Cape Town’s First Social Work Intern

Lucy da Costa, African Impact’s first Social Work and Youth Empowerment intern, writes about her experience in Cape Town and how it came to affect her as a person and her career plans.

African Impact's first Cape Town social work intern
Lucy, Cape Town’s first social work intern, at Fikelela emergency foster care home.

On the night before I arrived in Cape Town I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was already in Zimbabwe visiting a relative so there was no turning back as I had already gone the distance. But I was extremely apprehensive about the 8 weeks that lay ahead of me. I was anxious that the project wasn’t going to be sustainable and I’d feel like I was doing more harm than good, that I’d be homesick and that I wouldn’t make any friends. But how wrong I was! I ended up extending my time here, making new best friends and changing my career plans.

“I ended up extending my time here, making new best friends and changing my career plans.”

The first morning in Cape Town was spent at Fikelela, an emergency foster care home. When I arrived at Fikelela, a carer (fondly known as a ‘mama’) told me that my supervisor, Lilian, would be on leave for the next four weeks. Fortunately, that was not true and she was back a few days later, but I think this was somewhat of an accurate intro of South Africa. It ended up working out as I got to experience African Impact’s array of Cape Town project locations, namely GAPA and Home from Home. I was fortunate enough to see two foster care homes. Besides Fikelela, I also got to see Home from Home. It was important for me to see the relationship between the two projects and the context of the foster care process.

Although, I am straight out of school and I haven’t had any social work experience, it didn’t matter at all. Lilian answered all of my questions and got me stuck into working with the kids straight away.

I spent my morning with the other Orphan and Vulnerable Care volunteers providing a development program for those not at school and in the afternoon. I worked more closely with Lilian to overcome specific issues we had seen in the children. Lilian guided me but also gave me a lot of independence which at first I wasn’t sure about. However, once I got into the swing of things it was nice that I could pick up on issues and then plan my own activities that I thought would help.

My external supervisor was such a huge help for me and provided me with the additional support I needed. If there was anything I was unsure of asking at project she was always happy to do her best to answer my questions. She provided me with readings, giving me background and history on what I was walking into and assisted me in activity planning. She sent me some resources to gain a better understanding of ways to combat certain behavior. I loved that I could build a much closer relationship with both the children and the mamas.

“My external supervisor was such a huge help for me and provided me with the additional support I needed.”

The children at Fikelela have been through so much you sometimes wonder how they are still smiling but it never ceases to amaze me how happy and full of life they are. I’m not going to lie and say that every moment there is happy because it’s not. For me it was so important to appreciate and celebrate the small victories so I wouldn’t get down about other things that I maybe couldn’t change. The staff at Fikelela are also incredible. They are some of strongest women I know and if you take the time to hear their stories I promise you won’t be disappointed.

This trip really proved to me what wonders can come from stepping out your comfort zone. If I just travelled around Cape Town doing tourist activities, I doubt I would have even visited the Cape Flats and the beautiful communities that live there. After being here for only 9 weeks I already feel like Cape Town is a new home away from home. Never in my life have I been somewhere where I felt so comfortable with my own skin color and my heritage. In my time here I haven’t been asked ‘What are you?’ or ‘Where do you come from?’ like I get at home, I was just accepted.

So thank you, Rainbow Nation, you changed my life. I’ll be back soon, but until then take care of yourself and don’t be running out of anything else sometime soon.


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