By Marion S., international volunteer from Belgium in 2019/20
My journey started at Brussels airport on 23 August 2019. My family and my best friend came with me to say goodbye, and we actually teared up a bit. The flight was really long but everything went well and I even got lucky because I had an entire row of seats to myself on both legs of my flight.
I arrived in South Africa the next day at around 3 pm. I got picked up at the airport by two of the volunteers from Durbanville Children’s Home (DCH). When I arrived at the children’s home I met our manager Yvonne. She was really friendly and introduced me to all the volunteers who were there for the year 2019-2020.
Some of them left over the next few days as they had already been there for several months or a year. It was really nice to meet them and they really helped me to get to know the place, the children, the rules… After the departure of the previous group of volunteers, others arrived and there were around 15 of us throughout my stay at DCH.
The main reason I was there was to work, so let me talk about that first. The volunteers work both night shift and day shift. In the beginning, night shift was from 7 pm to 7 am, and during that time we had to put the children to bed (the older ones), take them to the toilet during the night (the younger ones) and then wake them up in the morning and help them get ready for school.
After a few weeks the working hours were changed to 9 pm to 9 am. Our duties during the night remained the same, but in the morning we also accompanied the children on the buses that take them to school. It was a bit crazy to get used to working night shift because of the new schedule and the fact that many of us were not used to this different rhythm – but we all got used to it.
Now let’s talk about day shift. There are different shifts during the day, so it could be from 9 am to 5 pm, from 11 am to 7 pm, or from 1 pm to 9 pm. In the morning we would do little games or activities with the younger children who are not in school yet. During lunch time we would go on the buses to pick the other children up from school, and in the afternoon we would just look after them and play with them. We would also help with bathing the little ones and help with the dishes.
But of course working wasn’t the only thing we did! We often went out on our off days and just spent time with the children on the grounds. I really loved these moments because that’s when we would actually get to know the children, their personalities and their stories.
There were also several special days organized by the children’s home. For example, there was a Cultural Day for which the children and the volunteers cooked different meals from different countries and everybody could taste each other’s food.
There were also a few parties like spring ball, a New Year’s party, the Valentine’s Day ball… All these took place on the grounds, but we also die a few activities that took place outside of DCH. During the first 2 weeks of my stay there there was sports day, which is a running competition between different children’s homes in Cape Town. The older children also went on a camp in Simon’s Town during the summer holiday and a few volunteers (including me) had the opportunity to join them, which was an amazing experience!
Let’s talk about the living arrangements. All the volunteers stay on the grounds but are divided between several flats. In mine we were 6 girls for the first three months and 5 for the last three months. We all got along really well so I had a lot of fun living with them.
For our meals we had to go to the kitchen every morning to pick up donations from different grocery stores. We could also ask for a few basic things like milk, weet-bix, toast, noodles, rice to prepare our own meals. But we could also eat the meals that were prepared in the children’s home’s kitchen every day. We were also provided with other basic things like cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
On our days off we did some sightseeing and other activities in and around Cape Town. Among other things, we climbed Lion’s Head, we went to the V&A Waterfront, to the Old Biscuit Mill, to Mojo Market, we drove along Chapman’s Peak Drive, we went to a few different beaches and restaurants… We also did a day trip to Hermanus (for my birthday) and another one to the Cape of Good Hope.
I was also given a two-week holiday but I only took one week and went to Bloubergstrand for a few days. I stayed in a really cute little hotel and I also stayed in Hout Bay with two of my roommates for a few days.
I also had the great opportunity to join a dance school in Durbanville where DCH is located. I only had to walk three minutes to get there so it was perfect. The teachers and students were really nice and I even got to take part in the end of the year concert! It was also a great way to get to know locals and it was definitely a great addition to my gap year.
About two weeks before I left, two returning volunteers came back to the children’s home. Two of them had been there when I arrived and the third one was from Belgium, like me. It was really nice seeing them again and spending my last two weeks with them. They’re actually the ones who drove me to the airport on my last day because my roommates were on a seminar with their organization but luckily they were able to meet me at the airport to say goodbye.
Saying goodbye to the kids wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I think it’s because I knew from the beginning on what day I was leaving so I had time to prepare myself and when the day came I felt ready.
This pretty much summaries my time in South Africa. It was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in my life and I will never forget my time in South Africa! I’ll keep this country and all the wonderful people I have met in my heart forever and I hope I’ll get to see them again soon!