Sophie Sandford went on her volunteering project in South Africa where she lead Sports Coaching in a community of three different schools for five weeks. Here's how her project went!
What kind of work and activities did you do during your project?
We were coaching in 3 different schools a day Monday to Friday, and in the evenings we had free time to do whatever we want. Chilling in the pool, watching TV, going shopping, going out for food or on nights out. At the weekends you could pay to go on the excursions organised, or just do your own thing.
How did the culture differ to home? What were the local people like?
The local people were all very friendly and appreciated the work we were doing for the children in their community. We were looked after very well and were never in any danger. The children there are lovely and are so enthusiastic. P.E. isn't a part of their school curriculum so they really enjoyed having us there. Another culture shock was seeing just how little everyone has. Some children only go to school so that they get their one free meal, which may be the only thing they eat all day due to the level of poverty they are living in. There is also no safeguarding in place in the schools we were working in and corporal punishment is still a very much used practice which you have to get used to seeing, it’s strange from our western perspective but just a part of the culture. Coaching would also be cancelled if it was raining because some of the children only have their school uniform and no other clothes so they can't afford to get them wet. Another culture shock is that dogs there aren't treated in the same way as back home (UK). You see a lot of stray dogs around which are very skinny and clearly poorly treated. Another reason to get your rabies injections though!
What was the accommodation like?
The accomodation is really great. Bedrooms are bunkbeds of 4-6 people with one 10 bed room and one huge room called the banter room. There's a swimming pool and a good kitchen which we always have access to. Also a TV/Wifi room and another social room. Also the showers are really good but bring shower shoes/flip flops because it gets gross with loads of people using it all the time! There are 3 Mama's that look after you and the accomodation while you're there and they cook very nice food. There's also two Papa's who work at night as security guards. The accomodation is gated with security cameras.
What was the most amazing moment and what’s your best memory?
Probably when we went skydiving as I've always wanted to do that. Also the safari as that was amazing! But some of my fondest memories of my time in SA was coaching the kids everyday and seeing them progress so well, and seeing how much of an impact we had on them. I also made so many good friends while I was there who I am still in touch with and it was a great way to meet like-minded people who will be friends for life.
Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?
100%! As I said before, the children in the townships have hardly anything but they are so happy and wonderful, and they appreciate every moment we spent with them. As far as coaching goes, this was the best most rewarding experience I have every had. Coaching back in the UK is nothing like it.
What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
On a daily basis the wildlife wasn't much different to home in the area we were staying in, but when we went on safari we saw some amazing animals.
What were you hoping to learn while on project and have you achieved those goals?
I was hoping to become a better coach which I definitely achieved, and wanted to experience the country as well which we had enough free time to do.
Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?
Take as much money with you as possible and don't spend it all in the first week! £150 is definitely not enough! If you want to do the organised excursions you will need at least £350 to do only two of them. Apart from the excursions everything else is pretty cheap. You can go on a really decent night out with only R200 which is £10, and that will pay for everything. If you go during July pack for hot and cold weather, especially windy weather. Make sure you have GOOD insurance! A couple of volunteers fell ill while we were there (nothing related to being in SA, just coincidence), and if they hadn't have had good enough insurance, they would've had to go to a government run hospital which weren’t that good. The overall health and safety standards in those hospitals is quite bad so it's really not worth the risk of not getting proper insurance. Another important tip: When you arrive in any SA airports, don't accept help from anyone unless you approach an info/help desk. Be careful with your belongings while you are in accommodation or out and about. Although the staff and volunteers are all great, a few things did go missing. Most of the time it was our clothes going missing from the washing lines, so it's a good idea to dry your clothes in your bedroom. Even though there was CCTV, the country as a whole just doesn’t look at security in the way we would at home. Never go anywhere on your own, stay in groups of at least 3, preferably with one boy, and ever use Uber rather than other taxis. Just do some research about the area before you fly, it really helps!
What do you have planned next?
I'd love to go and do this project again so I will save up and try to go again in a couple years. I would also love to do the same kind of thing in another country at some point. I think after I finish university I would like to do one of these volunteer projects as a member of staff and spend 6 months to a year helping out in another country.
Anything else you would like to add?
Definitely do a project like this! It is an amazing experience and something which you will remember forever!