My international volunteering abroad experience in Cape Town –South Africa. Emma Eakins – Northern Ireland

I spent 10 fantastic weeks volunteering abroad in Cape Town -South Africa from January through to April 2018. This was a transformative experience for me as I embarked on an international volunteering journey vastly different from life within Europe. From the moment I arrived I felt welcomed by everyone I came in contact with. I lived with a host family within the community of Ocean View.  Chantel and her amazing family. The culture shock was vastly lessened when I realised that South African people also drink ‘normal’ breakfast tea and that ‘Tetley Tea’ is widely available in shops. I immediately knew that I would get on very well in South Africa and that I would be just fine on my international volunteer program.

However, the purpose of my trip was not just to drink tea in a foreign country but to experience and immerse myself into the South African culture and get to know local people of South Africa. This was facilitated by my time volunteering in 2 crèches and with volunteering with the Shine reading programme in a local primary/elementary school. I thoroughly enjoy working with children and it was amazing to see the similarities and difference between my own experience of schooling and how things have evolved in education and the cultural differences of being in Cape Town, South Africa.

The ethos of sharing seemed engrained in all aspects of pre-school children’s minds. If a child arrived to the school that I was volunteering abroad at without a sandwich, the child next to him would split his food automatically with prompting to ensure he was fed. This was a very touching and humbling experience as I have never experienced going without necessities. The second major impression I had from my experience was the concept of gratitude. This was something I experienced throughout the Ocean View community, to be truly thankful for every and any blessing you could identify in your day. This was a fantastic lesson for me as I do not feel it is within my own culture to be grateful for what we have, often it is the desire of what we want that consumes our thoughts. This different outlook seems like a simple concept but when you experience this as the perspective of the majority of people in a community it leaves a remarkable impression which is difficult to describe in words.

While I made friends with many little angels in the pre-schools and primary school I also tried developing some other skills in cookery and learning Afrikaans. While I by no means consider myself a chef or fluent in a foreign language after completing my international volunteer program in South Africa,  I do feel that I made some major improvements which I have been able to take back with me. Not eating processed food, appreciating a healthier diet and food waste management are all skills and knowledge which I have taken and use in my daily life.

I would thoroughly recommend volunteering with Volunteer Mzansi Afrika for anyone considering this. I had a fantastic experience, mostly due to the kindness and love shown to me by so many people, often complete strangers. Also I left Ireland/UK with a very open mind and the intention of making the very most of the experience. This definitely served me well. I did not enter my volunteer program in South Africa with any major preconceptions, however I feel there is a lot of negative press on crime, violence and sickness due to drought. While all these things do exist, during my volunteer abroad experience in South Africa I definitely felt that they seemed sensationalised in comparison to what I actually experienced. Maintaining a constant vigilance of your own safety should be a priority in any city worldwide. If you are aware of your possessions and your surroundings you will also find that it is just as safe as anywhere else in the world.

To conclude, I had a fantastic time volunteering abroad on a Volunteer Mzansi AFRIKA program and would return to Cape Town in a heartbeat. I adored all the people I met and all the food I had was completely amazing! I would recommend going on an international volunteer program with Volunteer Mzansi AFRIKA 110% –  it’s one of the best things I have ever done! 

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