Author: Stephanie Paitich, Sports Volunteer in Cape Town
To give you some context before I start, I just spent the last two weeks volunteering abroad with African Impact, teaching sports and education in primary schools in the surrounding communities of Cape Town. This was my experience, and the ten lessons I learned during my time there.
Here are my 10 things I learned by volunteering in Cape Town:
Lesson 1 - The happiness of the city is real.
Despite the long and shaky history of Cape Town and South Africa, the people I met are filled with more joy than you can imagine. Volunteering abroad taught me how little you need to feel truly fulfilled. The children and adults I met during my time with African Impact have the warmest hearts and the happiest outlook on life.
Lesson 2 - You can never spend too much time outside.
Cape Town offers a multitude of amazingly awesome outdoor activities. Are you outdoorsy? This is your PLACE! From hiking the most beautiful mountains, to scuba diving with majestic animals and everything in between, Cape Town really does offer everything. You can experience beautiful food markets like the Watershed and The Old Biscuit Mill, hike a mountain (Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, Lions Head, and others), hop on the hop-on-hop-off bus and do a loop of the city, walk through the amazing Kirstenbosch Gardens, and hang out at the V&A Waterfront for those who are into more casual outdoor activities. You want extreme sports? You can also abseil or paraglide off a mountain, sky dive, shark cage dive, or do anything else your heart desires!
…and you know the best part? Volunteering abroad will allow you to experience all of these amazing activities AND allow you to make an impact. All in one trip.
Lesson 3 - African Impact and volunteering abroad truly changes lives…and not just your own.
Volunteering with African Impact made me culturally aware and appreciative of all that I have. To put it simply, this experience has made me a happier person. Interacting with locals from surrounding communities helped me to understand the many cultures and traditions that have come together in this wonderful city. Seeing how much joy everyone was filled with made me appreciate my life and what I have. What surprised me was how much my experience shaped others. The children I interacted with were so thankful for the opportunity to participate in sport. Even in the short two weeks I was there, I saw how much happiness it brought the primary school students and how much they looked forward to even 30 minutes of outdoor play.
Lesson 4 - If you think you’re full…. You’re not.
Cape Town has thousands and thousands of incredible food joints. Whether you’re looking for a market, a sit-down fancy restaurant, or anything in between, you will not go hungry here. My personal favorite market was the Neighbourgoods Market located at The Old Biscuit Mill. This market creates a platform for local farmers and merchants. The plate possibilities here are endless. If you’re looking for a fancier scene, the V&A Waterfront has plenty of waterside restaurants that offer amazing food and a wonderful view of the ocean. Feeling adventurous? Take a trip out to the surrounding communities and try sheep’s head, chicken feet, and other tasty local street eats.
Lesson 5 - Cape Town’s surrounding communities are not to be missed.
Visitors to Cape Town will often make the mistake of missing out on the surrounding communities. These communities are as important to see as everything else in the city. Volunteering abroad in these communities (Khayelitsha, Langa, District Six are a few of the surrounding communities in Cape Town) gave me a better understanding of the history of South Africa and Cape Town. Seeing and experiencing life after apartheid in these communities should be a priority to any visitor to Cape Town.
Lesson 6 - Your time and effort volunteering abroad is incredibly valuable.
Volunteering with African Impact made me feel more valuable than ever. You’re making an impact. It’s as simple as that. Whether you’re volunteering for 2 weeks or 12 weeks, your time and effort do not go unnoticed. With African Impact, your time volunteering contributes to long-term goals in each of their projects…and they’ll show you this with specific and measurable achievements. African Impact gave me the freedom to bring forward personal ideas that were welcomed and implemented, which is not always the case when you volunteer abroad. I am leaving this experience feeling like my time and effort made a difference.
Lesson 7 - Your communication skills will improve more than ever.
Have you ever tried to teach 45 primary school students how to play kick ball? How about trying this with an added language barrier? I developed new and unique ways to communicate and tell my story. South Africa has 11 official languages. Most of the children in the surrounding communities are English Second Language. Learning some of their native language and giving them the opportunity to practice their English improved and diversified my communication skills more than I realized.
Lesson 8 - Volunteering with African Impact will surprise you with how small the world is.
Everyone has that “but I won’t know anyone…” thought before volunteering abroad, especially if you’re doing it alone. It will surprise you how little the degree of separation is between home and away. I walked into the volunteer house at African Impact and there were Canadians who lived in my city, British volunteers who I had mutual friends with, and people I knew from home who had gone back to Canada just before I arrived. You’re never alone and the world is surprisingly small. Always remember that.
Lesson 9 - Who knew you could have everything you wanted in one city?
Feeling valuable, making a difference, experiencing new and exciting sports and activities, immersing yourself in culture and heritage, seeing beautiful sites, eating incredible food…what more could you want? And the best part? It’s all in one place.
And last, but certainly not least…
Lesson 10 - People always say you’ll miss it when you’re home. Take this seriously.
After writing about the above 9 things I’ve learned, the last thing I know is that I’ll miss it dearly. The people I met and activities I participated in will be engrained in my brain and heart forever. I have fallen in love with Cape Town and volunteering abroad with African Impact, and my love affair with this place is definitely not over. I’ll be back sometime soon!