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GAP YEAR | VOLUNTEER ABROAD | WORK EXPERIENCE OVERSEAS

 

Volunteers' Stories

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laura-siddle          

LAURA SIDDLE
British

Teaching English to Disadvantaged Children on a voluntary placement in Knysna, South Africa
         

I thought Sharon was fantastic! She really made you feel at home as soon as you got there, and went above and beyond what was required from her role. She really helped me get the most out of my stay in Knysna.

I really did have the most fantastic time out in South Africa. It is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done.

I spent 3 days a week at a Soup Kitchen in one of the local townships, just helping out with dishing up food, cleaning up the bowls etc. and playing with the kids, giving them lots of attention. It was an optional after-school activity which I was really keen on doing as it allowed me to spend time in a different township and different culture - and spend even more time with kids!

I think it was this that really affected me the most - seeing the conditions some of the kids live in, and getting a true experience of what the townships are like. But the kids really are truly inspirational! They are rarely without a smile, and are always willing to give you hugs and kisses. It really cheered me up and put a smile (or bigger smile) on my face, just spending time with them. Of course they were naughty at times and played up - which was difficult to deal with considering they spoke Xhosa! - but majority of the time they were just extremely cute and playful.

I have come home with a completely different attitude. Seeing these things first hand really makes you appreciate the nature of the situation in countries like SA. Everyone knows that poverty is out there in the world, but seeing it is something else.

I feel like I have experienced the real South Africa, spending practically all my time with the locals and in the townships.

A TYPICAL TEACHING DAY

This was the best experience I have ever had! I feel like I'm becoming more confident and more independent. I really feel like I've been able to experience true South Africa, having lived in Knysna for such a long time, and also spending so much time in the townships. And the best part of the project were the kids without a doubt!

Travellers in the UK were really helpful – Kath [the project coordinator] was in contact with me several days before I left to ensure any last minute queries were answered, and was very responsive to every email, no matter how small the detail! Sharon [the local project organizer in Knysna] was also fantastic! Really going above and beyond to make sure we got the most out of our stay in Knysna.

Anyone can join a Travellers project, really. But in particular, I think you have to want to help and do something worthwhile, you have to be open-minded, open to a culture change, and not go to the projects expecting everything to be the same as home. I think people need to be enthusiastic and willing to help wherever possible or wherever needed.

On a typical day, Sharon would pick us up at around 7.30 to go to school. School started at 8 on Mondays, the first session was assembly, followed by maths, so lessons didn't start until 9.25. All other days lessons started at 8.40 after the maths session. You are given a timetable/schedule which tells you which classes you are working with in which lessons, so I would then go to my first lessons. First break was at 10.10 for 25 minutes, followed by a Reading period throughout the entire school. As I was helping with the English teachers, I spent this time with a class helping them with their English reading.

There are then 2 more periods up until second break which was at 12.30 for 20 minutes. There are 2 final lessons in the afternoon, with the school day finishing at 2.00, which is when Sharon comes to collect you. I was working in English classes, and spent the majority of my time with Grades 4, 5 and 7. In Grades 4 and 5 I helped with reading and writing assessments, and assisting the class teacher wherever possible and wherever needed. In Grade 7, I took some of the classes under guidance of the class teacher - he would take the first class, and then when the next class came in I would take the lesson.

In addition to all of the above, I lent a hand quite a lot with the marking of tests and homework, even exams and exam moderation. So be prepared to help with the administrative side of working in a school too! I also spent 3 days a week in the Soup Kitchen after school, helping with dishing up food and basically playing with the kids and giving them some much deserved attention. I would go after school at about quarter to 3 and stay for just over an hour, dishing up the food, cleaning up the bowls, and then playing with the kids.

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