Projects Abroad Volunteer Programs in South Africa

Become a valued volunteer in South Africa with Projects Abroad! Every year we send dozens of volunteers to South Africa to take part in projects that include: Teaching, Health care, Conservation, Sports, Journalism, Business, Law, and Construction. This is your chance to enhance your professional skills in a setting where volunteers can make a profound difference.

During your time as a volunteer with Projects Abroad you will have the opportunity to travel and explore South Africa. This is a beautiful country and we're proud of the work we're doing here.

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For an exciting challenge, check out our Shark Conservation Project! As a volunteer you will be able to have hands on experience assisting local scientists, running surveys, conducting research, and learning tons about this eco-tourism industry.

The project is located in a coastal town at the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. If you need any more of an incentive, volunteers have the chance to go cage diving with great white sharks! Don't miss your opportunity to both learn about and help conserve these fascinating creatures.

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Program Info

Location: 
  • South AfricaCape Town
Volunteer Types: 
Childcare
Computer Literacy
Sports
Veterinary Service
Program Length: 
2-4 weeks
1-3 months
3-6 months
6-12 months
Cost: 
$500 - $2,000 (USD)
See Additional Information
Cost Description: 

The price of each placement includes all your food and accommodation, transfers to and from the airport, full travel and medical insurance plus support and 24 hour back-up from our staff based around the world.

Languages: 
English
Housing: 
Apartment
Travel: 
Some travel is required during the program.
Application: 
Online Application
Age Requirement
Health Requirement

Program Reviews (11)

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  • Hannah Elliott-Higgins
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    United States
    College of William and Mary
    Volunteering at a Special Care Centre
    02/08/2015

    My name is Hannah Elliott-Higgins and I am currently a junior studying psychology and art/art history at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. During my senior year of high school, I spent some time debating the idea of taking a gap year and volunteering before heading off to college but eventually decided against it as the excitement of starting college set in. However, half way through my sophomore year of college I began to think again about how wonderful it would be to be able to take some time to simply volunteer and experience the world through my own eyes and not through a strictly scholarly lens.
    I worked with a gap year/semester coordinator to decide what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with children and if possible work with those with developmental disabilities. I was put in contact with Projects Abroad South Africa (Cape Town) and I could not be happier with the way everything went. From my first email contact with Projects Abroad I could tell it would be a wonderful experience. They were prompt to respond, answered every question I had, and provided me with all the information regarding my placement and living situation in a vert timely manner.
    During my time in Cape Town, I volunteered at the Sunrise Special Care Centre 5 days a week and had the weekends to myself, I absolutely loved the work, which consisted of basic occupational therapy and physical therapy as well as care taking. There was a bit of an age range with the majority of the children begin between the ages of 6 and 14 and then a few young adults (early 20s). Everyone I worked with was kind and welcoming and spoke very highly of their past Projects Abroad Volunteers.. Every week, I would meet with volunteers from other projects to talk with one of the volunteer coordinators from Projects Abroad. If there were any issues, they were always available to help out.
    I lived with a host family who lived one street over from the Sunrise Special Care Centre and I cannot speak highly enough of them. They were wonderful and made me feel completely at home. They gave me and the two other volunteers I lived with breakfast, lunch, and dinner an the mother was a wonderful cook. I have certain dietary restrictions and they were wonderful about making accommodations for me.
    Overall, this was an incredible experience for me and I would strongly recommend Projects Abroad for anyone who is looking to take a gap year, semester, or even just a few weeks off to do service work. It is an unforgettable time and i would do it over again in a heartbeat.

    How could this program be improved?

    As part of payment for the program we paid for our meals. However I have some dietary restrictions and because of this I had to buy a fair amount of my own food, but still had to pay for food from my host family that I did not eat. This is one aspect of the program I would change, perhaps by making the food payment separate from the living payment.

    Photos:
    Sunrise Special Care Centre Christmas Concert!
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  • Jessica
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Cambridge, England
    University of Surrey
    Fantasic Company and once-in-a-lifetime experiences
    11/08/2013

    After a fabulous and busy trip to Cape Town, I'd like to share my experience and encourage others to volunteer abroad!

