A Challenging Few Weeks

Since my last post a lot has happened it such little time. I’ve been at my project for 3 weeks and I am starting to feel like I am finding my feet. It sank in within the last few days where I am and this is my life for the next 11 months, not just here for a summer camp or anything like that. 

Let me start by explaining not many people are the children’s home are happy to have new volunteers. The home gets up to 40 volunteers each year who stay from between 6 months to a year and most arrive in September. With the arrival of us British volunteers, there’s 20 volunteers, all have no idea what we are doing. This is extremely stressful for the child care workers who we assist in day to day tasks. On my first shift one child care worker was rather abrupt and left me on the verge of tears in my break. I began to think why have I done this to myself for a whole year??? I was very polite and tried my hardest all day to be as helpful as I could. By the end of the shift she thanked me for my help and it made me feel a lot better. After a few days and having done another day shift with that child care worker, I heard from my boss that she had said to how much potential I had. Simple things like that have made the hard times so worth it. But you must realise she is just one of many child care workers I need to earn respect from. 

It is also very difficult to earn the respect from the children. I have worked solely in Happy Feet (houses that consist of children aged 2 – 6). These children are probably the most trusting immediately and yet even then most take a while to warm to you. They told me how much they missed old volunteers, groaned when they knew it was a new volunteer on shift and really pushed their luck. They know exactly what they are and are not allowed to do. Yet try their hardest to get away with all sorts because they know you are new and don’t know the rules as well as them. So far I’ve learned I have to be firm with the children but also sympathetic with them. Within the three weeks I’ve learned a few of the children’s pasts. I can’t go into detail but it really broke my heart. No matter how challenging the child is they did not do anything to deserve the hand they were dealt. But the children’s home focuses on indiviual growth as well as growth as an institution. I attended a meeting which explained their finances and where it was spent which was incredibly interesting as it showed the extent of the development even within a few years. I have so many great photos of me and the children but unfortunately for their safety none are allowed to be posted on social media. 

However I have been out and about and seen some awesome sights. So far I’ve been to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and saw some sharks in the water below, Clifton Beach and saw a whale, the V&A Waterfront, Bo-Kapp, Signall Hill, spent an evening at Ocean View Drive and been to the notorious pool bar nearby, the legendary Stones. 






I will conclude this blog post by informing you all that clearly I have done way to much in such a little amount of time. As the only reason I have the time to write this post is because I’m off work until I am better. On Friday night I had to take a trip to the Mediclinic believing I had a flu. Turns out it’s the return of my childhood nemesis, tonsilitous. The medicine I was prescribed seem to be working amazingly and I should be well enough to return to work by Wednesday. Fingers crossed.

Advertisements

Breakfast Is Breakfast

Before moving to South Africa, breakfast was not a necessity for me. I always knew the importance of it for your body and mind, yet never really ate in the morning. On the odd occasion I did, I would eat porridge oats, yogurt and summer fruits or weetabix with milk and fruit. But this was very rare. Since being at DCH I have had breakfast every day. This is for several reasons. 

One being that donations are given by Woolworths, the SA chain equivalent to Marks and Spencer’s, most mornings. For the best selection of the donation it’s necessary to get there as early as 7am. Once I’ve picked up some tasty but most importantly FREE food I fancy some food and make myself some breakfast. You can see below a couple examples of the highly nutritious breakfasts I have had. 

Another reason is that after a tiring 12 hour night shift some form of energy is crucial. So I go to the flat which I share with my Project Trust partners and 4 German volunteers who I also work with, and make some food. Most of time all I want is something warm as the windows are kept open all day and night and it is beyond freezing during a night shift. Imagine this, at 7am I walked in wrapped in a billion layers, bags under my eyes bigger than those blue Ikea bags, grabbing the first microwave meal I can find, while the others are just waking up and getting ready for the start of their working day.

For the children at the children’s home, life is very structured. Everyday they have Weetbix, hot water, milk and about 5 table spoons of sugar. Whilst the volunteers lives are forever changing with our odd shift routines. Some morning I have had the most bizarre foods. One morning it was BBQ Chicken Pancakes, another day it’s Chorizo and Spinach Mix with Cauliflower Rice. My favourite breakfast so far has been a concoction my partner, Ella, created. It was a thick layer of hummus and a couple chunks of avocado on toast topped with sprouted greens.

