Second-year UWE Early Childhood student and volunteer Lola Curtis spent her August volunteer placement month at Operation Bobbi Bear; a centre for children who have been sexually abused, located in Kingsburgh, South Africa. Lola describes the centre as being a place that liaises with everyone in the community without leaving anyone out. As Lola put it, “whether it be a family or a single child, everyone is included. Everyone who works there is amazing.”
We asked Lola to describe a typical day during her month. “I was probably out with the police about 80% of the time, visiting schools and performing talks and events which had been organised with them. We’d typically present serious issues such as child abuse. Because we were foreigners instead of their usual teachers, the children really listened to us and we found ourselves to be pretty popular with them. I think it was a great way to get children to listen to important issues.”
She would join the police early in the morning and quickly got to know the local officers, letting them know that drugs were a problem just in South Africa but the UK as well helped to build common ground between them. Lola was able to tour local police facilities and then taken to schools to do a presentation in front of the students. “My biggest audience was probably around 1000 or so children, it was a pretty big school.”
By following the lead of the other volunteers and conducting her own research Lola found herself quickly able to address such audiences in her stride.
When asked about other notable experiences during her time, she reels them off; “we were asked to be judges at a police event which involved children from four of five schools competing to become ‘Station Commanders’ by helping the police from inside a school.
I also got to help a 19-year-old student called Michael who had dropped out of school but now really wanted to continue to learn, that was a really touching experience. We also helped with phycologist reports on the children and were trusted by the staff to contribute because we were in such close proximity with the children.
When I was leaving, I was completely overshadowed because they had found a baby on the street, but I think that was a more important matter, but it serves to illustrate the kind of amazing work that gets done by places like this.”
Helping out at the Bobbi Bear Centre made up the mornings and evenings of Lola’s day. “It was overwhelming at times, but I like children and I get on well with them so I didn’t have a problem. We’d help with their pre-school needs and then in the evening help with feedings, bathing and bedtime routines. These were some really challenging children, but it was very rewarding to work so closely with them.”
When we asked her about her previous experiences Lola said “this was my first time volunteering abroad. It was really eye-opening, but I followed Operation Bobbi Bear on their Facebook page and I’d been in contact with them so I knew what to expect, plus Vocational Impact helped me every step of the way. Touring the schools I found it so inspiring that despite the hardship of the conditions they faced they’d done an amazing job of making do with what they had for their students.”
Lola describes visiting the Blue Roof, a youth centre in a nearby township; “it was amazing, we don’t have anything like it in the UK. I think it was pretty new. It offered career and interview advice to teens and was open to the whole community. It had this amazing screen and headphone tree that gave advice on careers and when we visited, they had an art station set up with some of the older teens painting a mural on the floor.” Being able to see the side of South Africa that man foreign visitors choose not to see Lola says, “it really helped me to understand the situations that many of the children found themselves in.
The one thing I did have to get used to was the timekeeping, someone summed it up as ‘go with the flow’ which is quite different to what we have in the UK. I think he had one event due to start at 9 but we ended up doing it at 11:30.”
When asked about the most positive aspects of the trip Lola said “it was great to meet so many amazing people, it’s definitely impacted on my future plans, in many ways it sorted it all out when it came to narrowing down my choices for the future. I’d love to work towards a masters in social care, the CSO’s at Bobbi Bear were such an inspiration. I think Bobbi Bear is a great addition to have on an application to that sort of work. To be honest, I’ve been telling all my friends at UWE to go and volunteer, I won’t shut up about it.”
Lola managed to raise half her volunteering costs herself through “mainly cake sales and social media spamming, half was my target so I’m pretty happy about that. I think next time I’d like to aim higher. Overall it was a great experience and I still keep in touch with my fellow volunteers. I was shown a video just this morning of a boy who had never said ‘thank you’ before saying it for the first time, which was so heartwarming to see.”
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