Andrea from Germany
I came to South Africa (Plettenberg Bay) for the first time in my life. I visited the Knysna Elephant Park and decided to volunteer at AERU in April. During this time I went to Phakamisani Primary School and met Pippa and Willie Ford. I was so impressed with their work and after being in one class helping the teacher and being with all these lovely children I knew this would be my next project.
At the end of July I arrived for 9 weeks to volunteer at Phakamisani School. The best time in my life started. I enjoyed every day and every minute being at the school. In the mornings (9 -10:30) I was at Pippa’s Learning Support Centre to read and write with learners from Grade 3. Pippa made it possible for me to teach the same children during my 9 weeks so it was fantastic to see how “my” children made progress.
From 10:30 up to 12:30 I was helping in the Grade 4 classes. It was incredible how the children loved getting help. Most of my time I spend with the struggling children and I loved finding ways to explain things (especially maths) the easy way and they understood and could do the next exercise. There is only one teacher for more than 40 children in one class. The teacher can’t be there for the struggling ones so it is important to have volunteers to help them.
I would recommend anyone to volunteer at Phakamisani Primary School. It is an experience you never will forget. And the children will never forget you too. Of course, to stay at school for 9 weeks or less you can’t change everything, but you can give hope. It is so fulfilling.
Time went by so fast and leaving all these children broke my heart. The farewell from each class made me cry. I’m sure I will be back next year to see how they are. I can’t stop thinking of these wonderful times, all these smiling and happy children.
Thanks to all the great teachers. Thanks to Pippa and Willie for the fantastic organisation and the warm welcome. It felt like being at home.
And thanks to Mpho and Dr. Debbie from the Knysna Elephant Park. They gave all the grade 4 children the opportunity to visit the elephants! I have never seen children being so excited and overwhelmed from doing something special like this.
Thank you, everyone.
My experience at Phakamisani Primary School began when I was volunteering at the local Knysna Elephant Park, which had been one of my life long dreams. On my third week at the Elephant Park I had the opportunity to go to one of the local township schools, for the first run of a new educational partnership between VolunteeringSA and AERU (African Elephant Research Unit).
Arriving at the school for the first time I felt very nervous and apprehensive as I had no idea what to expect. Having worked with children back in England at a summer language school I knew how difficult and challenging it could be at times. After a short introduction we went straight into action.
I was so surprised with the first little boy who read to me, he was so confident and his English was amazing for a child’s second language. I started to get more comfortable and realised ‘yes I can do this’. The next little boy just would not speak or look at me and of course from experience I thought to myself, ‘yes this child is being difficult and I will just move on to a child who is more responsive‘. However it suddenly dawned on me that this little boy could not speak English. He wasn’t being naughty, he just had no confidence and was sitting at a table with other very bright children and obviously felt excluded. I then proposed that we read together and apprehensively he agreed to cooperate. We read the entire story together and although he was mainly repeating the words his face at the end of completing that story was one I won’t forget. He just couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t want to pick favourites, because all of those children were incredible, but he was one of the main influences that made me decide to come back for a week after finishing volunteering at the Elephant Park.
The second experience only got me more excited to then be spending a whole week there. In hindsight I wish I had got the chance to spend more time with the children but really wanting to see Cape Town and only having 2 weeks spare at the end on my trip, one week is all I could do. That one week was my favourite week out of the entirety of my South Africa trip.
Having only met Pippa and Willie briefly on my other two trips I got a chance to really get to know them and I was overwhelmed and blessed with how welcoming and kind they were. Even though I only volunteered for a week I got the chance to work in the Zoe Learning Support Centre, where I learnt the methods of paired reading and did a few sessions in there with the Grade 3s which was extremely rewarding. It is all so well organised and it was lovely to see how smoothly it all ran and the number of children being reached by Pippa and her local volunteers in there.
I also carried on my teaching assistant volunteering in class 4A (my original class) with Mrs Nkatu who was such an amazing teacher who got the children to engage so intensely. The one aspect of witnessing and being in those classrooms is just how well behaved the children are and how eager they are to learn. It is very inspiring and their appreciation for just your presence in that room is astounding. The week went too quickly and I remember going in on my last day on the Friday feeling like it should just be Tuesday.
