Here at Vocational Impact, we look for volunteers who are able to bring their unique experiences to their volunteer missions abroad. One of our recent volunteers to Nkosi’s Haven in Johannesburg, South Africa was Niusha Akbari Saneh, a recently graduated Iranian student who studied clinical psychology at Al-Zahra University. W
hile at university, Niusha took courses in social psychology, clinical psychology, and developmental psychology. In addition to her coursework, Niusha pursued a number of opportunities outside of the classroom that allowed her to gain experience in her field.
Niusha worked as a volunteer with children with down syndrome, working with them to express themselves through art. She also worked in less privileged areas of Iran, where she helped children improve their self-confidence and sense of belonging in their communities. In addition to her impressive work in and out of academia, Niusha speaks three languages, English, Farsi, and German.
Niusha was drawn to working with Vocational Impact because of her desire to continue to gain experience with child psychological work as well as her hope to explore new cultures. When she originally wrote in to us, she told us that she believes “we can learn a lot about the human psyche through working with children”.
She told us that she hopes to continue her education and pursue social psychology, with the ultimate goal of working in psychological research, and that she hoped working with Vocational Impact would give her the chance to do hands-on psychological work. She also hoped it would give her the chance to experience a new culture in South Africa, saying she believes “experiencing what goes on in other communities has an undeniable effect on one’s worldview”.
When we came across Niusha, we thought her passion for child psychology as well as her unique background in psychological work would make her the perfect volunteer for Nikosi’s Haven. So, we got her all set to go and sent her on her way!
Nkosi’s Haven is a community that provides education and opportunities for growth and sustainability for the children and women affected by HIV/AIDS in their care. Nkosi’s Haven is named after Nkosi Johnson, who was born with HIV and became a national figure in the anti-discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS. He died at the age of 12, but his work continues through the work of Nkosi’s Haven.
Nuisha describes her first impressions as; “Everyone was so welcoming and kind, they had been waiting for the new volunteers to come so when I arrived everyone was so nice. It was very pleasant. But it was one of the other volunteers who helped me to know the place. It was nice to have one of the staff members talk to me about the opportunities they had in terms of their physiological program and the things that I could do and especially around HIV and how I should treat people.”
We asked Niusha how she felt about the child-care aspect of the job. “It was really enjoyable because the kids were really lovely and it was good for observations because some of them had behavioural issues. I saw their behaviour changing during the time I was there. I wish I had the time to do more with them, like painting therapy and play therapy but it was a good chance for observation anyway.”
During the second half of her stay, Niusha had the chance to work with the resident phycologist. “I had some sessions with [phycologist] Heather but there wasn’t enough time for me to get clients but she did everything she could in the last week. I couldn’t observe her clients because of confidentiality but she helped me with everything she could about EMDR. I had a visit to the Teddy Bear Clinic where I got to ask questions to the therapist and I learned a lot about how abused children could be dealt with, that was a really nice experience for me as well.”
Niusha reflects on the trip. “The time with the therapist was really good, she tried to help me in every way that she could, she was really great.”
We asked Niusha if the experience had changed her in any way. “Yes, it has really changed me. I saw the people and got to know them and their history and the way they live and I couldn’t help to compare it to my own country. It gave me an insight into how other people live in other countries and what issues they are dealing with and how they solve them. It was really amazing. Especially seeing the people who live with HIV living their own normal lives, going to school, having partners and it was really nice to see that they’re not separated to the other people, in my country, it’s not like that so it was great to see.”
When asked to think about a personal highlight Nuisha says; “one thing that was really interesting for me was the workshop about the sexual harassment of children. The mothers with older children were there as well as it was for mothers with younger children, they said they wanted to participate in the workshop because they wanted to protect them. It was really nice to hear that.”
Finally, Nuisha summed up her trip as; “I would say that everyone is so supportive when you want to do something. [Manager] Gail was so supportive in every way she could. I would recommend going for more than three weeks even but I would also so not to expect too much from it, they can see the living of the people with HIV and see how they deal with children and gives ideas on how to work with a charity and how to help others.”
Sample Schedule for Psychology, Mental Health, Occupational Health and Social Work students and graduates
Day starts at 7:00 A.M with Breakfast in the Dining Hall.
(Older children attend school)
Free Time until 9:00 A.M
Children’s Day Care:
(These can also be applied workshops to certain age groups of children, discuss options with Nkosi’s Haven Staff)
Children home from school 2-3pm
Dinner 5:30/6 P.M
Would you like to Volunteer with us or know more?
Questions? Would you like to participate? That’s great – feel free to email us or call/whatsapp us on: +44 (0) 7704 129 816
Alternatively, complete an application to begin the process of volunteering, and we’ll be in touch with more details!