With the support of the funding from the Bramshott Educational Trust, I went on a short term mission trip to South Africa with the Christian charity Tearfund. It was an amazing experience and I learnt so much from it, and will definitely be able to use a lot of my experiences to the Politics and International Relations degree that I am starting in September at the University of East Anglia.
During my trip I was volunteering for the charity Ethembeni who work in Mpophomeni, a township near Howick and the surrounding area. They help educate the community and support people who have HIV, AIDS and TB. They also help to build skills in the community and help to increase the quality of children’s education.
During my time in Mpophomeni, in the morning we would go into the community and carry out home visits to the patients of Ethembeni, many of whom were very weak. We provided practical support at home, cleaning and washing dishes; it was amazing to see the difference that the charity was making on these people’s lives through giving them practical support, love and hope.
There was a man we visited both weeks I was there and I saw a marked improvement on how he approached life - his movement was better and looked less tired, and from what the other volunteers said the fact that he was standing and walking shows a major improvement. It was amazing to see first-hand the difference that Ethembeni workers are making through their practical support and love. One of the other things we would do in the mornings was to get involved with the craft groups. The patients of Ethembeni are invited to join a craft group to learn a skill and generate some income by selling items of jewellery they make. It was incredible to see the power of equipping someone with a skill so that they can make money.
In the afternoons we would help out in Ethembeni’s Education Support program. This is an afterschool program that provides homework help, classwork help, as well as core lessons in English and Maths. What became very apparent to me whilst working with the Education Support team was the lack of a good level of education that the children got from the state schools. It was striking to see how in many cases the children were set up to fail from the word go; for example being forced to take exams in English from year 4 onwards, when English is often their third language. This saddened me greatly, especially knowing that it was government policy; and therefore showed me how important good legislation and a government policy is to a country – something that I did not appreciate as much whilst living in the UK.
In South Africa, I was immersed in Zulu culture, which was a completely different experience. I learnt so much, including how wasteful we are in the west. For example, in my accommodation where I was living in Mpophomeni, we had no running water in the daytime. This just made me appreciate so much more hot baths and going to the toilet. Also I have come to realise in such a consumer society, such as the UK, how wasteful I can be and just how much ‘stuff’ I can collect. This experience has really spurred me onto live a lot lighter, and be a lot less materialistic.
Lastly, being in South Africa I saw the divisive and long term effects of Apartheid first hand. Witnessing the long-term consequences of such a toxic regime made me realise even more the importance of a good government. It was fascinating to see the political consequences of Apartheid for South Africa, and how their tribal history still shapes their government today; and it has given me a real thirst to find out more about the politics of South Africa.
I would like to thank the Bramshott Educational Trust for their donation that has helped give me the amazing experience!