Monday February 24, 2014

Life-changing moments in Cape Town

At the beginning of summer 2013, I decided I wanted to do something interesting, meaningful and exciting with my time over the next few months. Having just graduated from university, my passion for the field of international development was fierce, but I had no experience in the sector and little idea about where to start.

I found out about the International Citizen’s Service (ICS) through Islamic Relief via Facebook, and decided fairly quickly to apply. My application was accepted, and within a few short weeks I was offered an ICS placement with Skillshare International. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go abroad and really make a difference in some of the world’s poorest communities.

For ten weeks, I lived and worked with UK and South African volunteers, forming a great team of ten people, supported by a team leader. Together, we facilitated a range of projects centring on HIV/AIDs, education and development through sports. We were placed at heart of the local community, making new friends and thoroughly appreciating the history, dynamics and way of life in Hout Bay. 

Working at ABC for Life

We were based in the local primary school (Sentinel Primary) where we worked with a local partner organisation called ABC for Life, which aims to improve the pupils’ literacy, numeracy,  English and Afrikaans.

samia_with_two_of_her_studentsI worked one-on-one with a young boy in Grade 4, who had failed the year once. When I first met him, I was told he couldn’t read or write. In the safety of our humble ABC centre, this young boy came out of his shell and his reading and writing skills soared. After just ten sessions, he was writing paragraphs about his weekend and reading with confidence – his assessment showed that he had improved by 700%!

Class sizes at this school, like many other government run schools in townships, are huge (sometimes as many as 54) and teachers are under immense pressure. Some children inevitably get sidelined and teachers are unable to cater to specific needs and abilities. Such children need reminding that they have the ability within them to achieve anything they want.

Soccer and Aids awareness
The other side of our work centred on the use of sport as a tool for development. We planned and carried out the first ever whole school soccer tournament just after exams. The tournament was a fun, stress-free activity for the students, and was also part of a scheme to get more girls interested in football. The day was a huge success, with the most amazing atmosphere.

When we first made the suggestion, we were told it was too ambitious. soccerHowever, we knew how the children would enjoy it and so gladly took on the challenge! The soccer tournament gave the pupils (and teachers!) a reason to have pride in their class and their school.

We also incorporated sport activity into our other work as a tool to discuss some serious issues. We carried out a HIV/Aids awareness project to mark World’s Aids Day, which involved an interactive role-play and a game of dribbling the football while discussing the causes, stigma and prevention of HIV.

The project culminated in an arts day where pupils returned with at least one fact they had learnt about HIV and tied it to the trees. The use of sports in this context made it easier for them to discuss important but daunting topics. It created a relaxed atmosphere, which meant they were more willing to ask questions and contribute openly.

Living in the community

host family

Me with my host family

Our team of UK volunteers lived with host families in the community, and I think this was the most fundamental part of our experiences. I lived with an absolutely wonderful host family. Aunty Jane and her family welcomed me into their home like one of their own, and never allowed me to feel like an outsider. They respected my faith practices and choice in food, and showed a level of care and attention that one’s own family would undoubtedly provide.

The home-like environment meant that I felt safe, comfortable and extremely happy. It gave me a good place to re-fuel each night, and never let me feel home-sick for very long. My great host-family without a doubt had a big impact on the work I was able to do at the school. I am so grateful for all the support, help and encouragement they gave me, and all they did to make me feel comfortable.

masjidI was also instantly welcomed at the mosque, and regularly attended jumu’ah and dhikr circles. I made some very good friends in the community, who welcomed me into their homes and shared their lives with me for ten weeks. I celebrated Eid and my birthday with them, as well as attending a football match, three birthdays, a baby-naming ceremony and two wedding anniversaries.

I have countless happy memories with these people, who taught me a lot. I miss them very much, but we still remain in contact.

The end?

The most important thing about our work is that it didn’t end when we left South Africa. It is part of a big picture that consists of local people and volunteers feeling confident to keep our projects going, as well as future international volunteers who will learn from our mistakes and listen to our advice – not to mention the children we worked with.

Leaving Hout Bay was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I left knowing that my departure isn’t the end, but the beginning of many small positive changes.

Read more about Samia’s experiences – or why not apply for ICS yourself?

