A Typical Day Volunteering in South Africa

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I spent five weeks volunteering in an orphanage in Port Elizabeth with the exception of a few days where I mixed up my role and spent time sports coaching or assisting the teachers at a local township school. The company I was working through Umzingizi ran volunteer schemes for these three roles even know I had only booked an orphanage volunteer trip it was nice to be able to try the other roles. Still my main focus was always the orphanage but what did I do each day?

7.30 am – Wake up, get ready for the day, have breakfast and make lunch for the day. Breakfast and lunch consisted of the same things everyday – toast, cereal and fruit for breakfast then tuna mayo, chicken mayo or egg mayo for lunch along with fruit, crisps and yoghurt. You didn’t always have all those choices for days we would go with tuna or egg mayo and it felt like a luxury to have chicken mayo!

8 ish – I say ish because if you have ever spent time in South Africa you will know nothing is ever runs on time! They are so relaxed about everything – we used to book a taxi for the evening out and every time they would be at least 30 minutes late, we soon got wise and booked it earlier than we needed. Anyway the idea in the morning was that the people who went to school and the orphanage would leave on the same bus around 8 am. The drive took us a through the township to drop off at school and then on to the orphanage for around 9 am.

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9 – 12 am – was pre-school time we would help out with all the children who were too young to attend school. There was a separate building for the morning much like a playgroup with small chairs and tables. A bundle of donated toys, books, pens, papers etc. Most days were spent playing outside in the garden. Snack time was always chaos other than that it just felt like play time all the time. After a few weeks we tried to enforce structure of games, dancing, singing – anything which meant the children had an activity to focus on instead of running around crazily. The mornings were tiring and tough as some of the children just would not behave still they were my favourite part of the day. It was always a highlight when the really little ones came over to join us (age 18 -30 months) although with them it was never as hands on as I imagined.

12 – 2 pm Lunch Time – as much as we volunteered we were not invited to help with lunch time for the pre-school kids. Some days that was great as we would laze in the sun, chat, read and chill out. Other days it would be so cold we wouldn’t want to sit outside and the time would drag by over lunch until the school children came home.

2 – 4 pm – Everyday pick up time varied some days it would be as late as 5 other days as early as 3. It just all depended on what Ashy the guy who drove the bus had on that day. Most of the time, it was around 4 when we would be picked up. The afternoon was spent mostly with the school children – once they arrived back from school around 1 after lunch they had to sit down with the volunteers and Nurse Connie to do homework. Needless to say they didn’t want to do homework, pretended they didn’t have any, ran off, had a crying fit etc. The afternoons could be very hard work but some days they would be ok. Once homework was done we could play and have fun with the kids. At the end of the day they just wanted some attention and love which I felt they didn’t really receive from the management of the orphanage – the nurses however adored the children.

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4 – 6 pm – We would be picked up from the orphanage and after long goodbyes to the children driven back to the volunteer house. We then had time to chill – swim, sun bathe, read, play pool, table tennis, football, watch TV or go to the spar shop

6 – 7 pm – Dinner Time – Every night of the week varied sometimes the food was great but not enough and other times it wasn’t that great so there was always too much. It ranged from burgers and fries, chicken and mash or a variation of meat, sauce and rice. Nine times out of ten the boys would end up ordering more food from takeaway places or going to Nandos.

After dinner the evenings varied – Wednesday nights we had soccer at the local sports club, we had our own girls team and played against the local teams in a game of indoor 5 a side – so much fun. Some nights we would go to bars, bowling, out to eat, have a braai at the house or just watch the TV. At the house there was plenty to do and plenty of other young people to spend time with having fun.

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I loved my time volunteering; I loved the unpredictable days, the events that they planned for us, the kindness of the staff giving us lifts to town or soccer. There were 20 or so volunteers living there all a similar age and everyone got along. We volunteered Monday to Friday each week and the weekends were our own to do as we pleased. Some weekends we had trips arranged for us that were optional but normally everyone went along!

The charity I worked with was called Umzingizi and I booked my trip through real Gap – both great companies. Unfortunately this trip is no longer available for orphanage work as this orphanage got closed down and now functions as clusters homes without volunteers.

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