Why I Volunteer: Helping Communities in South Africa

Jenny Ayre is a Travel Expert working in our Cheltenham store and a few weeks ago she, and other Travel Experts from our other stores in the UK, we’re sent on a trip to South Africa to visit some of the many volunteering projects we support in the country – all in the name of research of course! Now, she’s back and below is her blog, all about her amazing experience and why she believes volunteering is so important.

When I found out STA Travel was sending myself an a few other Travel Experts to South Africa to see some of the amazing volunteer projects we sell and support there, to say I was excited is a understatement.

On our first day we met Candi and Toby, who run the volunteer projects. They took us out to a vineyard for a picnic watching the sunset, absolutely beautiful, and almost instantly, we were all starting to fall in love with Cape Town.

One of Jenny's volunteering group with a child who lives at Jones Safe House.

The next day we did the Cape Town city tour. Toby took us to all the sights, we had coffee in the best coffee shop in the world, burgers in the best burger shop in the world, and springbok shots (peppermint liquor and amarula-yum!) Later that night we tucked into a mammoth a braai (African barbeque) on a mountain with some local students who got us all singing, dancing and eating yummy chakalaka!

Day three saw us do the Cape Peninsula tour with Leonard, one of the drivers. He took us to the Cape of Good Hope, where we climbed up a huge hill to a lighthouse, before going to boulder beach and watching the little penguins, who were so cute! Finally we went to another vineyard for some wine tasting, it’s a hard job eh?!

Sunday meant getting up at 5am to drive two hours to Gaaisbai to meet the crew at the Great White Sharks project. Yes, that’s right, Great White Sharks. Now, you might think I’m a bit strange but I was really excited to go cage diving. After getting on the boat and fighting our way into our wetsuits (why are those things are so tough to get into?!) we lowered the cage into the water and started chumming to bring the sharks in.

Chum is a mix of fish oils and fish scraps, spread out into the sea to give a scent to the sharks and encourage them over. They come near, but don’t actually get fed so are not encouraged to come near boats. When we had a shark close the first group got in the cage, this group had the youngest diver in it, a six year old girl! I was in the third cage, it was amazing being so close to these magnificent creatures. Surprisingly, we all agreed that it was calming watching the sharks rather than scary, as they are just so graceful and beautiful. One of the volunteers enjoyed her work there so much she had come back three times!

Jenny and friends preparing to learn to surf.

The following day was filled with penguins and surfing. We went to The Penguin Project which is the biggest sea bird rescue centre in the world. They rescue all types of sea birds, from abandoned pets, to injured and oil damaged ones. Unfortunately, some of the birds can not be released, due to being severely injured or not being native, but the work the volunteers do here is amazing, it is physically hard, but so rewarding when the birds get released. That afternoon we had our surfing lesson. I managed to stand up – for about three seconds – so I don’t think champion surfer Kelly Slater has anything to fear just yet.

Next, our amazing volunteering trip took us out to the townships to the Help the Orphans project, and the part of the trip I was really looking forward to. Candi took us to one of the townships where we met another volunteer Charlotte who took us on a walking tour of the area. She took us first to one of the kindergartens where the volunteers help, the class had about 30 children aged three and under.

She then took us to another school which past volunteers had helped build. It was roomy, clean and beautifully painted and made us realize how much volunteers can to to make a very real and important difference to the lives of local communities.

The final project we saw was called Jones Safe House. This is where children get taken if their parents can’t look after them or if they are suffering abuse or neglect. Project co-ordinators Bernadette and Donovan rely on donations to keep the kids safe as the government only pay for 8 children to look after (they are currently looking after 29).

Some of these children were drug victims. One little boy was taken in at 5 months old; his mother was a Tik addict (a drug similar to crystal meth) doctors had said that he would never walk or talk, but now, aged three, this little boy is walking, talking and making huge progress and that’s all down to being loved by his new parents at the safe house.

Overall, our whole group fell in love Cape Town and the people we met there. I am already planning my return later this year to spend more time volunteering at the Safe House. There is so much you can do in South Africa to make a difference, and the best thing is you can really see how much you are helping, and that is why I volunteer.

If you’ve been inspired to find out more about volunteering abroad, head over to the volunteering pages of our website now, or download our free Volunteer Work and Learn brochure here.