Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with SAVE Volunteering in South Africa?
Marijke: It has always been my dream to work with poor children or orphans in Africa. And when I told my eldest daughter Sanne about it, it turned out that she wanted to do so too. Because she is working with disabled people, she wanted to work with them in Africa. We searched on the internet for projects. Eventually we had contact with Kilroy who are working with SAVE.
There was a possible project in Capetown, but the parents of the project had to decide if they wanted to work with volunteers. This took a long time and we had just decided to go to another organisation when we got an email that the project, Elundini, would like to work with volunteers. The reason we booked with SAVE was that it was cheaper than the others and most importantly, a part of the money we paid would go directly to the project.
What's the first thing you tell friends when they ask you about your experience?
Marijke: When friends ask me about my experience, the first thing I share is how wonderful the people in South Africa are. At Elundini project where we volunteered, there is a group of 6 women who are taking care of the children, giving them a lot of love, attention and support. Most of them still have very little children themselves. Yet they work at Elundini 5 days a week from 5 am until sometimes 7.30 pm.
Although they hardly have any money, they are always cheerful and we had great fun together. The same goes for the children. They are very pure. You can make them happy with very small things. Just some attention or a hug will bring a big smile to their little faces. This applies to both the disabled and the non-disabled children.
Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?
Marijke: We were the first volunteers at Elundini. One of the women that is taking care of the children also has to cook their meals. And while she is doing so, the children are on their own. We took over the group and were teaching them English, counting and writing. We also instructed the women in teaching the children. Since we had been raising some money among friends and family, we bought spoons after the first day. The bigger children had to eat very fast because the little ones needed the spoons. By the time they had the spoons, their meals were cold. We also bought baby spoons for the disabled children.
When the non-disabled children were having their meal we would help with the feeding of the disabled ones. This was always my highlight of the day. They are so cute.
My daughter practiced with a child to walk and after three days he could walk a few steps. These small things really make your day!
These are all practical things. I think the most important impact is that the women on the project and the people in the township have a feeling that there are people who really care about them!! When we left, on both sides, there were tears flowing.
Tell me about one person you met.
Marijke: If I have to tell about one person I met, then I must mention two.
First of all Carla, it’s amazing what she’s doing, setting up all the projects in South Africa and recently in Ghana and running SAVE and Saltycrax.
Secondly I want to mention Indy Kawana. In 2008 she founded Elundini Educare for the disabled in Dunoon, a township in Capetown. Spending money of her own and with help from friends, she arranged some shipping containers on an empty piece of land and started Elundini. They told us that there was a time that her own children slept on the ground because their beds where needed at Elundini for the disabled children. At the moment there are about 34 disabled children, ranging from mildly to severely disabled. In the last 3 years, children without disabilities also began to be accepted at Elundini. Thus they are trying to increase the acceptance of disability in the community. Even now they are still depending on sponsors because they don’t get much support from the government.
What would you say to someone who has never volunteered but is considering it?
Marijke: GO FOR IT. It is an awesome experience. All the people we met, from the staff at SAVE and Saltycrax, to the volunteers and the people in the townships (we also did a township tour organized by SAVE) proved wonderful people. It gives you the opportunity of meeting other cultures. We even learned some words in Xhosa. Volunteering really enriches your life. You will get the chance of meeting people from all around the world. And although most of the volunteers are young people, even if you are 55 like I am and you are thinking about it, JUST DO IT. At SAVE I never felt as if I were standing outside the group. The fact that I am going back this year says it all, I think.