    Although many people on the teaching project teach English, as a music student I was thoroughly interested in being placed within a school that could use help in that area. I phoned the Projects Abroad head office and they found a placement completely suited to me.

    My host family lived just down the road from my placement and 6 other volunteers stayed at the same house (3 of those were placed in the same school as me so we walked together every day). I could not have asked for a better host family to look out for me. They treated me like family from the minute I arrived; giving me advice on where to visit, how to travel around, cooking me fantastic Capetonian meals every night, and of course my 5-year-old host sister keeping me company throughout my stay!

    My placement mostly involved taking choir and band rehearsals, as academic music was not taught in most schools due to budget cuts. I therefore made the most of it, arranging a song by Jason Mraz to teach the main school choir. By the end of the month, the choir had learnt the song by heart and performed it to Projects Abroad staff, causing me to well up with pride. (If you would like to have a listen to the end result click, on this link: https://soundcloud.com/jessicanorton14/i-wont-give-up-hyde-park)
    Even during break and lunchtimes, myself and other volunteers at the school found that we were never left alone by the kids! They would always be asking us questions about our life back home, how long we were staying, and occasionally I found myself being asked whether I would eventually marry one of the other volunteers.... (it didn't help that Brian, the other volunteer involved in this rumor, would agree with them and start describing the ceremony...!)

    As our placement finished at about 3:30pm each day, myself and the other volunteers in my house would explore Cape Town every afternoon, taking a minibus taxi to the train station. The forms of transport out there were so familiar to us in such a short time, and on our induction we were told an easy way to tell which minibus taxis we should use. They usually came by our road every 10 minutes. Although we didn't hit the town hard every night, we did go out just before each volunteer left to give them a proper send off, and for this our host family suggested a private taxi driver that they had used for years, so no matter where I went, or when, I always felt safe.

    Throughout the planning and the trip itself, Projects Abroad staff really were fantastic. The personal webpage was invaluable, giving me all the information I needed including who I would be living with and a bit about my placement. I was called by a staff member in South Africa the day before I left to make sure I didn't have any last-minute worries or queries, and at the airport I was greeted by a member of staff to take me straight to my host family.

    If you are thinking of traveling abroad, I would thoroughly recommend Projects Abroad; they care about each and every one of their volunteers and will make sure you have the best time on your placement. Not only that but you meet people from all corners of the globe in the same situation as you. You make friends for life on these trips, and will have experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I will always have a place in my heart for the people and places I experienced whilst volunteering, and I hope you grab the opportunity to do the same!

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  • Texan in South Africa
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Houston, Texas, USA
    University of Houston, Main campus
    Must Volunteer in Cape Town
    09/30/2013

    I had a wonderful time volunteering in South Africa with Projects Abroad. I took a career break to work on a business project in a Cape Town township to help an educare centre (an early childhood school) with its business planning. The opportunity was simply amazing! Not only did my work help young children in need but I forged lasting relationships with the school staff, Projects Abroad staff, other volunteers, and my host family. The program costs are nothing in comparison to the benefits I received. We worked during the day from Monday to Friday and had ample opportunities to travel and site-see around town and the country. I was in Cape Town during August and September. This is the end of the winter season. One suggestion for winter traveling, be prepared! Please do not let the temperature reading fool you, like it did me. It does get rainy, windy and cold in Cape Town. Coming from an extremely hot climate, I had a little temperature shock. However, it did not take me long to adjust and I had the best time of my life. Also, remember to review the safety precautions for Cape Town and just always be an alert traveler. I never had any issues, and actually had such a wonderful time that I'm planning to do it again next year!

    How could this program be improved?

    I would have packed slightly differently. I brought too many dress clothes since it was a business project. Considering I was working in a school, even though I was on the business side, I wish I would have known to pack more casual clothing.

