Alumni Spotlight: Emily Thomas


Emily is a world traveler having been to over 15 different countries and living twice overseas. She also spent her gap year volunteering abroad in Thailand and South Africa.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to come on this program because I had been fortunate enough to visit South Africa once before and ended up falling in love with the beautiful country. Although I had never been to Cape Town, I decided to try something out of my comfort zone and come to live in a big city.

I knew that I wanted to work with kids for part of my time volunteering, so African Impact was a natural fit for me. When I found the program, I knew it was very well-managed because of how detailed it was and how much assistance I had when applying.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

When I planned my gap year, I did the majority of my research on my own. I found African Impact online when looking into reputable volunteering organizations. However, once on the website, I was immediately offered assistance by staff. I was able to inquire about anything that I wanted to know, and I was put in contact with both a staff member from head office and from my specific project.

When I was worried about the drought in Cape Town prior to my arrival, I was able to reach out to these staff members, and in return, I received an in-depth response addressing all of my concerns! It was honestly so helpful to have these staff members to rely on even before I was in Cape Town.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone coming to African Impact is to be open to meeting new people and trying new things. The amazing thing about this organization is that it gives you the opportunity to experience not only South African cultures but the cultures and people from around the world.

I was lucky enough to make three of my closest friends while living there, and who I still talk to everyday – one from South Africa, one from England, and one from Australia! I also did so many things that pushed me out of my comfort zone – everything from skydiving to trying smiley, a local dish of cooked sheep’s head. The experience can be amazing as long as you are open to it.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average day for a participant in this program starts around 8:15 when we have morning meetings led by eccentric Chris! After that, everyone has a few minutes to gather all of their stuff and make sure they have all of the materials they need before leaving for morning project.

Depending on which project you decide to do, you will be at a different place. My project was Early Childhood Development, so I was always in either a preschool or a foster home in the mornings. Morning project lasts for three hours before we have a break for a delicious lunch cooked by the awesome Chef Shecky. After lunch, we set off for two-hour afternoon projects which are always After School programs for vulnerable children.

When the project is finished, we all come back to the house for dinner and some exciting night time activities! My favorite night is Thursday because it is family night, when either volunteers or staff plan a fun activity for the whole group.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear coming away was that I wouldn’t be able to make any friends or bond with anyone while there. Luckily, I forced myself to be outgoing, and I was able to make friendships with other staff, volunteers, and people that I met living in Cape Town; I know that my friendship with them will last a lifetime!

While working on the projects, my entire view of the African continent changed. African children are often portrayed by the media as impoverished and starving, and places like Khayelitsha are made out to be violent ghettos; however, the reality is far from this.

The children I have met have been some of the happiest and most appreciative kids. They have taught me that although children may come from different backgrounds and may be dealing with different hardships, all children are essentially the same – they are just trying to grow up to the best of their ability. At the same time, working in Khayelitsha has showed me how the community has managed to turn a place that was formed from oppression into a beautiful and vibrant community!

What awesome activities were you able to do in Cape Town?

In Cape Town, there are so many amazing things to do. There is deep history and culture and at the same time incredible nature – all within a modern city!

Luckily at African Impact, they are always willing to help you plan your time so that you make the most of the time you spend there! They offer tours done by staff, adventure activities (like skydiving and abseiling Table Mountain), and even trips outside of Capetown to surrounding areas like Hermanus and safari game reserves.

If you don’t find something you want to do through African Impact, you can always hike Table Mountain, explore the amazing nightlife on long street and the waterfront, or visit Robben Island. I can promise it’s impossible to be bored living in Cape Town!