Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with SAVE Volunteering in South Africa?
Tom: During my bachelor degree I had the opportunity to study abroad for half a year. My friend, Martijn Roos, convinced me to go to South Africa. Since my friend is a professional photographer he showed me some amazing footage of Cape Town and other parts of Africa. I was easily convinced but was also unlucky in the lottery for Stellenbosch University. My friend went to Stellenbosch, I went to Ottawa, Canada.
After my exchange, I decided to visit Cape Town as soon as possible. Not to study at a university, but to entertain the kids from the townships and teach them social skills. I found a website for student travels called Kilroy and booked my trip from there. I thought it would be an amazing experience to combine traveling and volunteering in one month. Kilroy offered different projects in Cape Town, all organized by SAVE. I never surfed before and since South Africa is famous for its surf spots I decided to enroll in this project.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Tom: For me, this volunteer abroad experience was unique and special for different reasons. First of all it was my first experience in volunteering. I traveled a lot before, but never visited a Third World country. It was an amazing experience for me to combine traveling and volunteer work in one big trip. Second, it was my first trip on my own. I went to Canada with a few people I knew from university, but I didn't know anybody when I arrived in Cape Town. I was actually quite happy to do this trip on my own, because I knew I would meet lots of young people over there. I indeed met lots of people from different countries in Europe and North America. We all slept in one of the four volunteer houses in shared rooms. All the volunteers were doing their job as good as possible and everyone was enthusiastic, also the kids! Next to being 'colleagues', we all became a big group of friends who had lots of fun every day (and night!). Besides it was my first time surfing, which made this trip also unique and special!
If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?
Tom: It is hard for me to come up with something I want to do differently if I could go back. But when I go back (and I am already making time to do so), I would not go during winter, but during spring or summer. Although the organization tried to give surf lessons to the kids as much as possible, the waves were too dangerous for us sometimes. In the summer, the waves won't be that dangerous so the volunteers can spend more time in the sea with the kids. When I was there, we had to improvise other activities for the surf kids, like watching a movie or making pizza. The weather will be way better in summer, so if I visited then, I could go to the beach more often without wearing a sweater. Also, it will rain less in summer, so I could spend every day outside, doing more sportive activities like running or playing soccer.
Tell me about one person you met.
Tom: Again, it is hard for me to come up with one special person I met. All the volunteers are doing such a good job and the kids are amazing. But all of this wouldn't be there if Carla, founder of SAVE, did not start this organization years ago. I think it's amazing how a 21-year-old young lady starts something for backpackers and turns it into a well-known volunteer organization. She is still busy with starting up new projects in Africa, so it's not limited to only South Africa. Besides, there are lots of different projects to choose from. Of course she can't do this all on her own, but for that she has an amazing funny and experienced team next to her to guide the volunteers and run the backpackers.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Tom: This experience has definitely impacted my future. It was a whole new world that opened my eyes. The townships, the poor people, but also the wonderful nature and interesting history South Africa has to offer. I made lots of new international friends and keep them updated through Facebook and Whatsapp. I will try to visit them one day when I plan my world trip somewhere late 2014. I also liked the fact that I did this trip on my own. I’m planning to do more trips on my own and I will definitely visit South Africa as soon as possible. At the moment, I am pretty busy with university but during holidays I will try to save some money to go to South Africa again (and volunteer). I am also looking for an internship in Cape Town, so yes, you could say this trip definitely impacted my (near) future.