Hugh O’Connell - General Care Projects in South Africa
In July 2009 I spent a month in Cape Town, South Africa. I was drawn to South Africa because it has always been a country that has fascinated me and sure enough in the time I spent there it did. I worked on both journalism and care placements, two very different projects that allowed me to experience two very different sides of Cape Town.
On the journalism project I worked for the Daily Voice newspaper, a local tabloid that is a big seller in the city. I worked in the bustling business district, travelling on public transport each day and taking my place at the sports desk. My knowledge of English sports, particularly football proved useful but I also carried out a number of telephone interviews with famous South African sportsmen.
I got a chance to catch the local rugby side Western Province in training before taking in a press conference and got to go and see one of their home games. To be amongst the hustle and bustle of a newsroom and then to see your name published on the back pages beside stories you sourced and wrote is a real thrill, especially when you are at the other end of the world!
Working in a care project was something totally different but in some ways more rewarding. From the busy hustle and bustle of city life I went into the suburbs and the informal settlements that are sadly all too frequent around Cape Town. I worked in a children’s day care centre called Rainbow on the edge of the Vrygrond settlement. I worked with some of the most incredibly caring, loving and beautiful staff you could imagine as well as fantastic kids who were so well behaved it was at times unbelievable!
They were a joy to look after and I like to think they took kindly to me, even though the sight of a giant Irish man is a scary one! Doing your bit to help out gives you a real sense of self-satisfaction but equally you always feel a bit hollow when you know that at the end of your time you will walk away from it while these people carry on their amazing work for little reward. Going deeper into the township was a real eye opener to the poverty in South Africa, a kind of widespread poverty you just don’t experience in this part of the world.
On the weekends I got a chance to explore Cape Town and the surrounding area, the highlight undoubtedly was climbing Table Mountain that hovers high over the city.
We climbed an arduous route but when you are at the top with only sky above you, peering down on the world below you it is an incredible experience.
You get a similarly good view from the nightclub Hemisphere, located on the 31st floor of the ABSA bank building in downtown Cape Town as you get to peer down on the city below you while you party the night away with fellow volunteers.
As well as meeting volunteers you get to meet real salt of the earth South Africans. They are, by and large, lovely people and this was epitomised by the hospitality of my host family the Coerts whose beautiful home was a great base for the month.
They cooked wonderful South African dishes each evening and even treated me to a home favourite of mine carrot cake. They were always on hand to deal with any problems and really good about me coming home late, which I appreciated even if they didn’t! The cultural differences weren’t massive but we had a saying in South Africa “TIA” or “This Is Africa” if something weird or crazy happened.
But all the ‘’TIA’ experiences just added to the unique nature of the trip. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to see the real side of a country, not the five star, holiday brochure version. I definitely got to see the real side of Cape Town, South Africa and I hope I will get to do it again one day soon.