South Africa: 2 community projects & 1 great volunteer story

By Kate Stefanko. Filed in project news, volunteer stories  |  
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Gosh – where to begin ? Best to let Sonia tell you something of her six months in the townships of Port Elizabeth, where her work involved counselling in both Emmanuel Advice and Care Centre and in Emafini School, which is one of a cluster of township schools supported through the education development programme.

So, in her own words, here are some extracts from Sonia’s blog and volunteer report.

“I am going to try and paint a picture by sharing with you how my time is going here in South Africa…

day 5 of my time in South Africa and I still can’t quite get my head around it all. Starting to settle into South African life. As I write this I can hear drumming, children playing and a hum of traffic and car horns outside. Life is quite different in PE, (Port Elizabeth) living in this township. I’m living New Brighton which is a black township with a mix of houses, some are very basic and not too dissimilar from the day they were built in the apartheid years.

home in New Brighton

home in New Brighton

“I’m living in Mickey’s house which was originally one living room with two bedrooms but she has since built extensions and it is now quite a spacious home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a good size dining room, lounge and kitchen.

Sonia with co-volunteers and hostess, Mickey

Sonia with co-volunteers and hostess, Mickey

“I have my own room … and at Mickey’s I feel safe and enjoy the company that Mickey and her boyfriend Mxloisi offer as well as having the time and space to myself. Mxloisi is a Xhosa name and I’m guessing that you may be wondering how to pronounce the x? Xhosa is a language spoken in South Africa which has three click sounds as part of its language, x being one of them. The clicks are not something that I’m finding easy…however something I am determined to master before I leave.

almost three weeks in, can you believe it? I’ve had a busy few weeks here and feel like I have a lot of work to do. The projects are very grateful to have me as there aren’t counsellors here. After explaining what I do as a counsellor, (confusion between counsellor and psychologist) they are all very keen to use my skills. It really is a dream come true to be here. Counselling is a vocation for me so the opportunity to help people here is a privilege. I’m working at the Emmanuel Advice Community Centre on a Monday and Tuesday and Emafini Primary School on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

the Emmanuel team

the Emmanuel team

“Emmanuel consists of a team of 7 ladies and 1 guy who give so freely of their time. They volunteer as they feel the community needs the support of Emmanuel. Amazing! They are all brave and courageous individuals with huge hearts. I felt instantly at home at Emmanuel as they were all so welcoming and greeted me lovingly with hugs and smiles.

A typical day at Emmanuel: I’m picked up by the Calabash bus and taken to the centre for 8am. Once everyone has arrived, we meet in the crèche for prayers and singing with the children and then all hug each other wishing each other a good day ahead. I’ve read that 10 hugs a day improves our well-being and happiness, well you’ll get your quota of hugs here.  We all share a hot drink and play with the children before the crèche and pre-school lessons and activities start. The care workers then meet in the office to discuss who is doing what on that day. I often go out with the care workers to meet my clients carrying out counselling appointments with them at their home. I am having to adapt my counselling and be a little more flexible with my boundaries here. People aren’t used to counsellors and privacy hasn’t really got the same meaning here as it has at home.  Despite this I have built positive long term counselling relationships and I am inspired and humbled by people’s strength and resilience. As well as going to see clients at home, I meet some at the centre.

lunchtime for the creche kids

lunchtime for the creche kids

“I also help in the kitchen when there is food to feed the children of the community. Emmanuel has a vegetable garden and use their home grown produce of beetroot, onions and carrots, spinach and cabbage in their community kitchen. Emmanuel work as an outreach service and often support their clients in accessing support with social workers and at the local clinic. On occasion I walked the 5km distance with care support workers to the medical clinic which offers a free medical service. People need to arrive early in the hope to be seen and treated [and are] grateful that there is some kind of medical service even if they have to travel several miles and wait hours to be seen.

“Emafini Primary School teaches children from grade 1 – 7, up to the age of 13/14 years. The school was built to teach 800 children and it now has approximately 1300 pupils.

“My school day…after the daily staff meeting which has usually finished by 8.15am, I greet the teachers and make my way to my room which is connected to classroom 2. Like the teachers, the learners at Emafini are all very friendly and greet me when I enter their classroom.

“I have my own room to carry out my counselling. It is in fact a large store room with a small rectangular window at the front and back of the room.

Sonia's "office"

Sonia’s “office”

Quite dark and cold, even when very hot outside so I have become accustomed to dressing in layers to keep myself warm. The weather is now turning and the temperature is dropping to around 20 degrees in the day and 13 degrees when dark. That sounds mad doesn’t it, I am talking about 20 degrees being too cold…how am I going to cope at home this winter? I am smiling at this thought and in part amazement at how I have so easily adapted to the climate here.

Sonia in her office

Sonia in her office

“So my day at Emafini is usually taken up by 3 to 4 counselling meetings, all usually lasting the 50 minute counselling hour. My clients are mostly the children but I have also been asked to meet with some of the parents and the school teachers and staff have also been meeting with me too. I can’t tell you how happy I am with how my work is going. I am building really positive therapeutic relationships and feel very lucky and privileged to be here, doing what I am. My day at Emafini ends at 2pm on a Monday and at 1pm on a Friday. A very short day compared to what I am used to at home. On a Friday, lessons are over at noon with children then having the responsibility of cleaning their classroom. A hive of activity then ensues with children mopping the floors, polishing the tables and floors and washing the windows.

“At the end of my school day, I’m picked up by [Nelson or Monga from] Calabash who either takes me back home or to the sea front, depending on how I feel. The sea front with the Board Walk and Summerstrand is very similar to what I am used to at home.

“My experience in South Africa has been a huge adventure that has taught me so much. If you would like a challenge, laugh a lot and cry at times with some amazing people who you’ll get to call friends for life, then a volunteering experience may be for you. For me it was rewarding, magical and life changing. Before I went to SA I read a quote that helped me: ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, then your dreams aren’t big enough and always remember, you regret the things you didn’t do in life far more that than the things you did do!'”

Kate says: “I couldn’t have put it better myself !”

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