My recent trip to South Africa culminated in two thoroughly enjoyable weeks spent in Port Elizabeth, working with Calabash, our wonderful local partners. As always, they could not have been more friendly and welcoming – I immediately felt part of the team and we had a really great time working together. Port Elizabeth is a fantastic place to volunteer – really worthwhile projects where you will spend your working day, a very supportive team to take an interest in what you are doing, look after you and make sure you have a good time, and lots to do in your free time.
The first project we visited was Emmanuel Advice and Care Centre. At Emmanuel there is a small team of dedicated local people, providing community care in a variety of forms for people in their local township. This is a very poor area, with a high incidence of HIV/Aids and TB, and the team provide community-based social care, going out regularly into their community to visit their clients and provide advice and support in whatever form is needed. They also provide pre-school care for up to 60 local children. If there is money available, they provide meals – not only for these 60 children but also for about 90 more from the local community. They are extremely resourceful – I was amazed to learn that when they have 2000 rand (just over £100) they buy rice, flour, vegetables (supplemented from their own garden), and a little meat and fish and feed 150 children three times – so 450 nutritious meals for around 24p a head! Many volunteers from people and places have spent time at Emmanuel over the years, sharing their skills with the local team. Some have helped with community care and shared skills in areas such as counselling. One previous volunteer recently provided the money to build playground equipment, and it was lovely to see the children enjoying themselves playing on the swings and climbing frame. Another helps them write a regular newsletter, while others have helped with financial planning and set up donation systems to provide regular support. However it is the local team, led by Thembeka and Anita, who keep Emmanuel going – they, like the rest of the team, are unpaid but work tirelessly to support their local community. It was a privilege to meet them again and to feel that we at people and places are able to provide support, in however small a way, to such a dedicated team.
Together with Nelson from Calabash, I also visited a number of township schools. Calabash currently supports six township schools and we visited all of them. We were shown round the schools and spent time talking to the Principals about how volunteer support has helped them in the past and the sort of volunteer support they would welcome in the future. This varied school to school, but the most commonly expressed needs were for support in English conversation and reading (remember all education is in English from grade 4, and English is not the first language for any of these children); also Maths, Science and Creative Arts – you can see videos of some of the Principals talking about the support they would welcome elsewhere in this newsletter. I particularly enjoyed the visit to W. B. Tshume School – the teachers there were so excited because the previous week their students had entered a public speaking competition against 18 other local schools and they had won in every category. They brought all the prize-winners down so we could listen to their speeches and I could certainly understand why they had won – it was a real pleasure to see such confident and polite young people expressing themselves so fluently. I also very much enjoyed my visit to Lavela, a pre-school attached to Joe Slovo School. They only have a container classroom so it was hot and over-crowded, but the children were engaged in their work and really enjoying learning – a group of 4 year olds tried to teach me how to say ‘hello’ in the eleven different South African languages but I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good learner! (For information about volunteering in one of these schools click here).
I also took advantage of my two weeks in Port Elizabeth to experience some of the interesting things tourists can do in this area. Port Elizabeth is in a fantastic location, at the end of the Garden Route, with a beautiful coastline with spectacular coastal walks and lovely sandy beaches, near to wildlife parks and with a very interesting history. I was only there for two weeks but I managed to squeeze quite a lot in. I filled a space on a trip Xolani was taking to Addo Elephant Park where we saw zebras, warthogs, buffalo, kudu, leopard tortoises, ostriches, beautiful birds and lots and lots of elephants. Another day Nelson took me on the Real City township tour (provided to volunteers as part of their orientation tour) which is a really good introduction to the history of the city and to the townships – lots of interesting historical facts but more importantly lots of anecdotes and stories from a guide who was brought up and lives in the townships. The tour includes part of Route 67, an Arts Culture Heritage Route depicting 67 public works of art symbolizing Nelson Mandela’s 67 years working towards freedom for all the people of South Africa.
I wasn’t there long enough to go whale watching or on a penguin island cruise, or to arrange a trip to Nelson Mandela’s birthplace – never mind, I’ll just have to go back again!