The organisation International Volunteering Headquarters (IVHQ) organised it all for me: the accommodation, food and transport provided for a low cost. I would absolutely recommend volunteering through IVHQ if you ever feel inclined!
There is a township nearby called Capricorn. A ‘township’ consists of people who live below the poverty line, in ramshackle housing, often without jobs, adequate healthcare or adequate education. The children are considered ‘disadvantaged’- living with single parents or guardians with little money, or with relatives addicted to alcohol or drugs. The drug ‘tik’ (crystal meth) is rife in the area, and destroys the lives of young people, particularly men. As volunteers we are told not to come to work smelling of alcohol, as some children can associate this smell with violence and can be frightened of us.
The Educare Centre
I spent two weeks working at an Educare Centre, in a class with a wonderful young teacher and about fifteen 3 to 4 year olds. First thing in the morning they would get an oat-based breakfast. We would have an hour or so of play- perhaps some crafts, reading a story, or singing songs in English (the children spoke a range of languages including Afrikaans and Zulu). The school is very religious and occasionally would have an assembly with the whole school together singing Christian songs- quite wonderful to watch and get involved in!
Then we would all go outside to the sandy play area- monkey bars, slides and lots of things to climb on. This was my favourite time, as I could invent games to play with the children and they would clamber all over me. They were mostly happy children, but one or two would cry constantly. My heart went out to a skinny little lad, who always had sad eyes and cried a lot. You can’t help but get irritated sometimes, but then you think... ‘’what his life like at home?’’ You have no idea what these children live like every day, so just making them smile for a little while, or teaching them a new game or song, is extremely satisfying.
It’s back to the classroom and lunch time- a little rice with a few veggies chopped up in it. Then it’s nap time, and my work for the day is over. My last day at the centre we took all the children to the swimming pools near the beach. It was interesting logistically- but we managed to get them all on the big coach, singing songs all the way, off the coach, into the pools, changed and splashing around. I was amazed how I was pretty much the only volunteer who got in the pool and soaking wet with them- it was great fun. I think if you do something like this then you should throw yourself in completely- literally as well as figuratively!
It’s very hard to not have favourites, and one of mine was a gorgeous little 4 year old boy with long curly hair in a pony-tail. He was constantly attached to his cousin, the most beautiful girl with ringlets. (She once drew a picture and said ‘’that’s me, and that’s my prince. One day he will come and fetch me.’’) This little boy was living at home with his single mother and several siblings. She was struggling to pay for his school. So I made a donation to the school and paid his fee for the year, including all excursions. The headmistress went to visit her and tell her, she cried and said ‘’thank you from the bottom of my heart.’’
This year I contacted the headmistress again to ask about paying his fees again. I was informed that the boys 1 year old brother had died from a respiratory infection. The cost of the funeral had left their mother broke. So I happily paid his fees again. And I got some donations from friends and family to contribute towards the Christmas party for the school.
I think maybe something that puts people off doing volunteering or donating to charities is the thought that we are not really making that much difference. But you go and work for a charity like Dreams to Reality, and you are with the people that live it and breathe it every day, and you realise even the tiniest thing you can do, will help.
Dreams to Reality website: http://www.dreamstoreality.co.za/
IVHQ website: www.volunteerhq.org