth Day, was so well-received that the unit we were visiting taught us songs and dances they remembered from school. I also researched and compiled a Heads of Argument that a client relied upon to succeed in an employment hearing. PAHRO’s staff made me feel like I was making a real contribution, which made working on tough cases much easier.
My host family
I lived with a host family during my stay in South Africa. My host mother, Brenda, was incredible. She took care of me like I was a member of her family. Brenda cooked for her volunteers every night and took time to ask us about our days and upcoming plans. I felt safe in her home and had no problems commuting to the office and back.
My overall experience
Other than how fulfilling the volunteer work at PAHRO was, my most cherished takeaway from the Combined Law and Human Rights placement was the relationships that I was lucky enough to make. The South Africa Projects Abroad community was full of welcoming and genuinely interesting people, most of whom shared my interests in law and social justice. I made friends both within and beyond my age group from a number of different backgrounds. Even since my placement ended I’ve been able to keep in touch with almost all of them. On my way home to Canada I was even able to stop over in Edinburgh to visit two volunteers that I had met in Cape Town. As well, I’m still in touch with the PAHRO staff who were both my formal mentors and my friends. I now have a network of friends that spans Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and North America, all of whom I wouldn’t have met without Project Abroad.
Cape Town is an amazing city, and Projects Abroad encouraged me to take advantage of all it had to offer. During nights and weekends I took part in a number of activities with other volunteers. My favourite memories include surfing at Muizenberg together every Friday, Braais at Mzoli’s, climbing Table Mountain, and Saturday mornings at the Old Biscuit Mill. I also enjoyed spending three days on the Garden Route along the African coast. Undertaking meaningful volunteer activities while experiencing Cape Town’s culture made for a trip that I’ll never forget.
Deciding to travel to Africa on my own was intimidating at first, but I can honestly say that it was one of the best choices that I’ve ever made. The Combined Law and Human Rights Project furthered my passion for law and taught me much more than I had anticipated about the world. I was upset when my eight weeks ended, and I’ve spent a fair amount of my time since then recommending the program to my peers. My time volunteering in Cape Town means a lot to me and I’m grateful that Projects Abroad gave me the chance to do so.