ICS volunteers painting

Team ABC

At the beginning of summer 2013, I decided I wanted to do something interesting, meaningful and exciting with my time over the next few months. Having just graduated from university, my passion for the field of international development was fierce, but I had no experience in the sector and little idea about where to start.

I found out about the International Citizen’s Service (ICS) through Islamic Relief via Facebook, and decided fairly quickly to apply. My application was accepted, and within a few short weeks I was offered an ICS placement with Skillshare International. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go abroad and really make a difference in some of the world’s poorest communities.

For ten weeks, I lived and worked with UK and South African volunteers, forming a great team of ten people, supported by a team leader. Together, we facilitated a range of projects centring on HIV/AIDs, education and development through sports. We were placed at heart of the local community, making new friends and thoroughly appreciating the history, dynamics and way of life in Hout Bay. 

Working at ABC for Life

We were based in the local primary school (Sentinel Primary) where we worked with a local partner organisation called ABC for Life, which aims to improve the pupils’ literacy, numeracy,  English and Afrikaans.

samia_with_two_of_her_studentsI worked one-on-one with a young boy in Grade 4, who had failed the year once. When I first met him, I was told he couldn’t read or write. In the safety of our humble ABC centre, this young boy came out of his shell and his reading and writing skills soared. After just ten sessions, he was writing paragraphs about his weekend and reading with confidence – his assessment showed that he had improved by 700%!

Class sizes at this school, like many other government run schools in townships, are huge (sometimes as many as 54) and teachers are under immense pressure. Some children inevitably get sidelined and teachers are unable to cater to specific needs and abilities. Such children need reminding that they have the ability within them to achieve anything they want.

Soccer and Aids awareness
The other side of our work centred on the use of sport as a tool for development. We planned and carried out the first ever whole school soccer tournament just after exams. The tournament was a fun, stress-free activity for the students, and was also part of a scheme to get more girls interested in football. The day was a huge success, with the most amazing atmosphere.

When we first made the suggestion, we were told it was too ambitious. soccerHowever, we knew how the children would enjoy it and so gladly took on the challenge! The soccer tournament gave the pupils (and teachers!) a reason to have pride in their class and their school.

We also incorporated sport activity into our other work as a tool to discuss some serious issues. We carried out a HIV/Aids awareness project to mark World’s Aids Day, which involved an interactive role-play and a game of dribbling the football while discussing the causes, stigma and prevention of HIV.

The project culminated in an arts day where pupils returned with at least one fact they had learnt about HIV and tied it to the trees. The use of sports in this context made it easier for them to discuss important but daunting topics. It created a relaxed atmosphere, which meant they were more willing to ask questions and contribute openly.

Living in the community

host family

Me with my host family

Our team of UK volunteers lived with host families in the community, and I think this was the most fundamental part of our experiences. I lived with an absolutely wonderful host family. Aunty Jane and her family welcomed me into their home like one of their own, and never allowed me to feel like an outsider. They respected my faith practices and choice in food, and showed a level of care and attention that one’s own family would undoubtedly provide.

The home-like environment meant that I felt safe, comfortable and extremely happy. It gave me a good place to re-fuel each night, and never let me feel home-sick for very long. My great host-family without a doubt had a big impact on the work I was able to do at the school. I am so grateful for all the support, help and encouragement they gave me, and all they did to make me feel comfortable.

masjidI was also instantly welcomed at the mosque, and regularly attended jumu’ah and dhikr circles. I made some very good friends in the community, who welcomed me into their homes and shared their lives with me for ten weeks. I celebrated Eid and my birthday with them, as well as attending a football match, three birthdays, a baby-naming ceremony and two wedding anniversaries.

I have countless happy memories with these people, who taught me a lot. I miss them very much, but we still remain in contact.

The end?

The most important thing about our work is that it didn’t end when we left South Africa. It is part of a big picture that consists of local people and volunteers feeling confident to keep our projects going, as well as future international volunteers who will learn from our mistakes and listen to our advice – not to mention the children we worked with.

Leaving Hout Bay was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I left knowing that my departure isn’t the end, but the beginning of many small positive changes.

Read more about Samia’s experiences – or why not apply for ICS yourself?

ICS volunteers painting

Team ABC

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