South Africa, Jennifer

Jennifer Volunteered as a Teacher in South Africa

On the plane journey over to South Africa I was sat next to an exquisitely beautiful woman in her early twenties. Colourful bangles jangled up and down her bronzed arm, her hair was twisted into pretty braids and her face lit with a constant smile. She talked about all the things she had done, all that she had seen and all that she wanted to do whilst asking me questions on my life and aspirations. The way she spoke, expressing her thoughts with elegant hand waves and perfect eloquence made my simple responses wither. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be just like that woman; cool, confident, intelligent and full of life.

The first thing I noticed about when I arrived…the sunshine? The beautiful views? The poverty? Nope… the first thing that stuck out for me when I arrived in ZA was a truck full of men, all sitting in the open air pull-along at the back, with no seat belts, all crammed in like sardines in the back of a “bucky”, something that would get all of them instantly arrested in ye Olde England. Not a very deep remark, I know, not particularly observant either and definitely not something the mature, spiritual person I wanted to be would have first noticed about a new place. For me, my first thoughts on South Africa are something that can be used to base my experience on. Now, as I travel the coast of ZA, the first thing I notice about a new place is the feel, the atmosphere, the people and the culture. I think I’m finally on my way into growing into that mature person I aspired to be all those months ago.

The first month of my placement was the most challenging. Having never been away from my mother for longer than two weeks (sounds pathetic I know) made the first few weeks even more difficult. Already I was out of my comfort zone, the idea of living with other people I didn’t know (three Australians), made me break into a cold sweat. To my extreme relief the transition wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected – the last few months had been spent typing emails to them, getting to know these crazy Aussies I would soon meet. It was if we had known each other for years!

Another one of my milestones was dealing with the weather. The weather, the weather, the weather! Luckily I was in Limpopo – a place of little rain. The heat was dry, so 40 degrees wasn’t as unbearable as the heat down in Durban that I was later to experience. Still, shorts and tank tops are items of clothing I will sorely miss back in the cold wet place that is England! Of course the downside of no rain is no water. I would have dealt with the humidity any day for water! We would sit in our hostel and hope, wish, and pray for rain the next day.

Of course, none of this is relevant without the most important challenge of all – being an 18 year old teacher! Our school was in an all-black town. We four volunteers were the only white people and, it seemed, the first white people many in this town had ever seen. Luckily for us, most spoke almost perfect English and despite the many offers of marriage, we got along fairly normally. The kids were boisterous, rowdy and in most cases, completely unwilling to learn. However, working together, I believe that we managed to cram some learning into those children’s heads. How do you get a class of forty to pay attention to you? Drop kick the door closed, of course! How do you teach them the five main food groups? Bring them in snacks of each food group! It was hard work, but totally rewarding.

Despite all of the hardships my placement had to offer – little water, intense heat, children who didn’t want to learn – I would go there again like a shot. Lattitude Global Volunteering offered me a placement that has changed me as a person, and shaped my future. I have made friends for life here in South Africa, and had experiences that I would gain in no other place. Whilst my friends were doing their first years at Uni , I was in Africa, dancing with witch doctors, playing with lion cubs, teaching the disadvantaged, riding elephants and coasting the waves. I will always remember SA.