Laura Nesbitt - General Care Projects in South Africa
After I had finished university I knew I wanted to take a trip - a big trip that would really be life changing. I had family that lived in Cape Town, so it is always a place I had wanted to visit. But I also wanted to do something worthwhile, something that would have an impact. And Projects Abroad offered me the chance to do both!
I had travelled quite a bit before but not on my own, so it’s safe to say I was feeling pretty anxious! But the staff in the Cape Town office were fantastic and really helped to calm my nerves. One of the things I was nervous about was my safety in Cape Town. It gets a bit of a bad reputation for not being safe! Obviously there are some strict safety rules to be followed, but if you take these seriously and apply a bit of common sense there is absolutely nothing to worry about! I certainly wouldn’t let it stop you from going!
On the whole, the people were very welcoming and always happy to help and offer directions to lost looking tourists! And there is always someone on hand from the office to help if you are feeling uncertain or need some quick advice.
Arrival to South Africa
I arrived at the airport and was met by a member of the Projects Abroad staff. He was so welcoming and made feel very comfortable by chatting lots! Especially about the English Premier League which is extremely popular in South Africa! On the drive to my host house, I was really struck by the wealth disparity. We drove past one of the biggest townships in Cape Town which was just heart breaking, and then minutes later you would see really posh cars driving past.
It was hard to deal with at first, and made me feel quite angry and feel as though I couldn’t make a difference. But after a while you learn that’s just the way it is, and the sooner you can accept it the easier it is to focus on why you are there and who you can help.
Law & Human Rights placement
I started my time in Cape Town on the Law & Human Rights project. Having no law background I found some of the work very challenging, but the other volunteers and my supervisors were more than happy to help and point me in the right direction. I really enjoyed the social justice projects, which included going to youth detention centres and helping with rehabilitation exercises. To be honest I was quite frightened at first as I wasn’t sure what to expect. However all my preconceptions were proved wrong!
The people there were so polite and were truly grateful for the time we gave them. We would have so much fun playing games and laughing with them! I also felt that what we were doing was very valuable - we often gave presentations on topics such as drugs or crime, and they were so engaged with us and took the topics very seriously. It was an experience I will never forget.
After two weeks working in the Human Rights office, I moved to the care project for my remaining time in Cape Town. I worked in a crèche in a township called Vrygrond. It was quite hard emotionally to be working in the township, as the poverty and crime rates are very high. You see pictures and images of townships on the TV or in the newspapers, but seeing it for yourself is totally different. You can’t just switch over the channel and pretend it’s not there. It was a reminder that people really do live like this every day, and also a reminder not to take what I have for granted.
The crèche I worked at was called Sunflower Educare, and there was one other volunteer there with me. There was about 30 - 40 children there, ranging from about one year right up to 5/6 years. I will never forget the faces of the children when we walked in the classroom each day! They had the biggest smiles I have ever seen and would instantly run and jump on us and want us to cuddle them.
During our time there, me and the other volunteer at Sunflower applied for a ‘dirty day’ for our crèche. This is where Projects Abroad allocates some money each month to make improvements for the placements. We were so thrilled to have the money granted, and spent a day shopping for brand new toys and carpets for the crèche. A lot of the floors were concrete so children would often fall over and injure themselves, and as it gets cold in the winter it would also make a lot of them ill. It was amazing to feel that we had done something that would have a lasting effect for the children and help them to stay healthy.
I would say one of the most memorable things about my time in Cape Town was my host mum. I stayed in a suburb called Heathfield with Brenda. She was just amazing!! She instantly made me feel at home and as though I was a part of the family. I was so grateful that she was very open with us all, and I remember one evening when I went and sat with her on her bed and we just talked for hours!
She told me all about her family and what she had experienced through apartheid. It is an evening that I will treasure for life and I feel so blessed to have been able to hear about someone’s real life experiences. Brenda helped me settle into Cape Town life everyday and she truly loved each one of her volunteers! In fact we are still in touch now!
Another great thing about Projects Abroad is that there are always social events happening, so you very quickly get to meet other volunteers and have lots of fun! We had an amazing hike up Lions Head Mountain - which was quite a climb! But the views were just stunning! We stayed up there to watch the sunset and the full moon, which is a bit of a tradition in Cape Town. It really was so beautiful, there is nothing quite like an African sunset.
Another amazing social we did was the Garden Route weekend. It was such a great way to spend time with other volunteers, and many of the friends I made on that trip I am still in touch with now! We stayed in a backpacker’s hotel right on the beach, and sat drinking beers, having a braii and watching the sunset. Perfect evening! We also did a safari which was incredible - I saw my first lion which was equally as scary and exciting!
One of the many things I really love about Cape Town is the laid back attitude of the people there. I remember one time when me and my friend were waiting for a taxi to transport some things back to the crèche. We had booked the car for 11.30am, and ended up waiting about an hour! You quickly learn that ‘I’m coming now’ can mean anything from two minutes to two hours!
Some people may find this a little frustrating at first, but the sooner you can accept it and just laugh, I can guarantee you will enjoy the cultural experience so much more! And me and my friend were invited to wait inside a shop on the market, and ended up having a really lovely chat with the owners who took very good care of us! So if you can embrace the time keeping differences and try to relax, you may end up having an even more memorable time!
The great experience
Overall, my experience in Cape Town was just indescribable. It is such a beautiful country with something for everyone - whether it’s relaxing on the beach, looking around museums or shark cage diving! The people are extremely diverse which makes it a very interesting place to visit, and I always felt so welcomed!
Projects Abroad really make your time worthwhile by offering projects that make a true difference to peoples’ lives. I would absolutely recommend a trip to Cape Town - it will leave you with life long memories and it will teach you things that will stay with you forever. I certainly feel like I learnt a lot about life in Cape Town, and also learnt a whole lot about myself! If I had to sum up my time in three words; - challenging, exciting and beautiful!
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.