Teaching and Volunteering in South Africa

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Written by: Ben Smith

A Placement in the Garden Route

South Africa was one of the most amazing places I have ever been to in my life! As most people would be, I was apprehensive before I went, but at the same time really excited. I was going halfway around the world to work with young people who were not as fortunate as myself.  I went to Knysna in the Garden Route to teach in the township. I had planned lots of different activities to cover in my classes and had a variety of materials with me to show the students.

Meeting the other volunteers

Once I arrived, it was time to meet the 12 other volunteers who were staying at the same house as me. Everyone seemed really friendly and they all had little bits of advice. It was great to sit out in the sun and have lunch. I was even lucky enough to meet the monkeys who visit from time to time to steel oranges. After the short break a couple of volunteers took me down town to the infamous Pick ‘n’ Pay! That evening the volunteers from the other house came up for their tea. Luckily there weren’t many staying in the other house so not too many names to remember.

I started my placement at Percy Mandala High School on the Wednesday and it was an interesting day. I was working in the school with three other volunteers: Mel, Luke and Claire. I met all the staff, who are nothing like teachers in the UK, mainly because they will get up and sing at any opportunity! I followed Luke around his classes just to get a feel for the school and how it worked. He was also teaching Drama as part of Arts and Culture. It was a bit manic in the classes, as the pupils make a lot of noise! So if you are ever preparing a lesson, you must remember that at least half the time will be spent keeping them quiet!

Teaching in South Africa

First visit to the orphanage

After school I had my first visit to the orphanage, which was again a really interesting experience. It was really heart-breaking to see the babies and children with no parents or families, but at the same it is so great that they have a group of people to look after them. I have never been in a group with so many different and big characters!

We spent a couple of hours and the orphanage and played with the kids. The girls had their hair styled, and the children got hold of wet wipes, so they were coming up to us and getting us to wipe their faces and hands.

As weeks went by, I started working on basic drama skills with my pupils, as they really had very little previous practical experience. So it was a case of going back to the basics and starting from scratch. I had to keep things simple so that the pupils could take in the material, and also had them up writing on the board and trying to encourage class discussion, but eventually it would end up in a racket!

When covering practical work, or when groups were rehearsing, we would go outside. It was nice to get out of my dull classroom, but trying to keep control is just as much fun outside! The pupils are all really lovely. Some are cheeky, and some are very quiet, but one thing is for sure….if you offer them a chance to dance, then they will be up on their feet in seconds. No two classes are the same.

Volunteering at the soup kitchen

The soup kitchen was another highlight of the week. A group of volunteers would go up on a Tuesday and Thursday after school and help dish out food and play with the children. Benjy who runs the Oupad Soup Kitchen is a great guy who gives up a lot of his own time to get food for the children. It is advisable to wear older clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty at the soup kitchen, as staying clean is not an option!

The children are guaranteed to climb all over you and they especially like to sit or stand on your shoulders, and just pull your head round in the direction they want it to go. Although the children run circles round you, it is quite a thing to see, when they all line up for their soup. They stand in order of height with the smallest at the front and they all pray. It is such a great thing to go and work with, and I would say your trip isn’t complete if you don’t go.

The best thing about my placement was the day my pupils created a short piece of drama on teenage pregnancy. It was fascinating to watch, as the pupils worked together and two of the girls made up a short song about pregnancy. The child would sing to her mother and the mother would reply. It was a great breakthrough! It restored my faith that what I was doing was getting through to them.

Exploring South Africa

Whilst in South Africa I got to go on some pretty amazing trips, from riding elephants to seeing whales and dolphins to canoeing up Knysna river. We often visited the Friday market just outside the town and had some really tasty food. We had a trip to Plett one weekend, and went sunbathing and swimming in the sea! Trips and activities are generally quite cheap and you can hire a car or get a taxi to take you. As far as going out in Knysna, a Friday is the best night and we usually ended up in Zanzibar. We had some fun nights out and it was great to relax and have fun after a busy week at school.

I learnt a lot about myself whilst in Africa and have certainly grown up a lot! I have made some great friends. There were a mix of ages and types of people, but I think that’s what makes the placement so fantastic. I would recommend this placement to somebody who has passion and is willing to go for it! You get out what you put in to the placement. If you go in with enthusiasm it will just encourage your students even more!

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