Lauren Daniels - General Care Projects in South Africa
After an exciting flight from Johannesburg in what seemed like the smallest plane ever, I eventually touched down at Matsapha airport, South Africa. I was greeted by Anna, my project coordinator and whisked straight of to a hostel in the middle of a game reserve called Sondzella. Because I arrived on the weekend all the other volunteers were staying there for the weekend too. I ventured straight out and explored the game reserve with some of the other volunteers.
Having never been to a game park before, being dropped of at one on my first day was far too exciting. I was taken straight to some hot springs where we jumped straight in. The remainder of the weekend was spent relaxing, and getting to know the volunteers.
I had come out to South Africa to do a care & community placement, but the placement which the previous volunteers were doing had just finished, so I became a conservationist for a week while they finalised my placement. On the first day we headed out with Rols, the project coordinator for the conservationists; I was unaware at the time the amount of walking that I would do for the following week. It was a lot! We stayed in a little cabin for the week and had several long walks mapping routes which future visitors to the reserve could then use, it was really interesting, and the views were spectacular, bit too hilly for my liking though!
The following Monday I and two other care & community volunteers were taken to our new placement. We were going to be based at a care centre for orphaned and vulnerable children. The children didn't live on site but came everyday from 8am until 2pm.
As soon as I got out of the car I was bombarded with children all desperate for me to hold them. I was shocked at the classroom or lack of classrooms the children had. It was basically rooms with nothing but wooden planks on the outside which acted as walls. Inside was no better: what appeared to be huge black plastic bags were pinned to the wall. There were no seats for the kids - instead they sat on mats, and there was only a small chalkboard for the teacher to write on. I knew it was going to be basic but not this basic. I spent my first day getting to know the kids. I was left to teach the younger class which comprised of about 25 3-7 year olds.
The rest of the week I really got into the teaching and I begun a routine with the kids, teaching them the alphabet and numbers in the morning and doing arty stuff in the afternoon. I soon realised that it was virtually impossible to control 25 young kids who spoke no word of English and whose idea of fun was to go around punching and kicking one another, so I felt a great sense of achievement when after just 10 minutes the class was still listening.
Eventually, some more care & community volunteers came out, and they were able to help in the class which we split into four different age groups and abilities and each volunteer took a separate group.
The days were pretty short: we would have to be at the care centre for 8.30am having done a 20 minute brilliant walk through all the local homesteads from our volunteer house which was in a local farm called Malandelas By the end of my two months it was lovely to walk through the houses and say good morning in Swazi to all the people I had got to know. The locals were so nice and always wanted to speak to you.
We would finish at 2pm; sometimes we would head into doing a bit of shopping. This was always enjoyable. I loved the combis (local transport) which we had to catch; I was fascinated by the different characters that got on. If you think London underground at rush hour is a nightmare, being crammed onto a tiny mini van packed with fruit and luggage is a completely different matter, but somehow I didn't mind so much in South Africa.
If we didn't go into town we would return to our volunteer house and relax for the afternoon or more often than not we would go and annoy Ziyanda, who also worked for Projects Abroad, but also ran the internet café, so we would successfully while away a couple of hours on the internet as well as devouring huge slices of the nicest chocolate cake in the world from, of all places the local garden centre which was just across the road from were we were staying in Malendelas.
Teaching was amazing, but we were also recruited to help prepare the kids' meals each day. The children received two meals a day, some porridge for breakfast and corn meal which was turned into a doughy consistency for lunch along with some stewed beans. It was always a bit eventful trying to feed 40 or so hungry kids, and there was a mad rush but we managed it each day. I found it was often the quietest time of day.
One of the most memorable days at my placement was when I managed to teach one of the girls how to spell her name. Her face when she learnt it was incredible and for the remainder of my time at the centre she would write it anywhere and everywhere she could. It was really satisfying and although it was something really small it will stay with me forever.
During the weekends the conservation gang would return and we would all hang out together. If there was an event on at the House on Fire (the most amazing club I have ever been to) we would go and dance the night and often morning away with the locals. One of the most memorable evenings was when a really big Afro pop band Malaika came and played live, they were wonderful. We also had an entertaining afternoon paint balling once, as well as watching some amazing sunsets on top of a local hill with bananas cooking on the fire. We were never bored and there was always something to do, we often found ourselves at a random BBQ or Braai as they say in Africa, hanging out with the locals.
A volunteer friend and I then spent a week in a homestead. This was definitely an experience as we got to try the local cuisine and experience real Swazi culture. I think one night, although I am still not sure, we were presented with some poor animal's stewed heart. The daughter of our host refused to eat it, which did not bode well for us. I gave it a few prods but decided to refrain from trying it, our host mother was not at all offended, instead we tucked into the maize, and vegetables which were delicious. Before bed we were given a tub of hot water to wash in, and then, as it got dark really early and there wasn't much entertainment we went to bed at about 7 each night. It was really great to experience Swazi living.
On my final day at the care centre I was presented with the Swazi flag which was really sweet. (It has since been hung in my uni living room) I didn't realise how upsetting it was leaving the kids. I got really close to them over the two months and everyday was amazing, I wanted to take them all back to England in my suitcase but unfortunately I wasn't allowed.
I had the most remarkable experience in South Africa, both the teaching and social side were more than I could have ever expected. I have definitely made some life long friends as well as some local people who I hope to return and visit someday. South Africa is such an amazing place it is small enough to explore but big enough to be kept entertained on the weekend, and as South Africa is just a short drive away there is always time to venture out of South Africa and visit other parts of Africa. Definitely two months I shall never forget.
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.