"My time in South Africa ended up being eight weeks, and since I started in July, I also missed the beginning of the school year. I actually didn't go to University at all this year. Volunteering in Cape Town led me to the decision to take a year off from school, and reapply next year for a different program. In September of 2016, I will be attending University for International Development, so that I can do more of what I loved so much while volunteering. This entire journey changed my life - both my path and who I am as a person, and I cannot be more thankful. In the years to come, I think I will definitely volunteer again."
In 2015, I was finishing off high school and prepared to go to University. I had already accepted a school's offer, and had even payed a down-payment fee for residence. However, I had also decided that before I went to University, I wanted to volunteer abroad.
I cannot tell you how many hours I spent researching the most reliable company with the program I was interested in and great reviews. I had been in contact with multiple organizations to ask about safety, costs, living situations, food, inoculations, flights and every other question that popped into my head. And then, I stumbled upon this organisation. I spoke with their coordinator and did all of the same research I had with the other companies. I even went on skype with their Destination Specialist in Cape Town, so that I could make sure all of my questions were answered and I felt completely sure and safe about going there. In the end, there was no company that seemed as welcoming as them, as well as no company that generally seemed to be the right fit quite like they did.
In terms of the projects that I worked on, I did the Teaching Project, as well as working with orphaned and vulnerable children on the side. The foster care home that we worked in was amazing, as we spent our time with children who were 0-3, structuring activities around the development of their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, speech, recognition of colours, letters, numbers, etc. The goal for these developments was to get these kids to a place that, by the time they reached preschool age, they would be accepted into a preschool right away, as their advancement was normal or even above average. I can honestly say that there is nothing as rewarding as seeing a baby take her first steps, hearing a two and a half year old girl repeat all of the letters in the alphabet after you say them, seeing a little boy kick, bounce and catch different sized balls, watching a three-year-old protect his younger sister and ensure that she is playing too, having a little girl pretend that she is the mama and you are her baby, watching all of the kids brush their teeth and wash their hands as it becomes a habit. These are the skills that you watch the children develop throughout your time there, and there is nothing else like it, as well as no feeling other than pride and joy that you can have as they achieve the goals you've strived for.
I also worked in a preschool while I was in Cape Town, and just like the foster care home, it was an amazing experience. We prepared the children for primary school, focusing on helping them achieve the skills required to make it in to a school. We worked with them on writing, their knowledge of the alphabet, colours, shapes and animals, their physical development, music and rhythm, as well as every other important skill they needed to learn. Watching a child's mind just click as they finally understood what you were trying to teach them, or could write their name with all of the letters facing the right way, or they knew their numbers up to 10 or the first 10 letters in the alphabet, was incredible. Teaching is hard work - kids are rambunctious and don't always enjoy listening -, but for all of your hard work put into teaching, you are given so much more, as you are able to watch everything you've done and taught take root in a child's mind and see their development and growth, which is in part, thanks to you.
I was only supposed to stay in Cape Town for two weeks. In less than one, I had already made the decision to extend my trip. I stayed for four weeks total, and midway through the fourth week, I decided to extend again. My time in South Africa ended up being eight weeks, and since I started in July, I also missed the beginning of the school year. I actually didn't go to University at all this year. Volunteering in Cape Town led me to the decision to take a year off from school, and reapply next year for a different program. In September of 2016, I will be attending University for International Development, so that I can do more of what I loved so much while volunteering. This entire journey changed my life - both my path and who I am as a person, and I cannot be more thankful. In the years to come, I think I will definitely volunteer again.
Don't hesitate to volunteer, it will be the most amazing experience in your life.