Sarah Burke - General Care Projects in South Africa
My name is Sarah Burke and I spent the month of November 2013 doing my volunteer work on the Teaching and Care placements with Projects Abroad. I am in my late twenties and had finally completed college in June of 2013. I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful and life changing prior to excelling and making use of my degree in the career world. After doing tons of research online I found that Projects Abroad would be the best fit for me, and I was right.
My Teaching Project
I spent the first couple of weeks working at one of the grammar schools. I worked with anywhere from 2 to 4 kids at a time in grades 1 and 2. The primary thing we worked on was their literacy skills. At times, if the teacher felt that math was where they needed more assistance we would work on that as well. It was very rewarding to see the individual children progress as the days went on.
I went there expecting to be asked to do actual teaching in the classroom; however, I thoroughly enjoyed working more closely with only a handful of students, as I felt I really made an impact on helping them improve their reading, writing and math skills.
My Care Project
The second few weeks I was placed at the Care project. I worked at Open Door Educare, which was one of the newer locations and also one of the most unfortunate in terms of having supplies and essentials needed to work with these children. The kids aged from 6 months to 6 years old and are separated into rooms based on their age group. This location was a huge eye opener. I really had to be creative in terms of what to do with the children since this location had very few toys, barely any books and nothing to use for arts & crafts.
With that said, you need to be prepared to really get involved and take charge. The other teachers around aren’t necessarily going to give you hard direction, but rather leave it in your hands to do as you want while working with these children. I was actually so impacted by this location that I am holding a fundraiser back at home and will be bringing the money back myself to purchase more supplies for these kids. Although I can’t stay there forever, maybe bringing in these supplies will help future volunteers to find more activities and clever ways of working with the children.
My Host Family
I had, by far, the best host family ever! My host parents and siblings made me feel so welcome and comfortable from the beginning. I also shared a home with up to six other volunteers, which allowed me to learn so much about others from all over Europe and other parts of the world. The biggest advice I can give is to be engaging, join the family and other volunteers in common areas of the house and strike up conversation.
I loved dinner time as that was the one time of day we all sat together and chatted at the end of the day. My family, in particular, always watched the same evening soap opera and laughed, or tried to guess what would happen next. I fell so in love with my family that I still talk to them weekly, whether it is just a ‘hello’ or an ‘I miss you’, I make it a point to keep contact with them. I also speak frequently with the other volunteers I lived with, specifically my roommate who I know will be a friend for life.
The culture and people of South Africa are amazing. There were so many different areas, some more well off and others that were much more under privileged; however, the people were always like a breath of fresh air. So appreciative and open and they just seemed happy and content.
The hardest part was probably catching onto public transportation, however, the more you do it the quicker you will learn how to take the trains and mini-buses. My biggest regret was not being able to stay longer. If I could’ve, I would’ve but it just wasn’t something in my budget at the time.
I recommend going for as long as you can to really get the best experience, however if you are like me and can only do 3-5 weeks I would recommend doing one job and putting your whole heart into making the best difference possible. This experience has changed my life and I will forever carry a piece of South Africa in my heart.
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.