We caught up with one of our volunteers, a second-year Leeds University, psychology student, Emily.
Emily explained that project is a centre based in Durban for young victims of sexual abuse, in which volunteers helped the children with their pre and post-school routines whilst simultaneously helping with the local community.
IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING TRIP EVER.
Emily described it as “the most amazing trip ever.” She went to the project in South Africa for three weeks. When we asked about her impressions of the centre itself, she said; “it might seem daunting at first but they’re so welcoming. Their work is tied mainly around sexual abuse and working with children, but they are such a huge part of the community, everyone comes to the centre.”
Emily recalls one incident specifically: “we worked with a couple whose child the project had helped, and even though it had all been sorted, they had kept up the association with them to help them get over drug addiction.
They were such a nice couple and the project staff wanted to try to get them to rehab even though it’s not their specialisation. It happened and they even paid for them to go. It was really amazing. That’s one of my highlights, I think. I would say that there are so many different things to experience. It’s not just children, they get you involved in everything and you’ll always feel a part of the team, you feel like you’re a top priority to them, it’s really special.”
YOU’LL ALWAYS FEEL A PART OF THE TEAM, YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE A TOP PRIORITY TO THEM, IT’S REALLY SPECIAL.
YOU’D EITHER TRAVEL TO DIFFERENT CENTRES OR COURTS, HOSPITALS AND SCHOOLS.
When asked to describe a typical day during her trip Emily said, “it’s actually really hard to describe because there are no typical days as such. The craziest things happen every day. We lived at the volunteer house, which is the main rescue centre, so towards the end, we had six kids living with us so we would wake up to screaming children in the morning.
We’d go down and everybody would already be there. It was very chill, it was very relaxed really, we’d go to the office and chat about the day ahead. Then it depended on the day, you’d either travel to different centres or courts, hospitals and schools. Towards the end, we just spent a lot of time in the house looking after the kids.”
THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT A PILLOW WAS. THEY COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT A TOILET FLUSHED, THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TOILET ROLL WAS.
Emily was able to see one of the largest abuse cases the project had ever seen. The children arrived at the centre from the extremely poor conditions in which they had been staying previously. “They were in the most awful conditions, we needed to get them into the volunteer house.
When we first arrived, they didn’t know what a pillow was, they just didn’t get it. They just couldn’t believe that a toilet flushed, they didn’t know what toilet roll was, it was really sad and it put everything into perspective for me. When I first heard they were coming I was so happy. They were the best part of the trip, it was stressful but I didn’t care. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help. That last week, it was like 24-hour care, that was the best thing because we really felt we made a difference. The six kids were a massive part of our trip.”
YOU WOULDN’T GET THAT EXPERIENCE HERE IN THE UK.
When we asked Emily to highlight some more memorable aspects of her stay, she said; “I think for me it was the courts, they were so interesting. It was so shocking really to be in that environment, it was so strange, the lawyers were just chatting with each other, everything was just so laid back. It’s just such a difficult situation, but it was fascinating really. You would never get that experience here in the UK. One hugely powerful moment for me was when this guy was sentenced to like 200 years in prison for rape and murder. All the victims and family and friends all burst into tears and were so happy, and when outside they chanted and sung Zulu songs, it was such a powerful moment. You could see the hurt that they had all experienced from this one man. We also went to police stations and talked to them about doing talks in schools. The police spoke about past talks and how successful they were. They had a lot of success stories about action happening after their talks because from that point the children would be educated about what rape was whereas before they wouldn’t have been.”
WORKING TO UPLIFT THE COUNTRY AND SORT OUT CORRUPTION IN THE POLICE AND COURT SYSTEM.
We asked Emily about her expectations before the trip and she said; “I feel like I wasn’t nervous until I got off the plane, but then it was very daunting. There was a culture shock as well. I didn’t go in having expectations as such, I just went in looking to see what it was like there. I would say I was really overwhelmed by how welcoming they were, they made you feel so relaxed and at ease, they were always there for us and it really felt like they wanted us there.”
Emily said her impressions of South Africa were, “shocking, some areas were so backwards, but there were so many amazing people working at the project and the community.
It’s really amazing to see how many South African people are working to uplift the country and sort out corruption in the police and the court system, it seems like they are working towards the right way to fix things.”
THERE WAS A FOCUS ON UPLIFTING MOTHERS AND WOMEN, EDUCATE WOMEN AND PROMOTE WOMEN’S RIGHTS.
Having mentioned uplifting, Emily spoke about the efforts made by women to educate other women and promote things like women’s rights at a help centre called the Tree. “There was a focus on uplifting mothers and women. In South Africa, there’s such a big focus on HIV and AIDS which the project has done so well in bringing attention to. Everyone knows what HIV is, the next step is women’s violence.
People travel two and a half hours on foot to be there, one or twice a week, it was about the women uplifting themselves. Kids would come and get food and clothes donations there as well. We went twice and played with all the kids with hula hoops and balls and stuff like that. I met Jackie Branfield there, she was such an amazing woman, she made us feel so so welcome, she even said she had a psychologist on hand if we had been affected by what we were doing.
She explained to all the Zulu ladies who we were, saying that we’d paid to come out there to help the community, got us to do a presentation on who we were and why we were there. They just make you really get involved and you’re never just watching, you’re always interacting. It was such an amazing experience. We also met this Zulu lady who sung in the most powerful voice and only after did we find out that she only had days to live, that was a powerful moment.”
VOLUNTEERING CHANGED ME AS A PERSON. YOU NEVER FORGET THE STORIES AND THE EXPERIENCE.
Emily said that the experience had helped her clarify her career path. “I think I always wanted to work with children, especially in clinical psychology. I think it’s been confirmed that I really like working with children, I find it easier to talk to a child than an adult. Even when there’s a language barrier, I can play and use my initiative to interact with them, it’s just so easy. I’d love to work with children in an environment like that, where it’s so useful for mental health issues. I think it changed me as a person. It sounds cliché, but you never forget the stories and the experience, you don’t feel like you want to go back to your old lifestyle, it’s so hard to accept that that is their lifestyle. I’m already looking at what else I can do and I’m keeping in touch with the project. Once or twice a year we want to do something to raise money to send them.”
THERE ARE A LOT OF PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD BUT THIS ONE YOU GET SO INVOLVED. IT’S A PARTICULARLY GOOD PLACEMENT I THINK.
Finally, when asked if she would recommend the experience to others Emily said; “definitely, I made an Instagram account and we got all our friends to follow that and the number of messages I got was great, I told them all to get in touch with Vocational Impact. There are a lot of projects around the world but with this one, you get so involved in so many different avenues, so many projects when you’re there, it’s a particularly good one I think.”
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