Cape Town, South Africa
My trip to Cape Town, South Africa was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. From the moment my wonderful project coordinator greeted me with a warm welcome as I got out of the van, I knew I was in the right place.
My first day was on a weekend, so I got to meet the volunteers and find out about the amazing people I would be spending the next few weeks on the Teaching and Community program with, and also explore the area where the guest house was located. As we walked up a hill alongside the road, I began to see more of the landscape, and it started sink in that I had landed in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I couldn’t wait to see more.
My orientation to the projects began the next day, when my project manager took me around to all the different sites where volunteers could potentially be placed. I was introduced to all the teachers at the schools, and well informed of the great work that is being done at the projects in each different township. As we drove along the cliff-side to the school I later chose to work at, we approached a wondrous view of the white sandy beaches and blue-green ocean water; it took my breath away.
After meeting the friendly teachers in the Red Hill Township, I decided that I wanted to spend more time with them and contribute to the children’s education and development of their growing community. I spent time that day getting to know all the babies in the one classroom, and being given a wonderful welcome from the 3-5 year olds in the other. The smiles on their faces and big hugs sent me the message that my volunteering was going to be very rewarding.
Volunteering at the school every day was always something I looked forward to, as every time I walked into the classrooms, the babies would run up to me and give me a group hug while shouting with excitement! What an amazing experience to start your day with.
We would then sing songs and learn from books, go outside and play, and I would have a chance to teach the older children for an hour, a lesson of something I had prepared the night before, followed by a craft or activity to enhance their understanding of the concepts. It gave me so much joy to watch them get involved with the lessons and see how much fun they were having.
Each day was so special getting to know the caring teachers and all the children. On one of the days, we were offered a tour through the township. This was with no doubt, a humbling experience. That day gave me a chance to really learn about all the struggles the community has been through and where they stand today. This opportunity significantly impacted my perspective of the culture in South Africa, and gave me a true understanding of how the scars of apartheid are reflected through individuals and communities that were caught in the struggle, and how important it is for volunteers to support sustainable development, and advocate for peace and equality.
My time at the Teaching and Community program was split up in such a way that allowed me to experience many facets of my volunteer experience, and contribute in so many different ways. Twice a week, the volunteers and I would wake up early and be driven to a township 20 minutes away for a feeding program, run by a very caring man at the township’s church.
Getting up extra early those days was a little tough, but the drive there held enough excitement to wake me up… as we drove over the mountain, we would watch the sun rise over the ocean and flood the land below with extraordinary light, illuminating the city. To continue the appreciative feeling of being where I was, the 100 children coming in for a meal before school showed how valuable our volunteer work was to them by assisting us with the preparation of the food and serving it to their friends, some helping with clean-up after they were done. The children would tell us if their little sister could feed by themself, and make sure their friends were behaving.
One little girl came up to me on the last day I was there and said “Is your name Ashley? You’ve been here a few weeks now. Thank you.” I was touched that she had noticed me there. We talked for a bit, and I found out a little bit more about her. It was that moment that I realized what an impact volunteers can really have on the children’s lives. I knew how hard it was going to be to leave this place.
Besides the dedicated volunteering I was able to participate in at the Cape Town teaching and community projects, we were able to have a lot of fun on the weekends as well, exploring Cape Town and getting to know the local culture. Driving out to Stellenbosch, a group of girls and I sampled wines at three different wineries, complimented by astonishing views and excellent service! We then finished our day with a tasty cheese platter at a local restaurant in the town before heading back to the guest house.
Other weekends were spent on horseback, riding down the white sands of Noordhoek beach; hanging out in a beautiful cove with African penguins at Boulder’s Beach; climbing to the top of Cape Point and hanging out over the edge of the cliffs to the ocean below; or taking the ferry to Robben Island to be exposed to the plight of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment.
One of my most memorable weekends started with a Friday evening at the indoor Haut Bay market, where a couple of new friends and I shopped at all the vendor stalls, then indulged in fresh cheeses, local seafood, mini German chocolate cupcakes, Italian gelato, fresh baked white chocolate cheesecake, while sipping on cocktails and listening to a live band playing on the stage. The following days that weekend included checking out over 3000 species of birds at the World of Birds, where we held squirrel monkeys in their jungle habitat, then stopped on the way home to watch the epic sunset along Chapman’s Peak drive. The last weekend there was spent learning to sand-board down the dunes outside of Cape Town, followed by lunch and a few exhilarating drives around sandy tracks on a quad.
I could go on and on about how brilliant this trip was, as it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, and the memories will always bring a smile to my face. I feel so much gratitude for the support I received before, during, and after my trip from the organizations involved, and I am so excited to embark on another journey like this one in the near future.