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Volunteers' Stories




Teaching and Coaching Sports to Disadvantaged Children on a voluntary placement in Knysna, South Africa

Woah! Where to begin?!  It was the first time living away from family, and I most definitely felt somewhat homesick during the first couple of days. It would be difficult to relate to the current housemates as conversation often revolved around past events and people, which you would not know anything about! But as soon as you became intergraded into the house, the housemates became your family, and homesickness dissipated into nothingness. 

I feel my ability to relate and communicate to people has much improved. Having people of different ages in the house was definitely a benefit. Originally I thought it would be difficult for teenagers to get along with people 24 years and above. In fact it was enlightening being with these people, through talking about their past experiences, and having some of their maturity rub off on you (I hope at least!).

I was so taken back by the children. They showed so much affection at the school. Indeed it is very difficult at times to carry out a teaching role. But it was also very rewarding at the times when the children show an understanding of what you have said. It soon dawned on me that kids just love having fun, so some of the sports lessons I took were just a huge mess about with the boys and girls. 

I think those are the lessons that are most memorable, spinning the kids around, picking them up upside down and the kids playing with our hair, holding our hands and hugging us non-stop. The smiles and love that they all radiated was immense. To think that some of these kids have so little in terms of material possessions, and the hardship some of them face, it just astounds me that they can be so happy and good individuals. 

The experience highlighted to me how much value I put on material things, and how much of my happiness is associated with that. At several points I thought to myself I should be the happiest person alive since my life was so easy and privileged. But I think wherever you are in life, you fail to appreciate your current circumstances because it becomes second nature.  Only when you leave your environment, your comfort zone, do you really appreciate what you have and look to better yourself.  But then you enter a vicious circle where by you fall back into your privileged circumstances and take it for granted once more. Which is why I think travelling is a good thing, keeping you on your tip toes, and giving you many worldly insights in a short period of time. 

Scenically Knysna, or in fact South Africa, is outstanding. Around every corner you would be met by a postcard image. Even in this winter season, the weather was great, sunny and warm. Because the pollution is at a much lower level in Knysna than back home, the sunsets and stars at night were so much more spectacular!!  Even the memories of climbing the hill to get back to the house were good. As much as it was a pain to climb, many CRAZY events would have never transpired without it. The children at the school obviously played a big part to the placement. In that respect, so did the teachers. 

Leon the principle is a character I’m not going to forget any time soon. His passion for the kids, his affectionate nature and his energy in the way he speaks makes him a unique person I am privileged to have met in life. Living with the other volunteers was a fantastic experience. I think it has put me in good stead for campus living at university. It was great to be around such diverse people 24/7, which allowed me to gain much insight into how other people live. But to become such great friends, almost a family unit, is one thing I am going to miss the most and what I think has been the best part of the placement

Would you recommend this placement to anyone else? Who would I not recommend the placement to would be the better question. I had such a fantastic time and so did the other volunteers around me. Indeed we all looked forward to getting back home to see family and friends again, but we didn’t want to leave either since each day brought about a new adventure, leaving little time to be idle or become bored. So yes this placement has my full recommendation, and I believe a couple of my friends will be pursing it in their gap year next year.

What type of person do you think this placement would suit? As I have said, communication and ability to relate to people is fundamental to this placement. You are surrounded by people 24/7, whether it is other volunteers, children or students. And to enjoy, learn and appreciate the experience fully, you also need to talk to the local people. So confidence is another important faculty.

Having a caring nature and consideration towards others is vital, especially when living in a house with other people so that the place stays clean and everyone gets their fair share of food. Being open minded, wanting to learn and contribute in all respects I would say would be a good thing. 

The placement was different to everyone’s preconceptions. But in the majority of cases including my own, it was just SOO much better!  It helps therefore to have the open mindedness to expect something different, to learn because there will be so many opportunities to discover new things about people and yourself and lastly to contribute to all activities such as being entertaining and caring to those around you, making the experience more enjoyable for all.   

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