Volunteer Stories: A Teen Volunteer in South Africa

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That feeling of unity would never have existed back home. That pure bliss that occurs in a place like this is often forgotten by the media and is instead replaced by the African stereotype. Coming here and seeing the community together helped me break that completely.

A Surprisingly Familiar Setting and Structure

When I arrived at iLanga Lodge on Tuesday I honestly had no clue what to expect – only the vague idea that I and some others would be volunteering in the ambiguous field of ‘Education’ and that I’d be staying with strangers for the next 2 weeks.

But despite the rough guidelines granted by my mum, the first thing that popped into my mind when I walked into the room full of people was the first day of boarding school.

The flashback of meeting the people who I’d be living with for the next term was brought to life as I discovered that I’d be eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with this group. I was also acutely aware that dorms were a very prevalent thing at ilanga Lodge and I dreaded the last cornered bunkbed that I, as the late arrival, would probably receive.

Little did I know that I’d completely dodged a bullet with that and was instead gifted the honeymoon room.

As well as the living arrangements, African Impact shared the day structure with my years at boarding school, with lessons in the morning and afternoon. Except this time, I was on the other end of the classroom, standing in front of 40 children, trying to teach them the difference between a square and a triangle.


It Was Clear to See That Progress Was Constant

This concept was foreign to me. After receiving over a decade of education as the student, suddenly becoming the 16-year-old teacher helped me to acknowledge the challenge of getting a bunch of screaming children to sit down and pay attention.

But after having a few days of practise, I think I finally managed the hand gestures for ‘be quiet’ and ‘sit down’, overcoming any language barrier that had defeated me before.

Despite suddenly being the responsible teacher, the most surprising and intriguing part of my experience here was by far the intelligence of the children.

Although it may take them a while to grasp the idea of numbers and to phonetically say a new word, simply seeing the thought process in these kids was enough to know that what we were doing here would make an impact.

Whether big or small, it was clear to see that progress was constant and that with the amount of effort and passion each volunteer puts in, these kids would surely be shaped into someone strong willed and courageous.

But that wasn’t what stood out most for me.


An Unforgettable Moment

The moment that will remain unforgettable in my mind, was the Mbali home which is part of the family empowerment project.

We went without a clear idea of what was actually going to happen, only that we’d be gluing tissue paper on some paper plates in an attempt to create an art piece. But when we arrived, we were alone.

We waited around until finally a couple of kids – one only a toddler and the other probably a couple years younger than me – arrived home after school. And then more and more arrived, not because they lived there (because they didn’t) but instead because they were walking home and fancied playing a ball game with us.

We sang and danced in a circle, and played a game we’d learned a couple days earlier at a school, and although none of us spoke the same language or came from the same places, we were there, completely happy and content, just singing in a circle.

That feeling of unity, despite meeting them for only 15 minutes in a backyard, would never have existed back home and really only occurs when you can’t go inside and watch a film or play video games.

That pure bliss that occurs in a place like this is often forgotten by the media and is instead replaced by the African stereotype. Coming here and seeing the community together helped me break that completely.


The Ripple Effect of Volunteering is Transcendent and Transformative

Not only did my experience enlighten me to the bright people that are spread across the world and the joy that can come from it, it also showed me the impact that can evolve from each volunteer’s work.

Sure, checking vitals or going over the alphabet, again and again, doesn’t seem like much, but to the people receiving it, it could mean a life or an education. But more than that, African Impact showed me that the small but significant changes we do will not only evolve into something transformative but will also help the workers and volunteers to grow too.

This idea of the ripple effect shows that gradually, and with enough hard work, the impact that it has, not only on the communities but also on our lives at home, is transcendent.

And that sort of impact is unique to the team at African Impact.

Esme came to St. Lucia, South Africa on a 2-week family volunteer trip with her mother and brother.

She volunteered on the Vulnerable Child and Community Support project, her mother volunteered on Plastic Upcycling and Education, and her 19-year-old brother joined the Rural Medical & HIV/AIDS Awareness volunteer program.

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