Running a campsite or hostel you get to meet all kinds of interesting folks from every part of the world. We recently had a Swedish guest who had come to South Africa to volunteer in Cape Town. For those of you are aren’t familiar with the concept of volunteering, volunteering is about offering up your time for a worthy cause, free of charge. It’s an opportunity to help others in need that can benefit from your education, skills and experience. It is quite popular with European students to travel to a distant country like India, Nepal or South Africa and give freely of themselves, working on community projects and helping the needy and underprivileged uplift themselves. There are hundreds of volunteer and internship placement agencies to be found on the internet that can assist with helping people interested in finding the right placements. Typically these agencies will assist the applicant with settling in, providing them with accommodation, placing them in projects or initiatives that their studies or life skills can best be put to use. Our Swedish guest had just spent three months with a Cape Town based agency called African Sunrise Volunteers. The enthusiasm with which she spoke about both her respect for African Sunrise and the projects she had worked on whilst in their care was contagious. It was quite clear that coming to volunteer in Africa had been a life changing experience for her and that she would carry the memories with her for the rest of her life.
We sat enviously listening to her speak of the projects she had been involved in whilst with African Sunrise. It reminded me of how caught up we get in our own petty problems forgetting how many people there are out there that are suffering and so much less fortunate. Children who live on the streets without a roof over their head when it rains, struggling to keep warm when it’s icy cold in winter, barely eating enough to stay alive. There are so many worthy causes that could benefit if all of us were willing to give up a bit of our time like our Swedish guest had. And she travelled all the way from Sweden at her own expense to do so, whilst we sit and complain about menial problems like “poor cell phone reception”.
We did some research on African Sunrise and browsed their website about volunteers in Africa on the internet. Wow! I must really commend these folks on their commitment not only to getting down and assisting all the various community projects and initiatives, but also their commitment to their interns and volunteers. One project that they are involved in that really struck a chord with me is the “Shelter for Abused women and Children” project. This is a safe home for women and children that have endured many forms of abuse. The shelter helps these poor souls to rehabilitate and recover from the traumatic experiences they have lived. The home provides much needed group therapy, one on one counselling and even holds regular life skills workshops and training programmes. The children in the shelter are looked after and nurtured and the assistance by the volunteers and interns from African Sunrise is a godsend for them. Many of these volunteers have studied social work and psychology, so whilst they are providing much needed support, they are also benefiting in gaining first hand experience in their field of study. Many of these children, having been subjected to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse, develop behavioural problems such learning disabilities and aggressive behaviour which is addressed and processed through the group therapy sessions.
I feel truly grateful for having met and spent the evening chatting to our Swedish guest and realize how numb I have become to the poverty and social inequalities around me.