Before being asked to write this post I hadn’t really thought much about my breakfast routine and realised very quickly how much it had changed and continues to change with every new day. Without breakfast I would be useless to the children’s home as it has been the saviour of my immune system by keeping my energy levels up. 

First Impressions, Museums and Slums

It has now been a week since I arrived in South Africa. Yet it feels like I was saying my goodbyes at home and the airport forever a go. The 11 hour flight was much easier than I had expected and a million times easier than my 12 hour coach journey to Oban back in July. Although there was a few hours of turbulence which I would say wasn’t pleasant. 

Excited and exhausted, our group of 24 all made it through immigration to be greeted by my manager at DCH, Yvonne, and our country representative, Ian. We hopped into the mini bus to a hostel in Johannesburg, The Backpackers Ritz. Which to be fair was lovely as far as hostels go. My first impression of Johanessburg was that it was dry, so very dry. I dranked at least 4 litres of water on each day we were there and yet I still felt dehydrated. Even the inside of my nose felt sore from being dry. 

Our first day was spent recovering from the flight and later in the day we went into the shopping mall to get local sim cards. The second day was not as relaxed. We got into a coach at 8:30 and drove to Soweto. Our tour guide Simba was very passionate about the city and his enthusiasm definitely wore off on me. We saw different parts of the town as he called ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. The ‘good’ being large houses with tall walls surrounding them. The ‘bad’ being houses built by the government for the miners who worked in the gold mining industry. During the tour we learnt a lot about the industry and how it had started a lot of South Africa’s issues. The ‘ugly’ Simba spoke of was the slums. It was heartbreaking to even drive past them. I was shocked when he told us we would be stopping here and going inside. The children were waving at us and desperate for us to come outside. We were shown around the washing area which is were they all got their water. This was one tap surrounded by women in buckets dancing as they washed their clothes. We then were taken into a woman called Pamela’s home. It was the same size as my room at home. She shared this with her two children. It amazed me how TV and films don’t exaggerate what the slums look like. Although it felt wrong to do, we were encouraged to take photos. Below you’ll see a photo of myself, Pamela and Alice another volunteer from Project Trust in South Africa. 

I came out to see the children and a few volunteers playing catch. I eagerly joined in and was tormented by one child who kept teasing to throw the ball at me. She also made sure I didn’t catch it and then threw it at me when I wasn’t looking. Everyone found it hilarious. It was lovely to see how joyful and full of life the people here were even though they are surrounded by poverty. 

After we went to the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. This church was victim of the shootings that took place on 16th June 1976. We saw the bullet holes that still remain in the ceilings over 40 years on. We then went to the Hector Pieterson Memorial museum. Hector was a 13 year old school boy who was apart of the peaceful protest in Soweto on June 16th 1976. The protest was held by students who did not want to be solely taught in Afrikaans which was a new language made by the Europeans for the South Africans. Hector was shot dead for taking part in a peaceful protest. Hundreds of students were also killed in this protest. I walked out crying as the things that happened to these poor people was horrific. They were just kids after all. The memorial outside had a small quote from the boys mother who held Hector as he died. I thought it was beautiful and also very sad. He had not seen his family after the shooting as he fled the country to Botswana and was last seen in Nigeria. 

Our next stop was the Apartheid Museum. We were only there for a few hours but I could have spent all day there. There was so much information. I became very uptight during and after the museum due to the horrific incidents i had watched in the videos and read on the musuem boards. Most my anger was towards British History lessons at school. We learnt about the Holocaust again and again, year after year but never anything about the Apartheid or other social disasters. I remember asking someone a few years ago who Nelson Mandela was, to my reply the person said ‘I think he was someone like Martin Luther King.’

