Last month my 17-year-old daughter, Maddie, and her best friend did some volunteer work in South Africa. I was initially super excited to let her have this amazing opportunity, but then was a little worried about her safety and the unknown, having never done volunteer work myself.
I have always wanted to do volunteer work abroad, and now I would be letting my daughter be a guinea pig (if you will) by experiencing this first.
She was determined that this was going to happen and did all the legwork herself. She found an organization called Go Eco (http://www.goeco.org) that had a great reputation and offered a program that spiked her interest.
She chose the Cape Town, South Africa location that would have her working with underprivileged children at a day camp, teaching them life skills through sports, such as surfing. This was the one. She was to go for three weeks and stay at a volunteer house with other volunteers from all over the world.
She went from July 29, 2015 to August 18, 2015.
When she returned, I decided to interview her about her experience, not only for my knowledge, but to share with others who are also interested in volunteering abroad.
Here is a little insight on how her volunteer experience was:
Me:Was the GoEco organized with documentation and the transfers/airport pick up?
Maddie: GoEco was very organized. I was a little worried about not being picked up at the airport, but there was no problems at all and it was easier than I thought.
Me: How were the conditions of the volunteer house?
Maddie: There were 4 connected houses with 8 people in each. They were very basic with no frills at all. There was no television, no radio and each house had one bathroom to share.
Me: How many volunteers were there? And what were the age ranges?
Maddie: There were about 20 volunteers from all around the globe, ranging anywhere from 17-30, but mostly college aged. We were the youngest ones. There were only a couple other 17 year olds there.
Me: Did you feel safe in the area?
Maddie: Yes, we felt extremely safe and anytime we went out in the town, we always stayed in groups.
Me: How was the work? Was it hard?
Maddie: It started out with a few days of training and then we worked everyday, all day (usually 8:30 am-4:00 pm). The mornings were in the classroom and afternoons at the beach doing swim lessons with the 12-14 year olds. It was very intense and harder than I thought, mainly due to the language barrier and keeping the kids paying attention. After our long day at project, we would often have lesson planning to do for the next day. Our nights and weekends were free to explore the area.
Me; How was the food?
Maddie: The food was okay.The breakfast was yogurt and fruits and the lunches and dinners were simple, with a protein, starch and a vegetable. It was very Americanized type food, which I was little disappointed in. I wanted to try some weird foods. I did get to try a traditional South African sandwich called a”gwenya” though, which was like a puffy bread bun with french fries and some red spices. It was so good!
Me: What did you like best about this experience?
Maddie: Making new friends from around the world and the kids. They were so adorable and full of so much love. Every time we walked into the class, they would literally jump all over us hugging us nonstop. It felt great to make them so happy.
Me: What did you like least about it?
Maddie: I wish I would have gone in a different season. It was winter season when I was there so it was very cold for surfing and our volunteer house had no heat, so nights got extremely chilly.
Me: What kinds of things did you do on your free time?
Maddie: We went out at night to a local bar and socialized with other volunteers and backpackers staying at a surrounding hostel. It felt kind of crazy being at a bar at 17, but in South Africa, it doesn’t matter. I even ordered a drink (oops). On the weekend we went hiking and shopped in the town and I even went skydiving! (sorry Mom)
Me: Would you use Go Eco again to do volunteer work somewhere else?
Maddie: Yes! I plan on doing another one, probably somewhere in South East Asia when I am 18.
Me: Did you learn anything by volunteering abroad?
Maddie: Yes! I learned so much! I learned how to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and found ways to connect with them, other than by just talking (a language barrier was there in many cases). I also learned how to take care of myself and it made me feel more confident that if I can travel across the world at 17 alone, I can pretty much do anything. This experience also taught me to be grateful for everything I have. Seeing these underprivileged children being so happy with absolutely nothing, humbled me in a way that made me want to give back even more.
Me: Do you think everyone should volunteer abroad?
Maddie: Yes! I think this experience is mind-opening and would be beneficial to anyone, no matter how old or young. I feel like volunteering abroad has changed my life in so many positive ways. I can’t wait to do it again!