Each day is a learning experience that opens eyes, hearts, and minds.
Before joining African Impact, I spent hours and weeks researching what my time would look like. When l arrived, I realized pretty fast that it was time to throw out any preconceptions and open my mind to the experience that lay ahead of me.
As I conclude this first incredible week volunteering with African Impact, I’m hoping my initial insights might help those interested in, or preparing for their first volunteer trip. While this is just a sneak-peek into being a volunteer in Africa, my most important piece of advice is to arrive open-minded and just dive right in!
1. Stereotypes Will Be Smashed
You’ll be reminded that the media often fails to show us the full picture, tending to favor the most extreme and provocative stories.
You’ll meet happy children whose bright smiles and sharp, curious minds knock out those inaccurate images depicted in commercials of the poor, sad African child and those buzzing flies.
You’ll feel incredibly safe and warmly welcomed, especially by the communities you’ll be working with. African Impact’s inspiring grandmothers from the Grannies Against Poverty and AIDS project will take you in as family.
You’ll begin to form your own opinions of Africa based on your first-hand experiences, and you will keep those stories with you for a lifetime.
2. Mornings Are Different
As a die hard idealist, I believe humans are generous and compassionate at the core. The act of giving aligns us with our innate values and fills us with a pure sense of purpose. Especially for those with a passion for giving, few things are more rewarding.
Waking up in the morning, knowing you get to make a difference in even one person’s life, let alone a community’s, is enough to make you jump out of bed without hitting the snooze button.
That early morning motivation and clarity is not one I’ll take for granted, and after experiencing it for a week, my goal is to wake up every morning with that bounce in my step!
3. You’ll Embrace Discomfort as a Means to Grow
Constantly exploring outside our comfort zone is what keeps us evolving and learning!
My first day in Cape Town, I rode the Ferris wheel at the V&A Waterfront. No biggie, right? Wrong. I have a lifelong fear of Ferris wheels and decided to conquer it once and for all. It was such a beautiful and seriously not-scary experience that I’m choosing to actively keep that theme going. What’s next – skydiving, paragliding, learning to surf? It’s all on the menu here in Cape Town.
On the weekends, you’ll get to explore the surrounding areas, which include mountains, desert, oceans, rivers, woods, and all the adrenaline-pumping activities you could possibly wish for. For those less inclined to jump out of planes, the scene in our neighborhood of Muizenberg is all about good vibes, the beach, and local shops.
4. You’ll Learn the Right vs Wrong Way to Volunteer
African Impact is proud to abide by the Child Protection Policy, and goes above and beyond to educate its volunteers on how and why to behave in a way that puts the children and communities first.
If you’re looking to take selfies with African kids after going drinking all night, this isn’t the place for you. If you’re after an ethical, genuinely beneficial, and life-changing experience for both you and the communities you work with, learn more about African Impact.
That being said, visual storytelling is powerful when done right and ethically, and each week a volunteer is granted social media duty per project, taking action group shots that will serve as much better memories, just like this shot below:
5. You’ll Discover Endless Diversity and Beauty
umntu ufunda komye umntu – everyone learns from another (in Xhosa)
There are 11 official languages in South Africa, among at least 35 spoken nationally. Between the multi-culturalism and the group of like-minded internationals you’ll meet while volunteering, there will always be an opportunity to learn about other cultures and create your global network.
Right now, we’ve got volunteer representation from Germany, France, America, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Israel and more!
You may even want to take a stab at Xhosa, a language consisting of tricky (at least for me) click consonants and spoken by 8.3 million as a first language! Most of the communities we’ve been working with speak Xhosa, and I’m hoping to get some sort of mastery over it during the time I’m here!
6. Your Volunteering Group Becomes Your Family
It’s rare to find yourself amongst a group of such like-minded people who all have such different, interesting backgrounds.
When I arrived in Cape Town, I found myself welcomed by a group of friendly do-gooders all after the same thing: exploring new places and ideas while making a difference in the world.
It’s amazing how quickly you become comfortable and form connections with your fellow volunteers. There’s a culture of inspiration and enthusiasm that fosters long-lasting connections that span across the world.
Each day is a learning experience that opens eyes, hearts, and minds. With the incredible staff, volunteer group, and of course, the kids, grandmothers, and other participants in the programs, next week promises to be even more epic!