by Lisa Scott-Riddoch Having been a nanny for wealthy families for the last 24 years I have always wanted to take time out to volunteer with underprivileged children. I looked at many options and for a little while considered doing something with conservation but I found that I kept being drawn back to the idea of working with children, not only because it’s something I have experience with, but also because I knew that it would be the most fulfilling and rewarding experience I would ever have in my life. I also knew that it would be the hardest. I searched online for a project for over 30’s as I felt it would be better for me to be on project where I was working with similarly aged volunteers…. and African Impact popped up with their Rural Pre-school and Community Project at Thanda Game Reserve. I looked into African Impact and liked what I saw. I was particularly impressed with the amount of money that goes back into the projects they support and their ethos of supporting the communities they work with. African Impact believes in helping communities to help themselves to keep on earning, to keep on building andto keep on providing for themselves as independently as possible. Yes, they could go in and just give them money but where would they be in 6 months time? African Impact help them to find a way to earn money, to help feed the children in the Community, to help them fill out paperwork for applying for government funding and anything else that they need encouragement with ….. even down to helping the ladies to learn to read. This to me is enriching their lives in so many more ways than supplying just money. Arriving at Thanda in March 2012 was a wonderful experience, even though it seemed daunting! I knew I would be going to more basic accommodation than I was used to, plus, I’ll admit I am now in my 40’s, I like my creature comforts and I am a bit of a girl! When I told a lot of my friends what I would be doing they all asked me if I was sure I was going to be able to cope and if I had lost my mind! But cope I did! The accommodation was basic, I won’t lie, however it was also charming and there was something really homely about it. The staff were fantastic. You couldn’t have asked for a better team in Natascha, Cassandra, Amanda, Cindy and Martjin. And you can’t beat Noni’s cooking; her warm bran muffins in the morning were the best! It was an added bonus to find that a few Game Drives a week had been added to the package for the Community volunteers. That was a pleasant surprise and made the experience of living on a Game Reserve even more fulfilling. On my first day I headed out with Cassandra, the Thanda business manager, for one of the crèches and to see where I would be spending a portion of my time whilst at Thanda. When we got there, there were a few children waiting for us and welcomed us with a Zulu traditional song and dance – I knew I would find it emotional but I was a lot more overcome than I expected and it took me by surprise – Cassandra saw straight away and shepherded me out whilst I pulled myself together. Each day we went to the crèches I still found I got a bit choked up at the beginning of the day but it got easier. The hardest thing I found was knowing that there wouldn’t always be food for the kids every day, that they would have walked long distances, sometimes without shoes in the hope that they would be fed and they would then be told their wasn’t anything for them. The bureaucracy the crèches have to deal with to get the money from the government to feed the children is complicated and it means the children suffer - this was tough and heartbreaking one more than one occasion. I remember vividly one of the first days I was at one of the crèche’s when the door was flung open and in walked Assanda – all of 2 years old, he had walked on his own to the crèche. He strode in, looked around and then sat himself down in the corner and started to play with the papier-mâché bricks in the corner. It was the most hilarious sight of this toddler who had the independent ways of a child 10 years his senior, until one of the other children tried to take what he was playing with and he then would throw a tantrum just like any other 2 year old! This is something you realize is that these children are so old in so many ways, because they have to be, to look after themselves but they also respond so well to a cuddle, some 1-1 attention with someone who will play with them, sing with them and tickle them. Seeing their faces light up when we arrived was the most rewarding thing I have ever found in all my years working with children. I would urge anyone to spend some time on the Community project – even if it means you split your trip into doing Conservation (if that’s what you have your heart set on!) and then Community – I can honestly say that seeing those smiles and faces light up, feeling their little arms wrap round your neck for a cuddle is the best feeling in the world – and knowing that you are helping to introduce them to outside experiences no matter how small is something that will stay with you forever! I know it has me, and in the next year I hope to be able to return to Thanda and the Community Project. I can’t wait to see the progress they have made in the last 12 months which I have been following online, but to be able to go back and see it in person and hopefully add to it in my own way will be another wonderful experience. You may be thinking that you don’t have experience to do a project with children, but experience is honestly not needed. If you can smile, give a hug, play a game, kick a ball or hold a hand then that is all the experience you need! The money that you bring to the project will benefit the Community in more ways than you can imagine and that in the long run can only benefit the children… and after all, the children are the future and these gorgeous kids deserve the best chance in life. About the Author Lisa is 41 years old and a trained and qualified nanny with years’ experience working in private households worldwide. She is currently working and living in Moscow and believes her time with African Impact at Thanda was one of her most fulfilling and enriching experiences.