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  • mariska neefjes
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Maastricht, the Netherlands
    Other
    Human Rights in South Africa
    05/02/2012

    Last summer I have worked for the Human Rights Office, which was a unique experience. The work that you do at this office exists out of helping rather poor people with legal issues, like domestic violence. Furthermore, a lot of refugees come to the office, with problems relating to their asylum applications. By talking to these people and doing research in order to write legal opinions in the hope to eventually solve their problems, you get the fealing that you can actually do something good.
    In addition to the project, the organisation also organised a lot of activities during the week, which is a nice way to meet people and to get to know the South African culture.
    During my time in Cape Town, I stayed at a host family, which is I think the best way to get to know the South African culture and I was staying at a really nice host family, they really made me feel at home.
    Overall I think Projects Abroad is a really professional organisation, which offers a lot of nice programs, nice activities and makes sure that you are staying at a nice host family.

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  • Katharina
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Mossel bay, South Africa
    Other
    Special care in Cape town
    03/26/2012

    I started my Day every Morning around 8 o'clock. One of project Abroard drivers picked me up and drove me to work. Sunrise special Care is a Center for Children with profound intellectual disabilities and Takes Care of 30 Children from the Age of 5 yrs- 28 Years. The atmosphere is adorable! The Caregivers and the Children are very friendly and i felt comfortable from the First Second on. My Job was to support the Staff with the Feeding, Tube feeding or changing the children. Also i was able to decide myself what i wanted to do with the Children ( e.g colouring Inn, singing, going to the Garden). My Day ended around 2 o'clock when i got picked up again. Sometimes i used my afternoons for going to the Beach, to town or to meet other volunteers. I always enjoyed meeting other People, to learn about other cultures or just to exchange experiences. The Weekends were always packed with activities like socials, sight seeings or enjoying the nightlife of capetown. I felt in love with Cape town pretty fast and i would recommend it to everybody to experience it!

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  • emilyk64
    Age: 18 or younger
    Female
    Portsmouth, Rhode Island
    Care and Surfing Projects in Cape Town
    09/26/2011

    I volunteered at a creche for kids in the morning in Vrygrond, a township in Cape Town, where parents frop there kids during the day while they work or look for work. The kids were absolutely amazing we had fun introducing games such as duck duck goose, watching movies, doing writing exercises, singing, and playing. the kids were ages six months to six years old and everyday you were greeted by an enthusiastic "TEACHER!" from all of the kids. In the afternoons I hopped on the train for a quick ride to Muizenberg where I taught surfing at the Surfing Project where kids would get free surfing lessons in the afternoon. We led them trough warm ups which included building sandcastles they would practice turns on and practicing paddling on surfboards drawn in the sand. Then we would take to the water for some fun in the waves! Afterwards if time allowed we could play some wave tag before the kids had to wiggle out of their wet suits and head home.

    On the weekends and at night we got all of our fun touristy things in I was able to go skydiving, shark cage diving, hike Table Mountain, visit Robben Island, visit Seal Island, hike out to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, watch a soccer match at the world cup stadium, watch a Western Province rugby match, go on a sunset cruise, go to an ostrich farm, and go on safari!

    An incredible trip overall; if you're looking for a place to go with plenty of adventure and a phenomenal volunteer experience then look no further than Cape Town!

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  • Suzanne V.
    Age: 18 or younger
    Female
    Berkeley, California
    Projects Abroad changed my life.
    09/25/2011

    I volunteered with Projects Abroad in their PAHRO (Projects Abroad Human Rights Office) department in South Africa as a part of the two-week special volunteer programs that Projects Abroad offers. As a minor, this was by far the ideal volunteer situation for me. I felt extremely safe and welcomed into the home of my host mother, and placed in this home with two other volunteers in the same program as me, so we were able to commute to work in the mornings safely in a group.
    To be entirely honest, the work we were doing was not top-notch or life-changing for the individuals in Cape Town's townships that we were 'aiding'. The woman in charge of our group was distracted, unorganized, and not particularly helpful. However, what I have learned and gained from this program has truly changed my life. The people that we were there to help, the women and children of Cape Town's townships, impacted my life more than I can simply describe. The individuals there shared such a profound sense of community and joy for life, despite their very unfortunate living conditions, and the other young people in my volunteer group shared my passion for helping others and really taught me a lot about life. My host mother is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, we still keep in touch and she taught me about the South African ideology of "ubuntu", which I have carried with me since leaving the country and this has truly become my motto in life.
    Since returning from the trip, I have attempted to continue in this spirit of ubuntu and raise money for the building of a safe house in one of the townships. I still keep in touch with the wonderful members of my volunteer group, as well as my host mother.
    In short, it was the people that I encountered, not really the program itself, that truly made this trip as wonderful and life-changing as it was. My entire view of things and take on the central ideology of my life has changed because of this trip.