From the training I got with the paired reading I started to use those methods within the classroom as well to help the struggling children. In this case I asked if he could read just a paragraph by himself and if he needed me I would carry on reading with him. He managed that whole paragraph and going from having zero confidence to even attempt one word to reading the whole paragraph my eyes slightly welled up, it was truly fulfilling and I know his confidence will continue to grow.
The end of the day drew near and when it was time to go, the children had been writing me notes all afternoon after finishing their lesson. I stood up at the front to say goodbye and one of the children was asked to stand up and read out her letter. It was very sweet and after waving goodbye they all ran up to hand me their own individual notes and gave me lots of hugs.
I don’t think I will ever forget how grateful they all were and that whole week will stay very close to my heart. It was an experience I never thought I would have but one that turned out to be the most fulfilling and memorable. I would go back in a heartbeat and would highly recommend it to anyone who has the chance to go to just jump on that plane and don’t look back.
Article from The Oxford Student Xavier Greenwood
Stepping off the plane at Johannesburg Airport following an eleven hour overnight flight, I was exhausted and clinging onto the last vestiges of sanity. And so, after well over twenty four hours of travel, the last thing I wanted was to be tested for Ebola; unfortunately, a malfunctioning facial scanner thought otherwise, and I found myself ushered away to be examined. One thermometer in the ear later and the result came out as negative. I was left somewhat shaken, with the dubious benefit of an unusual future sconce to my name.
I was in South Africa with Project Plett, an organisation recently set up by Willie and Pippa Ford. Plettenberg Bay is the jewel of the Garden Route and lies between the Indian Ocean and the Tsitsikama mountains. As a volunteer child development programme, Project Plett aims towards improving education within South Africa.
Though I was given information about volunteering with them back in April, for a long time it remained just another far-off summer possibility. However, come June, several of my friends had booked flights, and the opportunity became more real as I started hearing more and more about the project. Soon after, I found myself sitting in STA travel, and the casualness of “found myself” should be emphasised – I had left college intending only to buy a Boost but returned with a return flight to Johannesburg.
Such flippancy had all but left me by the time I had reached Plettenberg Bay in early August. It was during the car journey to Plett from the local airport at George that the reality of my new environment hit me. Dotted along the highway, we began to see the townships, interspersed with stunning scenery and a beautiful coastline. One such township is Kwanokuthula which lies just a couple of miles from the idyllic Plettenberg Bay. It was in here, at Phakamisani Primary School, that we would soon be teaching Grade 4s.
After a weekend of recovery, the first day of school was a surreal experience: though we were well prepared by the organisation (we received a detailed welcome pack about Plett and the school along with exercises and children’s books which could be taken into lessons), no kind of verbal or written preface could have prepared for six Grade 4 classes, each with forty children. Phakamisani is the most overcrowded primary school in the area (the school was built for 900 pupils and now has over 1950). Such overcrowding arguably causes the biggest problem in Grade 4, since it is the first year that lessons are taught and exams are taken in English, rather than Xhosa, the local dialect.
With all these problems, we were understandably apprehensive about the amount of help we could give, particularly when none of us had any teaching qualifications. However, it took less than a day for this attitude to change. Considering that most of the pupils are growing up in very difficult circumstances, either financially or socially, it is hard to comprehend the relentless positivity with which the children approach their lives.
Not one of them takes their education for granted. We were happily welcomed on arrival, and we left the school at the end of the trip with reams of letters written by the children thanking us for the contribution we had made and hoping to visit us in England one day. The letters seemed themselves to be the best indication that we had actually made a difference – they were all written in English, and many were from children who, when we first arrived, didn’t have the confidence even to speak in English to their teachers.
It became eminently clear that all the children needed was individual attention, whether this came from marking their workbooks, learning their names, playing football with them in the afternoon, or listening to one pupil recall the whole plot of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The hope is only that we have formed a lasting relationship between Oxford University and Phakamisani, which can be sustained by future volunteers.
When not volunteering at the school, our everyday life was helped massively by the low cost of living. This not only meant that eating out was often cheaper than self-catering (a meal at a five-star restaurant could be had for less than ten pounds) but also that we could enjoy a vast array of activities without breaking the bank.
A walk away, we hiked the Robberg peninsula and spent several lazy afternoons at the beach; a short drive away, we visited a vineyard, an elephant sanctuary and an aviary, and went shark diving, kayaking and on a horseback safari (we missed the highest bungee jump in the world and walking with cheetahs); and a coach journey away, we travelled to Cape Town where we climbed Table Mountain and visited Robben Island. In Cape Town, great memories were made, which included bumping into a friend from home halfway up Table Mountain, which may feature as one of the biggest coincidences known to mankind.
