University of Oxford Student’s Volunteer Aboard Story

by Vocational Impact|May 20 2019|Blog
Oxford University Volunteer Abroad

We spoke with fourth-year Oxford University Classics student Molly after she returned from volunteering with Operation Bobbi Bear in South Africa.

Molly described for us what a typical day at the centre which deals with young victims of sexual abuse was like.

“All the volunteers would get up quite early to get the children up out of bed, change nappies and get everyone off to school. There was always at least one other person in the house helping us out in the mornings because it was a little chaotic. We’d have a bit of time to have breakfast ourselves and then around 8:30 we’d get picked up. Shadowing Mildred was the best. We’d go around the police stations and courts and basically just helped out with whatever she was doing. We’d normally get back around 5 pm and look after the kids when they came home from schools and do bath times and homework and play with them and then they’d be in bed by eight.”

Visiting law courts

“That was pretty incredible, I loved court stuff. Before I went to the courts I did talks in schools and we had so many girls come up and give their statements to us so we knew what happens initially when a case opens so we knew that part but we didn’t know how it ended or where it went from there. Going to the court was the perfect follow up to that. The one we went to was in Zulu so I didn’t really understand that much what was going on but it was a trial of a man who had been accused of rape and it turned out he knew the victim so it goes quite intense. He was let out on bail. It was really interesting but also a really harrowing moment in the two weeks because it showed how people fell through the cracks in that he was allowed to walk free. That was pretty hard. All of the pretty difficult stuff was made better by having Mildred with us. The judge stuff and the law stuff felt pretty depressing at times. Being given access to the front seat in the court was such an experience, they’re quite small so you’re right in the middle of it and Mildred is such a big figure that you get in all the interesting situations.”

Working with local staff

“I’m slightly in love with her, she’s so kind and kind of encompassed all the right ways to do charity work, she wasn’t jaded but she knew the realities. She did everything in such a warm way. We followed her around and she just had everybody. The head of the police force and the main lawyer were calling her all the time asking for help because she has such an authority on everything. She doesn’t stop, she spends the day campaigning for people’s rights and then she goes home to the 23 children she’s taken in. Probably one of the most impressive people that I’ve ever met. She was the perfect example of someone who can break the cycle of abuse.”

Topical talks at Local Schools

“That was really fun. It was nice having the other volunteers at that point because I’m not a massive fan of public speaking but it was actually so relaxed. It was quite cool because they were so responsive to what we were saying and so happy that we’d come all this way to talk to them, they wanted to speak to us the whole time afterwards, they really wanted to engage with us. We were talking about some quite intense stuff with such young children. You find such points of similarity with them you can speak about personal things with them so comfortably. It was a very good way of showing how much abuse and how much crime was going on because after the talks we would hold a drop-in session but we had up to 15-20 children coming in and making statements and reporting things.”

Outreach programmes in the community

“That was incredible. We had a day there. It was me and Jacky doing the first aid stall and we had a stream of children for about an hour and they were all so malnourished and beaten and had terrible sores so that was the first time I saw how bad the problem was. The second time I went to the Tree they did a Zulu ceremony where they give you your name and that was really lovely and you meet everyone and that was the day before I left so it was a good ending.”

Most powerful moments 

“Just sitting outside the first time we went to the school with some kids I was talking about my sister who was their age and they all wanted to see photos and we were just speaking and earning their trust and then they all gave their statements and we wrote them down. That was the first time we really connected with the victims and found out so much about their lives and having to write out these quite horrible statements. It was quite touching but also quite upsetting. On my final night, one of the boys had such terrible social anxiety that he was vomiting with fear before school and it was really hard for him to open up and wouldn’t show any affection. He took me upstairs on the last night and wanted me to put him to bed. He’d never really shown any affection to his siblings but that night he tucked them all in and then he made me pray with him and made me make a list of all the things that I was happy for and he basically prayed for me to God and it was so unbelievably touching, him listing all the things he was happy for. It was such a step for him wanting affection, it was a big turnaround for him. It was nice as it was just as I left.  They all became such different people in the two weeks I was there. They all changed so much which was so amazing, a lot of powerful moments like that.”

Expectations before departure

“I was actually really nervous. I thought it was going to be really hard and it was all the things that I expected, it was really intense, but I hadn’t realised the comfort of being around really good people and people who are really good at their jobs and how I remember thinking about an hour after I arrived that I felt very comfortable. I don’t think having the kids there made a big impact because that’s something I didn’t know was happening. It felt like a house full of children so you just got stuck in and children are so easy to feel comfortable around so that was a really nice aspect that was so warm and lovely. We were immediately thrown into a lovely funny situation with these six really sweet kids. Equally, I didn’t expect to be so right in the thick of it and not quite knowing what to do with some of them. I can’t imagine going back without them. It was constant, we were fully immersed from start to finish. The relationships with them was the nicest part of it completely. I really miss them. One thing I did expect was the cultural divide between Zulu and Afrikaans. We talked a lot about the stigma of rape in Zulu culture and how that maybe got in the way of trying to help people. That came up in our training session right at the start and I’m glad it did because for the next two weeks I was always kinda aware of it. It would have been quite easy to offend someone by not taking in mind the differences in the culture.”

Reflections on the volunteer experience

“I feel weird because I haven’t talked to many people back here who aren’t family because it sounds so cheesy in a way. It’s been quite difficult coming home and trying to get back to normality. It’s been hard to take my exams seriously now. It’s been part of my decision for next year. I’ve been in these rigid academic institutions for so long and haven’t had a chance to take a breath and think about what I want to do and so this is the perfect way to completely disconnect so I spend two weeks doing something completely incredible and getting so much satisfaction out it that it made me think about all the academic stuff completely differently. It really shifted my decisions for next year, before I was going to go straight into a masters but now I think I’m going to take a year out and at least do two months of overseas charity work. I worked that out while I was out there. Because it was so different from what I’d done before it completely re-shifted the way I want to do the next few years of my life.”

In summary

“A good mix between being compassionate and being invested in every single child’s interest but it also had that unity of a very strong charity. They had that thing of being cogs in a machine and working very effectively so it was a very good mix of being deeply personal but it also functioned very well day-to-day. The overriding feeling, I got was how much people cared. There were people openly crying about situations but also working on them for hours and hours, day after day, so that nice thing of not being jaded by these situations. It never felt hopeless, just quite extreme. You have to come to terms with the situation quite quickly and just get on and do the job.”

Finally, we asked if she would recommend the experience to someone else.

Yes so much. I always thought it was one of the most important things you can do. Some of the situations that we came across were on the more extreme end compared to a lot of people I’ve talked to who’ve done volunteering. I really want to go back, that’s a nice thing to look forward to. I wish I could have done it longer, next time I’ll do it a month or two.”




Would you like to Volunteer with us or know more?

You can read more about our volunteering programmes in South Africa here. Furthermore, you can find out more about Vocational Impact here.

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!

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