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  • ccasper
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Burlington, VT
    Other
    Projects Abroad, the Major Factor in the Change of my World Outlook
    09/15/2011

    This was a column I wrote in the summer of 2009, just before I left my placement in Cape Town with Projects Abroad:

    It is the middle of winter here in Cape Town. The days are warm and the nights are cold. The city is full of energy, bustling with the sounds of cars and minibuses, music, shouting, barking, laughter, echoes and footsteps. Giant mountains surround the city, majestically towering over the people, breaking the wide and wild sky overhead.

    Over the past weeks, I have fallen in love with this country -- its landscape, its people, its corruption, its unity. It is nothing like the upper-middle class suburban bubble that I call home. Actually, it is nothing I could have ever even imagined.

    The atmosphere at the heart of Cape Town is similar to that of any big cities in the States, such as Boston or Denver. Commercialism is abundant, skyscrapers and beautifully-designed office buildings crowd the streets, lights and neon signs brighten the evening, and a certain level of overall style saturates the area. But just outside of the city, the third-world colors of South Africa truly shine.

    Driving down the highway, I see shanties overlapping each other for miles on either side, built out of cardboard, tin, trash, bed springs, wire and rope. My gaze lingers on young children kicking up dust, running around tires, and playing soccer barefoot with large bottles. I watch their older brothers and sisters pace along the roadside with their thumbs up, hoping for a ride that won't come for hours, if it even comes at all. I see mothers with hopelessness and exhaustion etched across their faces. They trudge through the grass on feet worn and caked with mud. I watch them, clutching round-faced infants wrapped in long cloths close to their breasts. This is the hand they have been dealt. This is the life their young ones will unfortunately grow to lead. What other choice do they have? They are stuck in the same merciless cycle one finds in every other third-world country. Without money, there can be no education. Without education, employment is out of the question. And without some kind of job, they find themselves back at square one.

    This dark and ever-present reality was part of what inspired me to teach English to first-graders in Cape Town this summer. After months of fundraising, working part-time, babysitting, and pulling my hair out, I was placed at Fairview Primary School through an international program called Projects Abroad. Fairview is a wonderful public school located in Grassy Park, which strives towards a proper and thorough education for each and every student. But for every teacher, there are usually about 40 children, with minimal classroom resources. I am assisting almost 100 children in total, working on sentence building and structure, reading and writing. Each class makes time for storytelling and recreation each day to keep the children's minds open and stimulated. In addition, music and song are highly integral parts of each child's education, as they allow children to learn all kinds of concepts and values in a playful and interactive way.

    Fairview Primary School was constructed during apartheid in 1975. During this period of extreme segregation and discrimination against nonwhites, Grassy Park had been a primarily colored area. The school itself was a pre-fabricated building, only meant to last for about 10 to 15 years. Now, 35 years later, the building still stands, although it is slowly falling apart. The walls are only 28 millimeters thick, almost guaranteeing poor teaching conditions for both the winter and summer months. The sports field which is used by around 1,000 children each day was replaced 10 years ago, but is now a field of dust. "There just seems to be no money to fix up the school," Principal Aubrey De Wet says. "Funds have always been such a large problem." Unlike most other countries, South Africa demands a fee for any child to attend any school, whether public or private. In addition, schools already receive very minimal state funding. Therefore, it becomes very difficult for schools to offer any financial aid to their families that struggle to meet ends with the school fees. Last year was the first year Fairview Primary ever had to turn down places for incoming students. And we think our education system has problems.

    However, there are some very positive things about this specific school. Firstly, the school offers a range of intramural activities after hours. These activities are taught by gracious teachers who give their time up willingly and refuse payment. Teachers also stay with their same class of students from Grade 1 through Grade 3, which helps to compensate for such a large student-teacher ratio. Furthermore, the school refuses to use physical disciplinary action. Finally, there is always a steady flow of volunteers passing through the school, whether they are placed by Projects Abroad, through other schools and universities around the world, or are independent travelers.