Working with VolunteeringSA (www.volunteeringsa.com) was an incredible experience, and one which neither myself nor, I imagine, any future volunteers will ever forget. One of my fellow volunteers sums it up best:
“Project Plett is an opportunity to visit a truly beautiful part of the world whilst making a rewarding contribution to the local community. I would wholeheartedly encourage others to take up the opportunity and to start their own adventure in South Africa.”
Kathryn from UK
My last month’s work with Project Plett has been an extremely rewarding and enjoyable experience. I have spent my time in Phakamisami Primary School working with Grade 4 in both Maths and PE. This has given me the chance to experience different kinds of teaching and really build up relationships with the children- even if I couldn’t remember all 240 names! The support I received from Pippa and the teachers at the school meant that I was able to start making a difference immediately and that I never needed to worry about my time spent in the classroom.
Aside from our time spent at the school, living in Plett and on the Garden Route for a whole month has been incredible. In Plett we have so enjoyed the beaches, the low cost of living and the incredible views of the mountains. At weekends we have also taken the opportunity to explore more of South Africa, with Cape Town and other fantastic locations all within easy reach for the weekend.
Project Plett is an opportunity to visit a truly beautiful part of the world whilst making a rewarding contribution to the local community. I would wholeheartedly encourage others to take up the opportunity and to start their own adventure in South Africa.
Xavier Greenwood from UK
Having spent four weeks volunteering as a teacher’s assistant at Phakamisani Primary School in Plettenberg Bay, I can safely say that I’ve had a life enhancing experience both inside and outside of the classroom.
I have never done anything more rewarding than helping at the school, in which both the teachers and the kids have made us feel so welcome. Not only do I hope that I have had a positive impact teaching Grade 4 English, but I know that I have learnt a huge amount from the kids which I can apply to my own life. Not one of them takes their education for granted, with the result that they never flag in their eagerness to learn, and they are all so appreciative, even if only for a tick. I really am full of admiration for the relentlessly positive way in which both the staff and the children approach their lives.
There is no doubt that Plettenberg Bay is a beautiful and fulfilling environment in which to live — my downtime from the school has entailed hiking, swimming at the beach, shark diving, wine tasting, visits to an elephant sanctuary and aviary, horseback safari, trips to Cape Town and the secluded Wilderness, and eating the delicious food which South Africa has to offer.
My experience with VolunteeringSA has been unanimously positive, and I would (and might well) do it all again, since I feel I would miss both the school and Plettenberg Bay as a whole just too much not to return.
Tessa Forrest from UK
I have just spent two amazing weeks in a township school The children and staff were amazingly welcoming and keen to learn from me despite the fact that I am not a qualified teacher. I absolutely loved the experience of making a difference in a school where it is so appreciated. You can be as involved as you like in the classroom, which is perfect if you have a passion to lead the lessons, or would rather mark and build the children’s confidence in English. Even just your presence is hugely valued by the school.
The area around Plettenberg Bay is so beautiful and full of opportunities from bungee jumping to swimming with great white sharks, and walking cheetahs to horse-back safari. It is also close enough to Cape Town and other towns along the Garden route for some amazing road trips. The family running the charity make you feel completely at home and will really look after you during your stay too. I cannot recommend it enough!!
Alice Farrell – from UK
I have had an absolutely fantastic time as a volunteer for VolunteeringSA. Working as a teacher’s assistant at Phakamisani Primary School is incredibly rewarding as you see the results of investing your time with disadvantaged children immediately.During my time here, the children’s English improved dramatically, as did their maths skills and their confidence with the volunteers. I quickly realised that my skills were being put to use in the most effective way possible, and the children are so keen to learn that they made teaching really fun.
I also really enjoyed living in Plettenberg Bay. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to, and everywhere you turn there is a stunning view. There are plenty of things to do here, including an elephant sanctuary, a horseback safari and shark diving! Failing that, Cape Town is only a coach journey away and we visited Robben Island and Table Mountain. Seeing a different side of South Africa was an invaluable experience.
I really would recommend VolunteeringSA to anyone who wants to experience living in South Africa in a way which gives you a taste of every aspect of the culture and the country, as well as putting your skills to use doing invaluable charity work which will leave a legacy in the local community for years to come.