Was it watching Lion King as a child? Or is it the vast swell of languages, landscapes and fascinating histories? Or maybe my past trips to several African countries? I am not exactly sure where my fascination of Africa stems from, but my love affair with the African continent is real.
Therefore, it did not take me long to commit to an internship with the African Impact Foundation (AIF) after I learned about the charity as an organization, its projects and its attractive locations around Africa. Finally, in August 2018, I arrived in Cape Town with no previous experience in working for an NGO, or even working in South Africa. But my four months in this vibrant city has made me feel right at home and it turned out to be so much more than a simple internship.
What is the African Impact Foundation?
Let us first back up a little bit and take a look at the African Impact Foundation. The non-profit organization was originally founded by African Impact as a responsible way to manage donations supplied by volunteers. Today, AIF is an independent organization that prides itself on its expertise and knowledge of sustainable and responsible development, while continuing to work closely with African Impact and maximize the impact of its volunteers on the ground. The communities that AIF work with often lack access to education, health services, nutritious food, or safe places to play. At the same time, each of their projects serves the unique needs of the specific community, so they eventually can sustain themselves.
Internships are a real eye-opener
I knew a great deal about Apartheid, Robben Island, and Nelson Mandela before coming to Cape Town, but living in the country for four months and working with AIF really provided me with a greater understanding of the social and economic challenges in this city. As soon as I first got exposed to the townships around the City of Cape Town, I realized how many factors are causing the situation that we, and many others, are working to change. Cape Town is a city of contrasts, both in terms of economy, electricity, and crime. However, I did not fully understand this before I saw it with my own eyes. It was shocking to me how closely rich and poor lived to each other. For instance, Imizamo Yethu, being an informal settlement, is literally located next door to the much wealthier area of Hout Bay.
Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu, photographed by Johnny Miller
South Africa’s complex history is one that I am in no position to summarize, but has led to a long list of challenges that makes it difficult to achieve prosperity and equality for this country. While I have been taught by the African Impact team about many of these compounding factors, what I have found most interesting is how AIF deals with these challenges by working in the line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a local level.
In case you are not aware of the 17 SDGs, they are a call to action for all countries in the world to end poverty, and work hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs, such as education and health, as well as tackling climate change. It was therefore extremely gratifying to be a part of an organization that supports poorly funded pre-schools, contributes to aftercare centers for those risky after-school hours, works to develop sports as a way to boost health and nutrition, and that has contributed feeding programs as short-term relief and aid.
Being able to use my passion in this internship
A typical week for me would include two days spent on our volunteer projects and three days working in the office. Besides our daily sports projects, the one project that I was particularly involved with was the African Impact Foundation’s annual seven-week Street Sports Tournament that we host in collaboration with another NGO, Sporting Chance. This year (2018) we had 250 boys and girls under the age of 15 from three disadvantaged communities competing in cricket, soccer, and netball. To improve the tournament, I worked to get businesses to sponsor the event or host stands at the tournament to further promote a healthy lifestyle – discussing aspects of health, lifestyle, nutrition, and safety.
The goal of the tournament is to introduce kids to sports from an early age and facilitate a safe space for them to go after-school. It runs on Fridays for seven weeks, in which time they are kept away from negative influences that plague the streets, including gangs, alcohol, and drugs. Thus, with this tournament, we aim to have a positive impact on the kids’ well-being, which is in particular in line with SDG 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
Although our street sports tournament is not going to ensure healthy lives for everyone in Cape Town, it is part of a long-term vision to implement positive change in the lives of the kids that we work with – a future generation that may be able to lift themselves and theirs peers out of poverty.
It’s all about the learning
As a foreigner, I quickly learned the importance of local colleagues and partners. In my time here, I gained a great deal of location-specific knowledge from my South African colleagues. This included best practices, helpful advice about things to look out for, as well as the reasoning behind certain challenges that seemed directly related to cultural norms. I realized that I was not progressing very far with anything on my own. Therefore, the relationships to the staff at the volunteer house and colleagues at the head office are essential for us foreigners trying to make anything happen. On that note, I would tell myself on time of arrival in Cape Town: “Nik, the type of projects you work with require long-term engagement and partnerships, so do not think that it is all on you. You have plenty of smart colleagues around you, so go ask them!”
It is definitely comforting to be surrounded by smart people in a small organization like this, where there is a short route from idea to reality. It is easy to see that I am making a real, tangible impact.
The internship is customized to the strengths and interests of the intern, but I was also challenged every day with tasks that I had never done before. Some of my office tasks included researching and approaching potential corporate sponsors and ambassadors for our street sports tournament, preparing the logistics for nearly 100 kids and 15 grannies from Khayelitsha to go to Robben Island, running fundraising events, producing social media material, newsletters, and a banner, as well as scouting a new potential project for African Impact. These tasks faced me with great challenges, but I have now gained new skills and experiences because of it.
Making friends from all over the world
When it is all said and done, however, the most incredible thing I have gained from working with the African Impact Foundation has been the friends from all over the world that I have worked with, lived with, and spent my weekends and late nights with. These people have made me laugh, inspired me to travel even more, and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. I find it absolutely amazing that I after just four months in Cape Town I have friends from six continents that I trust and can stay with next time I am visiting their home country.
Living in the volunteer/intern house was something I had no expectations about before coming, because I had no idea how it was going to be like. But it gave me so many amazing memories and friends. I think one thing that makes it so special is that everyone who decides to volunteer through African Impact or intern at the Foundation share the same love for Africa, a desire to help others and a passion for traveling. These feelings are not just exclusive to myself, and my fascination of Africa has only escalated during my last four months in Cape Town. My time with AIF has been a journey and has in many ways been truly life-changing!
In Green Hills of Africa Hemingway writes, “All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”