    The volunteer work in the school has given me such a strong feeling of personal achievement and satisfaction. Teaching here has also taught me patience beyond what I ever thought I would be capable of at my age.

    In fact, this entire adventure so far has been nothing short of amazing. Many people told me "traveling changes everything" before I left and even on my flight, but I never expected just how right they would be. Being out of my comfort zone and experiencing this whole new world has given me a completely different perspective on life. Why did I ever care about what clothes I wore, or what kind of cell phone I had, or who was right in last night's argument?

    Here, clothes do not matter. Cell phones are all pay-as-you-go, and are too expensive to use frequently. The internet is a luxury. The train stations are packed with people but at least smell better than the London underground. Cars do not slow for pedestrians, no matter how young or old. Youngsters stray from safety without fear, running across streets, dodging traffic left and right. Stray dogs look both ways before they cross.

    At night, it is safer to go through red lights than to stop at them. The marketplaces are alive with locals and tourists. A stranger looking for attention calls out of his car asking where an attractive girl's father is, and does he know she is out? Men wait at intersection stops to sell handmade crafts to people in their cars. Make up is almost nonexistent. Women stick by each other, and are always looking to offer advice. Time means little. Family means everything. A sunset on Signal Hill is a piece of artwork. A sunrise in Nature's Valley is the presence of God. Culture is celebrated. Food is never wasted. Innocence is a gift. Forgiveness is essential. People are beautiful. Struggle is normality. Music is everywhere. Life is for the moment.

    If I may offer only one piece of advice from my experience, it is this: explore humanity. Venture out of your little corner and get your hands dirty. Expose your eyes to the wonders of the world we live in. Eat things that disgust you. Try things that scare you. Get to know the kinds of people you judged before you even met them, and reassess. Reach out to anyone who reaches for you. Reach out even when they don't reach for you.

    And don't bother planning it all out, because the best plans often go astray. Instead, be spontaneous, and experiment your way through life. The best things happen to us when we aren't looking for them.

    ---
    About Projects Abroad in South Africa:

    Projects was incredible to me. When I applied to the program, I was only 17 years old - one of the youngest volunteers ever to travel to Cape Town alone through Projects, they told me. PA took wonderful care of me from start to finish. Once a week, we had social networking events for all of the volunteers in the city, and the volunteers would all catch a bus from their houses together. However, it was not a program that was so protected that I was sheltered from the culture of South Africa. I definitely experienced my fair share of everyday life while I was abroad. Projects Abroad doesn't hold your hand, but they do help you in every way they can extend their reach to you. There is a certain level of maturity that needs to come along with traveling abroad through ANY volunteer program. Projects gave me an incredible opportunity and did what they could for me, but with every program, it is the STUDENT that creates his/her true and unique experience.

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  • connor2
    Age: 18 or younger
    Male
    Sacramento, CA
    Other
    BEST DECISION EVER!
    09/15/2011

    Junior year of high school I wanted to do something cool and spice up my life. I decided to volunteer in S. Africa. Projects Abroad is safe, responsible and all inclusive. I felt at home and made some of the best friends of my life. I still keep in contact with them and talk to some biweekly. This impacted my life in so many ways, it gave me appreciation on everything that I took for granted before and overall improved my life substantially. PROJECTS ABROAD... DO IT!

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  • McEwen13
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Edmonton, Alberta Canada
    Grant MacEwan University
    Time in Cape Town, South Africa
    09/15/2011

    Cape Town is one of the most stunning cities in the world. It is not just the weather or the scenic views, but the human spirit and the warmth of strangers that makes it so special.

    I came to Cape Town not sure what really to expect. The host family I had is one of the greatest host families anyone could ever ask for. I know all volunteers will tell you they had the best, but mine is the real deal. From the moment I arrived, I was welcomed with open arms and I became a member of the family within seconds. They instantly felt like old relatives you haven't seen in years, but with whom you connect instantly. And like any good relatives, they give you the best cooking you can ask for. I do not think I have ever eaten so well in my life! There was something new, delicious and traditional every night. And if I ever needed help, I knew they would be there for me.

