Why did you decide to volunteer with GVI in South Africa?
Stephanie: I have always been very interested in volunteering. Since before high school I was looking for every opportunity available to give back to the community. So, I would say volunteering has been one of my passions for a long time. On top of that, I have always wanted to travel. Prior to this trip, I had never left America. So when I decided to start looking into volunteering abroad all I really did was search google endlessly.
I came across GVI and it looked really nice. I was looking into a few different countries but I always wanted to go to South Africa just because of how beautiful it is, and the program there looked amazing. I felt that working in an orphanage would be ideal, and the living arrangements were an easy transition from my dorm living, so I just went for it.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Stephanie: During the week, we would leave the apartment complex around 8:30. We would be driven to the orphanage which was about 10/15 minutes away, but we would get to drive through the townships and get to see a lot of how people lived around us. Once we got to the orphanage around 9 we would begin teaching the children. I was assigned to the baby class, which was a little less demanding, teaching wise, than some of the older groups.
My morning sessions would consist of block building, showing flash cards, and just running around with them. The kids would then get a snack and the volunteers would get a quick break. Then there would be the afternoon session of teaching. After that it would be one to one time, where you took a child from a different class than your own and got to play with them and talk to them for an hour. In the last hour we would usually wind down and get the kids to brush their teeth. We would leave project at 4.
Once we got back to the apartments, we would usually prepare for the next day, then relax for a little while at our apartment. Some nights we would go to the local pick and pay down the road for any snacks or necessities. Then we would heat up dinner, which was prepared during the day for us. Each apartment ate together and shared dinner/cleanup duties. After dinner we would either relax for the night, go to karaoke/the local bar, go on a sunset cruise, or go shopping. On the weekends, there were a number of trips you could arrange. I did the safari, wine tasting, cape town tour, and both township tours. However other people went on spa days, shark diving, bungee jumping, and many other day trips.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Stephanie: Prior to this experience I knew I wanted to travel but I was not sure in what capacity. I had not decided if I would just take the vacation here and there from work, or if I could be the type of person who actually lives in another country for an extended period of time. This trip showed me that I can't possibly limit myself to one or two one-week trips a year. At least while I can, I plan on traveling nonstop.
In a personal way, this trip has really changed my perspective on things. Whenever I get stuck in a petty conversation where someone is complaining about not having enough blue shoes or whatever the latest fashion trend is I can't help but to think back to the children wearing clothes that didn't fit them that were falling apart, and them still being happy as could be. Granted, they do not know any better and to them those clothes are more than a lot of other children have. But, if they can be happy in the situations some of them are in, I can certainly be happy without the coolest pair of shoes.
A better example than shoes might be the living arrangements. Suddenly my three person apartment feels like a mansion. There are places where three families live in a home the size of my dorm room at college. Bunk beds don't really feel so awful when you see a tiny house where 19 children are sleeping on the living room floor.