Australian Psychology student Isabelle Raiter spent her five-week volunteering experience at Durban based Operation Bobbi Bear, a centre dedicated to handling young people who have been sexually abused. Isabelle described it as “a drop-in centre for victims of child abuse. I helped look after kids taken from some pretty bad situations.” A week after her return home we called her for a catch up about her experience.
“I found it pretty hard to come home, to be honest, I made such strong connections with the children there. I was there longer than most volunteers so I had plenty of time to settle in and really get to the know the staff and children.”
Vocational Impact asked Isabelle to describe what a typical day at Bobbi Bear was like. “We’d get up with the kids and help them get ready to go off to school. Then I’d go out to places like schools and police stations to do talks and counselling and then when I would be back at the centre in the afternoon for the children when they came back. But each week was different. One week we did five school talks in a row and we also went to the courts twice as well as places like hospitals and crisis centres, honestly, every day was different.”
Isabelle thought the school talks presented by the international volunteers were an impactful way of getting messages across to children. “It was really appreciated by the teachers and the children. We’d typically go to a primary school and we’d written out a few different speeches that we could do. They were mostly on things like peer pressure or drugs or sex. It was amazing because we were talking about these really taboo things with these kids but that’s just how they do it over there, something like that would never happen here.”
Over the course of her experience, Isabella estimates she took part in around 10 schools talks, eventually helping newer volunteers with them.
As a phycology student, the chance to join some one-on-one counselling “was pretty amazing. It was an opportunity I wouldn’t get anywhere else and it really helped me decide what I want to do in my future as well.
I worked alongside a woman called Mildred who was amazing, the most passionate person I have ever seen, working alongside her was a really positive experience, it made me realise that my interest was in clinical phycology and I’ll probably apply for a masters and PhD in it. It’s something I’d really recommend for psych students.”
When we asked her to highlight a few impactful moments Isabelle said that there were so many to choose from; “we went to a protest outside a court over a case and everyone came out and said they couldn’t believe this has happened, it was probably a big moment for me as the perpetrator got released on bail. Another one was when I was counselling a police officer who had threatened to kill his fiancé and himself and we had to talk to him, that was massively impactful for me. I had a moment where I thought this is what I want to do for sure in terms of my career. We also had a girl come in to chat with me and another volunteer, she had been abused when she was younger and we struggled a bit as she was a representation of what the kids we were looking after would grow up to be because of their experiences.”
Despite the hard-hitting nature of some of the work, Isabelle said about her expectations, “they were exceeded, to be honest. I did less than I thought I would but the things that I did get involved with totally exceeded my expectations if that makes sense. Working with the kids especially really made my experience, if the kids weren’t there it wouldn’t have been as incredible an experience.
Being able to look after them, especially because I have a psychology background was really amazing. Because I was there so long, I was able to see the transition from when they arrived to when I left which was so transformative, I still try to keep in touch over social media with the centre and the other volunteers.”
We asked Isabelle if she would recommend the experience to others; “definitely. More than anything else, more than just travelling. When you volunteer you doing something you can’t do at home, you’re actually making a difference and living in a place and a community as opposed to just passing through. I’ve made really strong relationships with the people who live here and I think a lot of other students in Australia would be interested in doing stuff like this, there’s nothing for psychology students currently like this here.”
Finally, when asked if it had changed her as a person Isabelle said, “it definitely did but I’m still working out how. The experience with the kids and the ladies working there definitely did. They are incredible people and I don’t think I’ve met anyone like them ever.”
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