    During my first month I was a volunteer at Hillwood Primary School. Hillwood is sadly severely under funded in the community of Lavender Hill. This is the reason why Projects Abroad is involved. For one solid month, I was the physical education teacher and I would not trade that month for anything. I was able to teach grades 3-6 new sports and new games. Being a patriotic Canadian, I just had to bring hockey gear, and I am so glad I did. I have never seen such amazing and beautiful smiles as when the kids saw the equipment: hockey sticks, nets, goalie masks and jerseys. Nor have I ever had such an amazing and fun street hockey experience.

    Among the wonderful experiences I had in South Africa are those I had with the other volunteers, who I can honestly say are some of the greatest friends I have ever made. Not only that, but I instantly connected with everyone. The times you spend together at Muizenberg Beach, Camps Bay, Long Street, Observatory, watching a Cricket match live in Newlands, the socials and weekend trips Projects Abroad organizes, going to Table Mountain or where ever you can imagine, you will have a blast. Cape Town has so much to offer. Take it all in. And be sure to do it with your new best friends! Because of these friends, you never really get home sick, as odd as that may sound. You are with them a good majority of your time so you never think about it. Because of this reason you always feel like you are home no matter where you are in Cape Town.

    My second month in South Africa was supposed to be one of traveling and seeing the country. Oddly, I never did it. For that, I thank two of the greatest friends I have ever made that were also volunteering with Projects Abroad. They were at Westlake Worship Centre helping run a kids program during summer break. Any day you get to goof around, sing songs, dance, play games outside and do crafts with kids is a great day!

    The Projects Abroad team in Cape Town was more than I ever expected. If you need anything, anything at all, any time of day or night, they are there for you. Not only are they there for you, but they go the extra mile every single time. The drive they have for helping to make change is just amazing, and inspires you to do your part.

    My second month ended, and I was not ready to come home. I had found a new home! So after several hours of pleading, the Bank of Mom and Dad allowed me to stay for 3 more weeks. Now, I thought, I will travel. Again, I didn't do it. I couldn't leave the kids I had grown to love. I spent my last three weeks at Westlake.

    I do not regret a single moment of my two and a half months. If you were to give me a ticket to go back tomorrow, I wouldn't think twice about it. I have every intention to head back. Cape Town has a very special place in my heart. And it opened my eyes to a new world and to what life is all about.

    On that note I would like to leave you saying this:
    Life is never about what car you drive, how big your house is, or the size of your bank account. It is about who you are, and what you do to make the lives around you better.

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  • isee33
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Denver, Colorado
    South Africa via Projects Abroad
    08/31/2011

    South Africa is the perfect setting for an internship/study/volunteer abroad program.
    For a volunteer looking to broaden their horizons by living with a family and working in the community, Projects Abroad is a perfect choice.

    Staying with a host family just outside of Cape Town means exposure to a different lifestyle and way of thinking. The families are wonderful and welcoming. They'll do their best to make you feel like you're part of the family and will always go the extra mile.

    The scene in Cape Town is wild. From the clubs to the restaurants to the tourist opportunities, there's never a dull moment. Cape Town is a pretty safe city, despite what you may hear. All it takes to be safe is vigilance and a little bit of foresight. Hike Table Mountain and then have a cocktail on Long Street, then head to the beaches for some people watching. Heading off to Stellenbosch to visit the wine farms for a weekend is another wonderful choice. Cape Point tour is a must. The District Six museum. The V&A Waterfront. The theaters. Kirstenbosch Gardens. If you're feeling adventurous, there's shark diving, skydiving, bungee jumping...If you get time, head down the Garden Route for a relaxing week away.

    The train system is wonderful for day transportation, and there are plenty of cabs available at night for your group.

    The volunteer projects range from teaching to building, with everything in between. Projects Abroad has a magazine called the Cape Chameleon, which features articles written by volunteers. The people you work with aren't just volunteers, they're often South Africans who are eager to provide insight into the South African experience. You'll see firsthand the devastation of poverty and the artistic natural beauty. You'll come back with an entirely different perspective on race issues. You'll be invigorated and renewed by your work.

