“Every child that receives a volunteer’s help, even in the shortest moment, is so worth it and it will remember that person.”
This is a quote from a volunteer named Inga who has had the experience of a lifetime participating with Vocational Impact on a volunteer abroad placement in South Africa with an emergency response organisation fighting for the rights of children in a deprived area of South Africa.
“To witness extreme poverty and violence towards children were some of the hardest parts.”
What is the project focus? It is an organisation that helps children who have been victims of abuse in South Africa. Using a soft teddy bear as a tool, it offers the opportunity for children to clearly point out where they have been abused or touched and for volunteers to provide the support that is needed for each individual child.
Travelling to South Africa in the area of Amazimtoti where roughly 80% are Zulu and nearly 40% of the population are HIV+ as recorded in 2016, Inga had the amazing opportunity to provide her volunteering skills to a cause that affects children with HIV/AIDS.
“I haven’t gone home a single day thinking we didn’t help anyone that day”
Vocational Impact allowed Inga to be part of an extended volunteering programme where she completed a range of tasks, such as accompanying victims to the police stations and the hospital, providing support at weekly women’s and children support groups at Illovo Tree, providing support on emergency calls during the day and night, and finally having the chance to look after children who were unable to stay with families. Gogo Cynthia, 67, has volunteered for the project since 2015 and has been a real Gogo (grandma) for me during my time at the project.
The chance to provide this form of care really helped Inga increase her personal skills, such as her persistence, acceptance, and ability to provide a caring and supportive environment for the children who were traumatised.
Since completing her time with Vocational Impact, Inga has written a very inspirational and informative poem regarding her experiences and personal feelings after returning home.
We call them aunties
because that is how you show respect to a middle-aged South African woman.
The really old ones we call Gogo, „Granny“ in Zulu.
Our counselling begins at ten but no one’s there yet.
We wait for two hours.
Then two school girls come.
The first girl is 15.
She got abandoned by her parents years ago, she says, and lives with her aunt who treats her like a house slave.
Other relatives live far away.
We tell her we wanna talk to her aunt.
She gives us her number but nobody picks up. The second girl comes in. She is 13 and her mom brought her here. The mom says she ran away and there was intercourse with some boys or men. After talking to the girl for hours we still don’t know if it was rape or prostitution or if it was consensual.
Did somebody force you?
So did you want to do it?
The mom opens the case at the police station.
Another woman comes with her daughter and her niece.
She picked them up from school. The headmaster is with them.
He says the perpetrator is a boy who attends the same school.
Sdudla and Thuli do the bear procedure with them.
With a teddy bear, the girls show what he did to them.
My friend Emma cries.
They look so happy and we don’t understand why, They are both six years old!
We send other people home who waited all day to see us because we take the kids to the hospital,
We are four people, but we only have one car so we all have to leave.
On busy days there are ten to twelve new rape cases.
But most are not even reported. How tough can a child be?
We just finished dinner in our cottage,
my happy place because it’s safe.
No suffering in here.
Auntie Jackie calls us into the house at 9 o’clock.
“The police is bringing a baby in one hour. Do you want to take it?”
The boy is not a baby anymore
but he looks like one and a half years old.
Police found him in the streets they say.
He looks fine, not hurt or injured and well-taken care of.
Jackie is relieved because usually the children that she takes in are worse.
We name him Tito and take him into the cottage.
After 2 hours he feels like home which I cannot understand because he is tiny and we are strangers.
He is the funniest and the most self-confident child you can imagine,
and he even makes fun of us because we don’t speak his language.
He is the best.
We keep him for a week because his parents do not show up.
Then we go to the police to see if there are news.
They know he is fine with us so why care.
When we politely ask them what’s going on they want to take him away from us and put him into an orphanage.
I do not hand him over.
More days pass.
Then his mother appears
she is an alcoholic.
Gogo Cynthia gives the police a lecture and finds the boy’s granny.
She seems to be an angel and we leave the boy with her
I am not worried ‘cause he’s tough.
My second child is three and she was beaten up.
In the evening we take her to the hospital.
It is in Umlazi, one of the poorest and the most dangerous places in South Africa.
It looks like an abandoned prison.
I am not scared because Bradley, the only man at Bobbi Bear, is with us.
We spend the night here.
It’s crowded. It’s loud.
While we are waiting a man comes in with a child in his arms.
A woman follows, her whining is disturbing. They enter a room and after one minute the woman begins to scream. Everybody falls silent.
But after a while we are talking and joking again, the screaming still aching in the background.
Our girl has to stay here because she also suffers from malnutrition.
Since I often visit her I get to know the hospital very well.
I almost feel comfortable.
That is weird because it is such a disgusting place.
One day when I arrive she is gone. I hope she’s tough.
Cases go on and I see things I do not want to see but now I am glad I did.
It makes me appreciate my luxurious life – and German authorities and government.
My sister sends 50 euros from home and my organisation is as thankful as if I bought them a house.
5 euros can buy a rape bag, the first aid kit for raped children.
Even though Bobbi Bear is specialised on rape and HIV, they never turn any cases down.
Some of the aunties are also crisis mothers.
They take children home who are in need.
That’s rough because they work full-time. Most kids stay for good.
Mildred has 12, Ladyfair has 21. Literally everybody here has a past which is beyond my imagination.
I only feel admiration for how they manage life every day – and how tough they are.
When I leave, Jackie says she is proud of me.
Jackie is an activist and she founded Bobbi Bear.
She is the toughest of all tough aunties.
I leave for Cape Town for a week. Out of the gutter into happy backpacker world. I am living the high life for one week but I don’t feel that bad. I think I deserve it because I am exhausted. I functioned well in Durban but now my battery is low.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, Bradley said. I wonder where he gets his energy from. He’s never tired.
When I come back to Germany I cry for ten days.
Auntie Eureka once said to the staff “The day you stop crying for those kids is the day you can pack your bags and leave this work because you should never ever stop crying.”
I had to stop at least literally, because my life is here and I can’t go back,
at least not every year.
I got studies to finish and deal with my first world problems and that’s okay.
But as long as I still care I am sure to hold the balance. I try not to annoy everyone with my experience, it’s hard because I feel so angry and so, so sorry.
I realise I have awesome friends because they catch me.
It’s easy not to help when you think you do not make a difference.
But once you learn you actually do you don’t just forget it.
There are so many things happening in the world we cannot change. But at the same time there are so many options to make a move.
There is something we CAN do – to help them stay tough.
Would you like to Volunteer with us or know more?
Read more about our volunteering placements in South Africa here.
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