The next day, myself, Lisa and Ella (my project partners) flew to Cape Town. It was the best flight I’ve ever had. The views from the plane were incredible. Since arriving at DCH I have faced many life lessons and challenges already. But im not giving up. I want to go home feeling like I am a better person for being here and to do that I must get through this year by battling every challenge I come across head on. 

The younger children here call the volunteers aunty and uncle. It is so sweet. But I still haven’t gotten used to it. Children are shouting ‘Aunty can I have this?’ ‘Aunty can you push me on the swing?’ ‘Aunty what is your name?’. It takes a few seconds and I realise it’s me they are calling for. 

My job role here is so undefined and my tasks are so varied. I think I will have to do a blog post explaining that another time when I have worked in a few more different shifts. For now my main jobs are day shifts (getting kids ready for school, taking them to school, picking them up, bathing them etc) and night shift ( sitting in the hallway listening for any child who is awake, waking children up to use the toilet, noting down any activity that takes place in the house and waking the children up for school). 

If you’re still reading this then well done you. It’s been a long blog post and I cant imagine anyone will read to the end. But if you have, lots of love all the way from Cape Town.

Goodbye

 

Goodbyes are never easy when you have to say it to someone you love. I had to do a lot of goodbyes very early on. On the 19th July, I went to the visa office in London to hand in all my paperwork for the nightmare visa application. I then travelled to Aylesbury to visit my dad, step mum and sisters for a few days. It was so lovely to be with my family for more than a day or, if I was lucky, for 2. The day before I left them we had a rainy BBQ with all of my step mums family or are so amazing to me. They have supported me my whole life as well as this during this incredible journey and mean so much to me. The goodbyes were hard to do the following day. Even though I would be leaving in 40+ days this was my last chance to see them properly. I managed to hold back the tears until I got into Josh’s car and had driven away from the house. But as soon as the house was out of sight, I was balling. Family means a lot to me and that doesn’t have to be who are blood-related to.

My next stop was to visit my hometown, Watford. Josh drove us there and we met my mother’s side of the family at a local pub. It was a lovely day and I had waited almost a year to see my other sister and 3 brothers. It was also the first time most of them had met Josh and it was great that they all were so fond of him, especially my brother Ellis who is going through the typical ‘that sucks’ teenage boy phase. It made me so happy to spend time with him and see him so happy. He also admitted I was his favourite sister so that was amazing, but what do you expect? Obviously, I’m his favourite. Unfortunately, no one had explained to my youngest brother, Franklin, that I was going to South Africa. So when it was mentioned he was extremely upset. I had to explain that it was just a year and when I came back he could stay over and play Minecraft all weekend with us. That cheered him up for about 10 minutes. Then was begging to spend the rest of his summer holidays with me in Eastbourne. Again, once we left the pub and it was out of sight there were a few more tears.

On Saturday 2nd September I organised a night out for any of my friends I had made in Eastbourne over the last 2 years to come and say goodbye. Josh made me promise not to get emotional. Somehow I actually managed to not cry. Although I did have words with a few people where I very nearly did.  It was really good to see people who mean so much to me. There was a wide mix of my friends there but no awkwardness which was great. These are the friends that have helped me through my fundraising and supported me the whole way through. I’m unsure how I’ll manage not seeing them for 12 months.

The next person goodbye I made was to a very special woman. Everyone loves there nans and grandmas. Everyone says how special their nan is. But not many have a loving, supportive Nan like I do. She is one amazing lady. I’m very open with my past and I will talk about it quite freely. I wont go into excessive detail but enough to make you understand how great my nan is.

Every summer my nan would travel up to 4 hours to come and pick me up, then drive back and I would spend a week or two with her and my Grandad in their caravan on a site in Eastbourne. So many times she said to me how much she wished I could live with her all the time. When I was with her she would spoil me rotten. She has done so much for me since January 2015 and I can never repay her no matter how hard I try. She is the greatest nan I could ever have. Saying goodbye was so hard. She pushed me out the door before she cried 😂😭

Now I’m sat in Joshs car on our way to Heathrow. When I get there I’ll have the challenge of saying bye to him and my dad who will FaceTime my sister’s and step mum to say goodbye to them also. 

Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Johannesburg or even Cape Town as I fly there on Sunday morning. Wish me luck and again thank you everyone who has helped and supported my journey so far.

Packing

I’ve pretty much had my bags packed for at least 2 weeks already. Slowly, my room has become emptier and emptier it’s also looking a bomb has hit it every 5 minutes. I will be taking a 70L rucksack with me which is supposed to hold everything… Obviously, I’ll be taking a carry on luggage bag with me as well due to the flight being 11 hours. My plan was to take a small backpack inside my rucksack and take it out for the flight.

None of this has gone to plan though. So far I have a backpack large enough to fit my laptop in as my carry on luggage (definitely not a ‘small’ backpack), a wheel along holdall filled with all my belongings as well as my 70L rucksack which is filled with nail varnish, card making stationery, jewellery making kits, paints, pens, face paints and just about anything else you can think of. Everything in that bag I am taking me to donate to the children at the Durbanville Children’s Home. The idea started when the returned volunteers (16/17) from Durbanville suggested we take some nail varnish as the girls at the home are running low. As I saw this on the post report I turned my head to my bed side cabinet which has my box of nail varnishes on. I barely use them as I couldn’t have painted nails at work as a waitress. As I was clearing my room I found more and more things I would rather give to the children and young adults than to leave in my room and potentially never be used.

Moving onto my holdall, it is clear there is plenty of room for more clothes. I have no idea how as I have packed so much already. I was really planning on being one of those minimalist travellers living out of one 40L backpack. But here I am with 3 pairs of jumpers, 4 pairs of shoes, 3 hats, about 20 t shirts (!!!) , and about 5 pairs of trousers. And this is my condensed packing list. Hopefully, when I’m there I’ll realise what I like to wear and what I’ll never wear again and be able to give away a few pieces making room for souvenirs on my return.

The countdown is now only 8 hours!!

Durbanville Returned Volunteers

On the day I announced I would now be volunteering at DCH instead of Mitchell House Enrichment Centre, I have been apart of a group chat with the volunteers who were there 2016/2017. They have been a complete life line and I will be eternally grateful! They’ve honestly been so accommodating to questions about the children’s home, about life in South Africa and anything else I could think of to ask. It’s actually really upsetting that they won’t be there when we arrive. When I was added to the chat I had a lot of messages, videos and voice messages to catch up on. It was great to have a little look inside their rooms, the living area and the kitchen in the videos they sent us.

It seems like they’ve had the most incredible year though. It was great to hear all the things they did outside of the Children’s home too. Some hiked up Table Mountain, whilst the others took the cable car (I think i’ll be doing that too). A few even got to swim with Great White Sharks, which is another thing on my SA bucket list.

The volunteers returned home a few weeks ago now and it was really sad. I can only imagine how hard it’ll be to leave after falling in love with a place and so many people for the past year. It’s going to be hard for me, I can tell, and I’m not even there yet!

Afrikaans

Since the beginning of August a lovely fellow 17/18 volunteer, Daniel had been helping me and a few other volunteers to learn Afrikaans. He’s taught us some great questions, answers, phrases and EVEN the numbers to 100. I think it’s safe to say within a month I’m pretty much fluent in Afrikaans, anyone who says otherwise is just hating. I’ve learnt that Afrikaans is a lot easier to learn than a language like French. Some phrases are almost identical to English its just a few letters are pronounced differently. For example, if I asked ‘What is your name?’ in Afrikaans you would ask ‘Wat is jou naam?’ Which is also pronounced different to how it looks. ‘W’ is pronounced as a ‘V’ and ‘J’ is pronounced as ‘Y’. There are a few other pronunciation differences but if you change those two sounds you get the gist.

It’s been fun and definitely kept the excitement going strong for the few of us on skype during each lesson. We’ve had a few laughs and especially a few at my expense for never bloody pronouncing the number 19 right. I would usually let it slide but considering I am 19 years old, I think it’s important to be able to answer someone if they ask how old I am. My birthday is also on the 19th June so I guess it’s been adding, even more, pressure to me saying it correctly.

I’m extremely excited to try out my Afrikaans in one week from now!