    The opportunities in South Africa are endless.

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Alumni Interviews

  • Jessica Norton

    What inspired you to volunteer with projects Abroad in South Africa?

    Jessica: Having not taken a gap year before university, I decided I would love to not only travel during the summer but also try to do something useful and worthwhile at the same time.

    At that time I was starting to consider a career in conducting, which involves a huge amount of clear communication, and so I thought going to another country and focusing on communication would really help in that area, and using my musical skills would hopefully benefit the kids in whichever school I ended up teaching at.

    I phoned Projects Abroad and they mentioned that many schools in South Africa didn't have music programs due to budget cuts, so at that point I knew I would be making a difference in my time out there.

    What was your favourite moment of the trip?

    Jessica: There were so many! In terms of my work placement, I would have to say the last choir rehearsal I took. I had arranged "I Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz for them and spent the month I was there teaching it to them. They hadn't sung in parts before so it was quite a challenge but they got there in the end and did such a fantastic job!

    It made me so proud to see them performing it so well before I left. I recorded it luckily, so I will always have a piece of Cape Town and my time out there with me.

    I met some awesome volunteers who were staying in the same host family as me, and we went exploring every day, either to the center of Cape Town for the markets, or to some historic sites. My most memorable weekend would have to be when a few of us walked up Table Mountain, and abseiled down part of it.

    We had the best weather possible and therefore the view was phenomenal. Granted myself and my friend Valerie felt like we wanted to die half way up the Mountain, but once we reached the top it was incredible! I must say it wouldn't have been that amazing if I wasn't sharing the experience with the other volunteers; I've made friends for life through this trip and still keep in touch with many of them.

    Jessica with Surayda
    Jessica with Surayda

    Tell us about one person you met.

    Jessica: This would have to be one of my students: Surayda. She played saxophone in the school's band and had the most amazing spirit! Unfortunately many of the kids were in situations where they couldn't take instruments home as they had family members who would steal and sell them.

    But you wouldn't know how tough their home lives were by the way they smiled constantly and always had funny stories to tell you. Surayda would tell me every day her plans for the future, and how she would be a famous saxophonist. But of course that wouldn't be her full time job because she wanted to be rich!

    On my last day, I was given a large goodbye card signed by all the kids in the band and choir. Surayda's message still has me welling up when I read it: "Dear Miss Jessica, you are like a true friend and mother: hard to find, hard to leave and impossible to forget."

    If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?

    Jessica: I honestly don't have any regrets from my time in Cape Town. I threw myself into the placement and explored everything I could in the time I had. I suppose the only thing I could say is I would have loved to stay there longer. I am planning to volunteer again soon with Projects Abroad and am hoping to go to a couple of destinations, spending maybe three months traveling.

    I hadn't traveled alone before this trip, so I thought one month would be fine. But it went so quickly! Time flew by and suddenly I was phoning to confirm my taxi to drive me back to the airport. There we go: if I went back I would stay at least a month longer, to explore more and meet even more people.

    Has your worldview changed as a result of this trip?

    The final choir performance
    The final choir performance

    Jessica: Absolutely. I realized I had completely taken my education for granted. I had all the resources I needed to succeed at school, and we don't appreciate this enough. Many schools in developing countries don't have a budget for arts or sports classes and therefore many of the children miss out on so much during their time at school.

    Not only that, but many kids I met didn't get meals at home as their parents either couldn't afford food or spent the money on other things. Therefore the school had to provide more meals a day than they could really afford.

    In terms of music at the school, they could not afford new sheet music. So the kids became really bored of performing and learning the same music again and again.

    I therefore spent the year after I left organizing multiple charity concerts to buy the school new band and choir music.

    My trip has made me realize that we are so lucky to live in such a developed country, and if companies like Projects Abroad didn't exist, these developing countries would not be getting the support they need.

  • Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer experience was gaining the feeling that you actually can do something good for people. I think the work that the Human Rights Office does is really important, since it offers a chance for people who cannot afford a lawyer. The mock trial project was also nice, since it keeps the children off the streets after school. In addition to the work that I have done, I have also enjoyed traveling around Cape Town and seeing some of this beautiful country. The highpoint was definitely my visit to Robben Island.

