September 2012 issue

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Volunteering in South Africa

As students look to add some value to their study trip abroad, English plus volunteering courses in South Africa are booming, discovers Matthew Knott.

In South Africa we have definitely noticed an increase in this market because tourists and students are more globally aware and are interested in getting involved with the less fortunate,” advises Chris Roberts, Centre Director of EC Cape Town. He lists after-school assistants in a facility for chronically ill children, a township soccer programme and a community garden project to help HIV outpatients support themselves as previous placements students have embarked upon.

“The diversity of the types of project that we have here in South Africa is amazing,” enthuses Gavin Eyre, Managing Director of IH Cape Town. In collaboration with you2africa, the school offers a host of volunteer opportunities, Eyre informs, ranging from humanitarian work such as hospitals and orphanages to wildlife projects, including safari animals, sharks, penguins and whales.

Good Hope Studies (GHS) in Cape Town currently offers 22 different volunteer opportunities, attests Bianca Obermaier, either handled by themselves or by selected partners, with some placements in Namibia. She lists a monkey sanctuary and horse rescue project among the conservation options, and a children’s hospital and kindergarten as examples of their social projects. Meanwhile, Kurus English works with two small volunteer organisations, First Step Abroad and Exchange Unique, says Director, Johannes Kraus. “We work closely with various children’s homes, crèches, hospitals, and projects for people with disabilities. We are also involved with projects for street children or youth at risk and old-age homes, as well as animal shelters and wildlife projects.”

At English Language School (ELS) of Cape Town, Director, Ann Piscopo, highlights partners including a shelter for abused and disadvantaged mothers and an active schools initiative at a township primary school among their programmes. Describing duties on the Spier Cheetahs project, Piscopo says, “The daily duties of volunteers include greeting visitors at the facility and informing them about our project and about the cheetah in general, food preparation, merchandise sales, cleaning, and taking care of our Anatolian Shepherd dogs.”

New opportunities are constantly being explored as schools look to broaden their offerings. GHS has plans to add voluntary teaching projects to their portfolio, advises Obermaier, while IH Cape Town’s latest project is a soccer, skipping and English skills training programme for kids, explains Eyre.

The benefits of volunteer programmes are vital and mutual, relates Susanne Steckel from Kurus English partner First Step Abroad. “Volunteering plays an important role in the fight against poverty and social inequality in South Africa… While the commitment of volunteers and their assistance contributes to the improvement of social services, significant personal benefits can be gained by volunteers, such as valuable personal and practical experiences impacting upon their cultural awareness and broadening cultural interpretation.” Roberts concurs, adding, “Working alongside fellow volunteers, professionals, as well as people in the community, gives students the opportunity to learn how to communicate effectively with diverse groups of people.”

Eyre advises that all IH Cape Town students are exposed to volunteer projects on visits, giving them a taster of the opportunities available. Kraus highlights a personalised service for students interested in volunteer placement, with individual consultation at Kurus, following which students can apply to the school’s partners. It is vital to match volunteers and placements, he explains. “At EC Cape Town, volunteer programmes are organised on a participant-by-participant basis, therefore students are able to get involved in organisations that suit their interests,” says Roberts.

At GHS, volunteer programmes can actually be booked with or without a prior language course, advises Obermaier. Nonetheless, all contributors agreed on the benefit of pre-volunteer tuition. Obermaier relates that it gives plenty of time to get used to the new environment. Kraus says, “This is not only to improve the language skills of the student, but also to provide opportunities to understand, respect and participate in the cultures of the region.”

All contributors related that the popularity of English plus volunteer programmes is greatly increasing, and Kraus also notes this is across all age groups. Obermaier concludes, “In short, people are getting involved for a good cause and they wish to do a ‘good deed’ to make the world a better place. Furthermore, volunteer work can be combined with the beautiful and the useful: the countries in need are often the most beautiful countries of the world – people can improve their language skills and additionally they can do something good for the people there.”

A selection of English plus volunteering in South Africa

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