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Care & Community in South Africa by Hannah Gray

In July 2017, I spent two weeks in Cape Town as a part of a High School Special Care Project. Those two weeks were easily the best two weeks of my life, due to my amazing host family, the beautiful children and the other volunteers.

First impressions of Cape Town

A group of volunteers

Before leaving for Cape Town, I had done a little bit of research online about Cape Town, but nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful it was and how at home I felt there. As soon as I left the airport, I was just mesmerized by the stunning landscape of mountains all around and I couldn’t stop looking out of the window. We were taken to our host family and were welcomed by our amazing host mum, Faye. After settling in, we had an induction at the Projects Abroad office about our placement and our other plans for the weeks. I was struck by how friendly everyone in Cape Town was. Everywhere we went for our induction and the next two weeks, we were met with smiles and everyone always had time for a chat.

My Care & Community placement

For the next two weeks, we were all split into little groups and sent to our placements, which were all daycare centers located in Vrygrond, a township. My placement was at a place called Little Sunshine Educare, which is a daycare center looking after 60 children with only four members of staff. When we first arrived, we were welcomed with hugs, high-fives and endless shouts of “Hello teacher!” The children were so wonderful and I am still amazed at how happy and full of life they were, despite the many hardships that they were facing.

For the two weeks, our role was to help out the staff and play with and teach the children. Our teaching focus was on hygiene and we decided to focus on brushing teeth and washing hands. For both topics, we ran a lesson for every group and taught them songs that they could remember. We bought and labeled a toothbrush for each child and then did a demonstration of how to brush teeth correctly.

Hannah with children at her Care placement

One of my favorite moments was when we arrived the day after our tooth brushing demonstration and were met with big toothy grins and lots of voices shouting “Look teacher – I brushed my teeth!”. I was so happy that they had remembered what we had taught them and that we had been able to leave something that they can continue to use. Whilst we were there, we also painted the outside of the building and we painted a large sunshine on the wall. We got every child to put a yellow handprint around the sun.

For me (and for the children), the best part of the day was playtime! It was wonderful to be able to talk and play with all the children and I soon learnt that if I carried one child across the monkey bars, a queue would suddenly form and they would all shout “And me teacher!”. I fell in love with every one of the children and their gorgeous smiles and when the end of the two weeks came, it was so hard to leave.

It was also so hard to leave the staff members; they had been so kind to us over the weeks and it had been brilliant to get to know them and to see how committed they were to the children. We organized a little leaving party for our final day and ate cake and sweets, danced to music and spent ages blowing and chasing after bubbles. The day finished with many hugs and tears (mainly from us) and we left full of love for Little Sunshine Educare.

My host family

Volunteers blowing bubbles with children

The time that I spent at the placement gave me many of my favorite memories, however many also came from the time spent at home with my host family and the 20 other volunteers. Faye was the best host mum I could have ever wished for; she constantly told us hilarious and incredible stories from her past and every day we received an inspiring pep talk about how we could do anything we wanted – we could even turn a plate into gold! She was always there if we needed to chat and she always put out a huge and very yummy spread for dinner. Her husband, Aslam, was equally brilliant, always cracking jokes and dancing along to his current favorite song, Wild Thoughts!

Almost all of us in the house were working on a Care Project. We came from a variety of destinations including England, Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy, USA, Denmark, Nigeria and China. From the first night, we were all chatting and laughing and continued to do so for the rest of our time. Every night we stayed up listening to music, playing card games and Uno until midnight when there would only be a couple of us left. My favorite memory from my time at Faye’s house was when we had a traditional braai with loads of amazing traditional food that Faye had spent all day preparing. After the food, we spent all night singing, dancing and having fun together.

Free time and community days

Volunteers during a community day in South Africa

When we weren’t at our placement, we did lots of activities and we went sightseeing. Going up Table Mountain was easily the best! It was a perfectly clear day and the view was breath-taking. As we went back down, we watched the sun set which was gorgeous. We also visited Robben Island, which was extremely interesting and also very relevant, as during the two weeks, we celebrated Nelson Mandela Day. As well as that, we had a peninsula tour, we visited traditional markets, we went to the beach, we went to a trampoline park and we had many yummy dinners out. The best meal was on our last night when we visited a traditional restaurant and all got up and danced with the band and the dancers.

Volunteers pose at a Care centre

Part of our work included a community day each week. Our first community day was spent at a brilliant organization called Where Rainbows Meet, which trains disadvantaged women in sewing and beading and looks after abandoned children. We spent most of the day in the kitchen where we cooked pasta and soup for the community. It was hard work but we succeeded and the food reached more than 400 people.

Our next community day was on Nelson Mandela Day and was spent painting and decorating another daycare center, which was also in Vrygrond. We all got very messy, but it was amazing to see the finished walls decorated with flowers, butterflies, trees and the South African Flag. The community days were so much fun, as we could connect with people of all different ages within the community, but the volunteers also bonded as a team.

My overall experience

My two weeks in South Africa were incredible and it is difficult to put into words just how amazing it was. I met so many brilliant people, many of whom I am still in contact with and will definitely be in contact with in the future. Even just staying for two weeks taught me so much about how lucky we are and how much we take for granted in our lives, and also how important it is to smile and be kind to others no matter what you yourself are feeling. I am so grateful to the Projects Abroad team, Faye, and everyone else I met for such an incredible time. I so hope to return to Cape Town in the future – but this time for much, much longer!

Hannah Gray

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