A career break is the perfect time to volunteer abroad - with unlimited time on your hands and tons of experience behind you, you'll be able to make the most of a long volunteering stint. Such was the case for Cape Town Over 30's volunteer Michaela Morawietz, who just finished up a six-week placement which taught her about life, adventure, and optimism! I was between jobs with much more time than you usually have in that situation. And I wanted to do something more useful and more exciting than just hanging around in a fancy club and being served drinks and food all the time. After talking about my situation to a lot of friends and hours of Internet research I came across African Impact and their huge number of volunteer projects. It took me some time to figure out what would suit me most and finally decided to book the over 30s project in Cape Town. Already before leaving my home in Germany I started to feel homesick. Was it the right decision? Can I survive in a hostel with no time on my own? What will I feel when working with children? In a township! For 6 weeks! Why didn’t I book just 2 or 3 weeks for a start? And when the guy at the check in said to me “so your flight back is in 6 weeks?” I was about to say “oh no, there must be an error in your system, I will come back in 2 weeks!”
On arrival, the weather was bad in Cape Town. I was prepared for this as I was travelling there in winter, but a little bit of sunshine would have helped to improve my mood. On the airport I met the project coordinator and a lot of fellow volunteers from all over the world. I started to feel better. In the house I met more people of the staff and more volunteers and they all welcomed us very warm. Again, it got better. And instead of thinking about what is going to happen the next few weeks or just sleep, we went to Khayelitsha to spend our afternoon with a bunch of kids in an after school program. Although I knew that this would not be one of my projects for the rest of my stay I got the feeling, that I would be learning a lot about happiness, directness and optimism from the kids.
In the mornings, I was working in two different preschools in Red Hill. The kids range from 3 to 6 years and so there were always different things to do. From learning to write their names, recognizing colours and shapes to having amazing fun with the parachute or just cuddling. If you choose to stay for a longer time you get the opportunity to get to know the children very well and to give them what they need most. On the other hand, it makes it a lot more difficult to leave. In the afternoons we either organized after school play and homework in Masiphumelele Library or in a foster home. I really loved the idea of giving the kids a safe place to go instead of being alone at home or just hanging around in the streets. As they were older than my “morning kids” I had several conversations about school and their wishes for the future while doing homework together. That was really awesome. Especially when followed by a merciless round of UNO or football or whatever the kids wanted to do. The evenings and weekends were full of dinners, lunches, hikes, shopping trips, tours of all kinds, markets, days at the beach (“Winter in South Africa is much more fun than at home!) … I have been there for 6 weeks and I used every minute of my free time trying to see everything that has to be seen in Cape Town and surroundings. And I can tell you: this is not enough! This city is so full of places that are connected to its history that make you shiver all the time (Robben Island, District Six) and it is also so beautiful. Like SO beautiful, that most of the time you think like “this is the most beautiful view/place/hill/beach on earth” and then you walk around a corner and it gets even more beautiful. One thing I am sure about is that I have to come back! Cape Town, you got me! I met a lot of interesting, exciting, different and open minded people. Staff, volunteers, teachers, kids or just people in the streets – and taxi drivers, they really love to talk! I got inspired by staff members, who are just doing the job they love and not the one that offers a lot of money. I found friends among the volunteers that made me learn, that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your culture is, which job you have or how old you are – having fun together counts the most! And suddenly I had to leave. After having thought that 6 weeks is like never ending I stood at the airport, about to spend my last Rands. And when I threw my last glances at South Africa and tried to think about all my experiences (impossible!) and all the wonderful people I met I really got sad. Did I already mention? I will come back! About the Author