    The Projects Abroad team in South Africa
    The Projects Abroad social justice team in South Africa

    Morning: During the week I started working at 9am at the Human Rights Office and since my host family was living in another area of Cape Town, I had to travel by train for 15 minutes each morning, usually together with some other volunteers. This is an experience in itself, with somewhat overcrowded trains. During the mornings I sometimes had appointments with clients and sometimes I worked on writing my legal opinions on cases that were handed over to me. In addition to this, once a week I went with my ISV supervisor to Lavender Hill, a really poor area of Cape Town, where we had meetings with clients who were not able to come to our office. Here you sometimes come across difficulties with language barriers. For example, since not all people speak English, some only speak Afrikaans.

    Afternoon: During the afternoons we had lunch together with the volunteers, which sometimes meant going to a nice bar across the street and sometimes just eating the lunch you brought from home. After this I continued working on my legal opinions and contacting clients. Two afternoons in the week I went to Athlone, a rather poor area of Cape Town, where I worked on a mock trial project with 7 children between the ages of 12 to 14. This Mock Trial started off with a discussion project and learning the techniques to participate in a debate. After this we had the mock trial sessions in which we prepared the children to act like lawyers in a small case, which they would eventually have to do in a real court in front of a real judge. During the week ISV gave us a lot of social projects such as going to a prison for young boys or going to a shelter for women.

    Evening: I think a typical evening did not exist for me, since we always did different things. Sometimes I was just staying at home and renting a movie with some of the other volunteers at the same house, but sometimes we always went out for dinner to a nice restaurant and we had drinks afterwards. However, there also are loads of opportunities to go to a nice party in Cape Town. In addition to this, barbecues are really popular in Cape Town! If you really like barbecue you should definitely go to Mzoli's on Sunday, which is a huge barbecue in the township.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with Projects Abroad in South Africa?

    Emily: I decided to volunteer abroad in South Africa because I was really interested in South African culture. It sounds silly but in fifth grade I was obsessed with zebras and this got me interested in learning more about Africa but later on in middle school we started studying Nelson Mandela and my focus shifted from the physical aspects of the country to the unique cultural characteristics of South Africa specifically. This prompted me to start learning some Zulu my sophomore year of high school and the following year I applied and was granted a fellowship to fund my trip!

    Emily with some of the children she worked with in South Africa
    Emily with some of the children she worked with in South Africa

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Emily: Every day the van picked me and the other volunteers living with my host family and we headed into Vrygrond, a township outside of Cape Town, where I went to Masikuhle Educare to help the kids with daily activities. This included feeding the little guys, teaching the older kids how to write their names and lots of singing, playing, and laughing. Everyday at noon time the kids go to sleep for a three or four hour nap because for a lot of them it wasn't safe to sleep at home. There wasn't much for us to do so this ended our time there.

    In the afternoon I would take the train to Muizenberg where myself and other Surf Project volunteers taught local kids how to surf and swim. This meant some fun warm ups on the beach including sandcastle building, practice paddling, and beach races until we took to the water and helped instruct the kids on when to paddle and stand up and pushed them into waves. This brings us to about five in the afternoon and after we helped the kids wiggle out of wet suits the other volunteers and I would grab some food and return to our host families later on.

    Teaching local kids how to surf!
    Teaching local kids how to surf!

    How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

    Emily: This experience has absolutely impacted my future, I have always wanted to go into medicine and this made me only want to pursue this field more because I think you can offer so much to people when you have these skills. I now know I want my focus for university study to be a human rights major with a pre-med concentration.

    This experience has also made me realize what an amazing opportunity I have to work and go to school everyday and to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me and hope that an opportunity to return to South Africa comes soon!

About the provider

Projects Abroad is a global organization formed around the need for gap year programs abroad designed for students taking a break from studying. Since its inception, Projects Abroad has expanded to offer high school volunteer programs, and a vast variety of programs geared towards those taking a gap year or a career break. Visit the Projects Abroad website for more details on volunteer, teach, study and internship programs abroad.