Volunteering in Cape Town

It was a cool, clear winter evening when I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa for seven weeks of voluntary work. I was picked up from the airport and dropped off at my host parents who lived in Strandfontein, a town about half an hour from Cape Town.

Most weekdays I got up around seven (I saw some lovely sunrises then...) and I spent my days at a local hospital working in the HIV/AIDS clinic. I helped update patient files or sat in on doctors' appointments. Staff were helpful and keen for volunteers to be involved and ask questions. Queues to see the nurse or doctors were always long, but waiting areas were quiet and people waited their turn patiently. Sometimes there was only one doctor in all day.

Learn the local language

When we arrived at work, we would grab a cup of milky Roubus tea and have a chat to local staff and volunteers whilst trying to pick up some of the Xhosa language. Sometimes in the mornings I went on clinic visits in the centre's old but trusty car, with the radio blaring.

Once at the TB or HIV clinics it could be distressing to see sick people queuing patiently for treatment or counselling. Often in the waiting areas, trained counsellors would stand at the front and talk about HIV and ways of preventing it, as well as informing people of the benefits of taking their anti-retroviral drugs. Doctors' rooms were often used by more than one person at a time. Once a young mum came in whilst we were with a patient and she washed the baby in the sink to cool him because he had a fever.

Care work in South Africa

Esme, the Centre's lovely administrator, and I worked most days on sending out around 500 mailings to businesses as they are currently looking for funding to complete a new care centre. This was no mean feat, letters had to be typed and photocopied 500 times, address labels were all hand-typed then cut out individually and glued, before being sent in batches to be posted. Sometimes ward staff would help; it was like a production line. I had never done office work before and was surprised at what I learned.

For the next five weeks, I worked in a township called Philippi at the Lutheran Community Centre iThemba Labantu (meaning Hope for the People) in their Care Centre. Other programmes actively operating there included a daily soup kitchen, a nursery school, a community vegetable garden, gym lessons, a music school and a craft centre. They made the most beautiful beadwork there, some of which I was given as a gift before I headed back to the UK. I wish I could have recorded the sounds at the centre, children playing, the marimba band practising outside in the sun and builders working. The smells from the kitchen were always nice and on occasion I got to sample some local delicacies!

Play as well as work

Some evenings volunteers met up for a braai (barbecue) or an evening out and these could be wild affairs! At weekends we would go shopping in one of the many shopping centres like the huge Waterfront complex (clothes are so much cheaper in South Africa) or go to places like beautiful Table Mountain, or whale watching. Some people went shark diving, crocodile swimming, abseiling and on safari.

I fell in love with the country and it's people and plan to go back very soon to do more voluntary work. I am also applying to study there next year. Volunteering in South Africa completely changed my life.