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Louise Christensen - Social Worker in South Africa

Name:
Louise Christensen

Age: 28

Qualification:
Qualified Social Worker

Experience:
Working with children aged 6-18 years old, who are diagnosed with ADHD and/or Autism.

Louise spent two months in South Africa using her experience to help with social work at a day care centre in the disadvantaged community of Vrygrond. This is what she had to say about the project:

"It has been an amazing and challenging experience for me personally and professionally, but I am already looking forward to volunteering again!"

The Project Partner

The Eagles Educare Centre was set up by a local teacher called Jolene in 2009. The centre is based in the settlement of Vrygrond which is the oldest informal settlement in South Africa. Louise spent time working with children aged 1-4 years (the ‘Little Eagles’) alongside various local teachers. These teachers were able to introduce Louise to the children and explain the local methods used to teach them. At the same time, they were very interested in learning new methods that Louise brought with her from Denmark so that they could improve classroom behaviour. With a large amount of children and a small number of teachers, it was vital for Louise to work with her colleagues to come up with new ways of getting through to the kids. Louise managed to make a real difference and has put in place plans that will help children and new volunteers for years to come.

Role of the Volunteer

Louise’s role at the day care centre included the following:

  • Working with existing staff to design new teaching aids such as posters and charts.
  • Interacting with children in order to find out how they are feeling and help them deal with problems.
  • Teaching the children basic social skills such as learning when and why to be quiet, thinking of others and recognising what mood people are in and how to deal with them.
  • Producing documents to help future volunteers such as a weekly structure and pictures with pupil’s names on for quick recognition.

Benefits to the community

Louise worked with local staff who have been at the centre since 2009. The centre now provides the following benefits to the local community:

  • Parents who are forced to travel long distances to and from work are able to leave their children in a safe and trusted environment during the day.
  • Many of the children in the local area have only ever known aggression or violence. Now they are exposed to a kind and caring atmosphere that is designed to help them learn how to interact with others.
  • Louise and a fellow volunteer have begun a fund raising programme and they are hoping to raise enough money to build a playground and provide new books and toys.
  • Young children with a poor level of spoken and written English are now given access to age appropriate learning materials and supportive staff to help them improve their skills.

Cultural Exchange

When Louise first arrived in South Africa and began working at the care centre, it became immediately clear to her that it was a completely different system to that used in her native Denmark. Where Louise was used to structure and small class sizes, here she found two small rooms with 65 young children and staff who were struggling to help. This kind of culture shock is not uncommon when volunteering in the developing world.

Many people would assume that staff in places like the care centre would be reluctant to change their working methods or listen to newcomers. However, as Louise herself pointed out, this was not the case at all:

“Even though the place was difficult for the staff, there was an open-minded spirit and a desire for learning and implementation of new ideas.”

Louise was able to take the advice of the local teachers but use her own experience to suggest new ideas. The staff were very happy to try out new things and together they managed to introduce many new initiatives. A fantastic example of this is Louise’s ‘Talking Barometer’. This was a simple chart ranging from 0-10 with colours and pictures relating to how loudly people are speaking. The children had never been told why it is bad to shout all of the time and by pointing to the Barometer and explaining things simply, they learned to speak calmly and respect other people.

Louise Christensen

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