My Favorite Memory: The huge smiles on the pre-schooler’s faces as I applied Vaseline to them after they had been washed and hearing them sing each morning before they went to breakfast.
I was surprised that…children at 2 years of age were very self-sufficient. The children’s center was very modern and ran like a well-oiled machine.
The most difficult thing I experienced was…. Being alone for long periods of time after leaving the center each day. I truly thought I would be placed with a host family and found out a few weeks before I left that I would be staying in a lodge. This was not a family atmosphere even though Sarah was wonderful. I also found that even though the lodge was very secure, it was not safe to walk in the neighborhood after 5 p.m. Even though the lodge is in a residential area all of the residences have high walls surrounding their homes frequently with barbed wire on top of the walls. So safety is a constant concern.
My best received lesson…Open yourself to the culture around you. Try to gather as many experiences as possible, for you are only there a short period.
Tip for future volunteers… (Clothing, travel, personal items, donations, sightseeing etc) This info applies to Tembisa. Take hangers if you wish to have your clothes hung up. They are not easily available. If you are working at the children’s center be aware that the staff wear very nice uniforms. A dark pair of leather shoes would be helpful if your stay is during the cooler months. Also, recommended sight-seeing in the area would be the Apartheid museum, Soweto and the Cradle of Humanity. I think those places would be of interest for volunteers that were older such as myself, rather than college-age folks.
Personal Paragraph (Testimonial): My experience at the children center was exceptional. I was asked to assist in enhancing the pre-school program. Being a certified teacher I was able to research methods to teach English as a second language before I arrived. Jania suggested that I also bring teaching aides. So friends and family helped with funds so I could purchase some very helpful teaching materials. I was astounded how effectively the 2 teachers of the pre-school ran a program for 40, 2-5 year old, children every day. The rest of the staff were very friendly, helpful and genuine people. The children loved to sing and dance and were able to sing songs in English and of course their native language Zulu. It was a sight to behold. I learned so much through my experience. It was helpful to experience a culture that is so different from our American culture. The staff and the children at the center were the reason I had such a positive time volunteering. It will be something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
How would you rate your experience working with the ABV staff, both in the USA, and in-country? The staff in the USA were very helpful on every level and are in communication with staff in South Africa so that I did not need to be concerned about Jania and Chris meeting me at the airport etc. Jania is in close communication with the staff at the center and was helpful in contacting a driver to utilize for sight-seeing.
How would you describe your accommodation ( ie: host family, on-site, shared housing etc) The housing was in American terms, a hostel. I stayed in a wing with Sarah who was the person who ran the facility. I had a private room with 4 bunk beds and the bathroom was across the corridor. The wing where I was housed which included a bathroom, the kitchen and a large TV room with a couple of chairs had no hot water. The hot water was in the other wing and had to brought over to the kitchen or the bathroom in buckets. So when people were staying in the other wing there was not access to hot water. However, one could heat it up on the stove in the kitchen. Breakfast consisted of bread and eggs if you chose to cook them along with tea and milk. Sarah always had dinner waiting when I arrived from the center. She was given meat(beef ribs or chicken) to cook, along with pap, and frozen mixed vegetables. If one wanted any thing else it had to be purchased by the volunteer. So frequently, I would purchase fresh vegetables and fruits and salad ingredients. Sarah is a good cook and makes great fresh spinach. Sarah was a great asset to my stay. She is very friendly and accommodating. She also was my sight-seeing partner. I was very grateful for her because I chose to come to the country alone.The hostel is very secure and is surrounded by very high walls with a large gate that can be opened to allow cars to access the facility. Also, there is a smaller locked gate for individuals to enter and exit.
Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers? Yes.
Beth Volunteer Abroad in Tembisa, South Africa