Ben Porter – Belmont, Massachusetts, USA
“South Africa is amazing! The country is stunning, but what I found more extraordinary is the people. Prior to coming to South Africa all I kept on hearing was how dangerous South Africa is, but when I arrived I found it quite the opposite. Practically everybody that I’ve met so far has been friendly and welcoming. The people in Masiphumelele, the township that we volunteer in, have been open to our presence. Whenever the kids see us, a smile instantly appears on their faces. Seeing that we’re making a difference is a very rewarding experience. The residents of Masiphumelele are very friendly. We’ve got to know some of them, and we walk around the township freely with no worries. South Africa is truly a great country and I would recommend that everyone visit it at some point.”
Sammy Lee - Southend on Sea, England, UK
“South Africa has been so much more than I ever thought it could be. Volunteering in the school, although challenging has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The kids are so open hearted and never fail to put a smile on your face. In addition the variety of things we have seen and done has been amazing, from swimming with seals, visiting Robben Island, to hiking up table mountain with its incredible views. I don’t want my time here in Cape Town to come to an end but I also can’t wait to explore more of this country, backpacking after the project.”
Jack Washington - Arlington, Virginia, USA
“At the end of my three months in South Africa I can say that this has been a truly enlightening experience. I have met loads of good people, learned a lot of good things, and have explored a truly amazing country. Everything is open here for a person with an open mind to explore. I have visited different churches, surfed with a South African champion, learned how to ‘skurf’, learned a new language (sort of), stayed the weekend in a brilliant old school house that looked like it was in the heart of Canada and not South Africa, played for a club rugby team, learned how to ride a motorcycle, swam with seals, climbed a mountain, jumped out of a plane, renovated a house and sang karaoke amongst many other things. I can say that I will return to America with a stronger mind, many new friends, and enough stories to keep my family and friends listening for a long long time.”
Caine Morfett Stanton - The New Forest, England, UK
“WOW! WOW! WOW! What an experience! South Africa is an incredible country – one that is bruised and broken heavily from its not so distant history, but still relentless in its recovery and nation building.
Having spent 3 months as a volunteer with ‘GYSA’, I can safely say this is one of the most worthwhile and impacting experiences to date in my life. There is never a dull day! I loved it so much that I extended my stay for longer; with much reward! GYSA offers not only valuable support during your stay, and volunteering activities, but, being a smaller and intimately-focused program, this allows for a more personal and enriching experience. Working very closely with project leaders, and co-volunteers, I have made friends and companions for life, and foreseeing future prospects in continuing with the work that GYSA are undertaking.
The kids at the school are in desperate need of good education and being able to actually, first-hand, make a difference in their lives (even if it’s only one child that I can help), is much more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. Coming on this program, has not only given me an unforgettable and first class experience of this native land, but has given me the opportunity to experience real people simply living their lives, and struggle as they may, they will push on forward. I tell you this is not an opportunity to be missed! – Not only to experience but to live!”
Sam Skowronek – Connecticut, USA
“I could explain how I helped the children in the township learn, among other things, to read and write and play basketball and soccer. Or I could delve into my many excursions in South Africa including hiking up Table Mountain and Cape Point, going on a safari in Kruger National Park, going to Robben Island, seal diving, sky diving, great white shark diving, cheering at rugby matches, drinking in the wine lands, attending concerts at the botanical gardens, or visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach. I could further still explain the many relationships I’ve made with the other volunteers, the children and teachers in the township, the local South Africans, or the director, William Davis, who’s dedication and heart make GYSA a pleasure to be a part of. But everything I did does not match how my perspective changed. I can see now that in the USA I was living in my own little bubble. Living in a completely different culture and experiencing a vibrant and renewed country was, by far, the most rewarding and powerful aspect of my gap year experience. The Rainbow Nation, in its amazing diversity, has giving me a unique insight into the depth and variety of human culture and ideas and I will take my new worldly view with me for the rest of my life.”
Pablo Doster Ropero – Madrid, Spain
“SOUTH AFRICA WAS EXTRAORDINARY!!!!!! Sorry I had to yell it out because my six weeks (which I wish was three months) was, as cliché as it sounds, life changing in every possible aspect. Before arriving in South Africa I thought there was going to
be a lot of racial tension because of the countries burdensome past, but this was not the case. Instead all I felt was a sense of unity which in a matter of days I was a part of. This South African hospitality can be found in everything they do which makes the immersion into the culture and society so much more fun and easier.
The kids at the Ukhanyo School were funny, cheerful, crazy, creative, loving, and oh….ALWAYS SMILING NO MATTER WHAT!!!! I feel that as the kids learned from me I learned from them about their culture, language, their own personal lives, and all the hardships they have to go through every day. Just being able to give them another role model in their life gives me great happiness. I just hope my work has allowed for future GYSA’ers (volunteers) to continue making a positive impact on the lives of the kids. It was a very humbling experience which has allowed me to realize how lucky I am for everything I have, even the most basic necessities which many don’t even have access to.
Cape Town has just been…UNFORGETTABLE. So many moments have made this trip astonishing from the surfing to the climbing of Table Mountain to seeing cheetahs to the water sports in beautiful Riversdale Lake to the breathtaking views from Cape Point. That’s just it! I can’t see myself not coming back to South Africa. South Africa is now part of my identity it’s a piece of my life puzzle! The only thing I regret is not signing up for three months!!!!”
Rosie Blackadder – Northampton, England, UK
“How was South Africa?” – A phrase I have been asked enthusiastically many times since I arrived back in England less than a fortnight ago. “Amazing” I reply, “Fantastic”, “Over-whelming”, “Character building”, “Beautiful”, “Mind blowing”, “An adventure” – I could continue. The fact is, no matter what I reply, the answer only truly means something to me, myself and I. Fish Hoek, Masiphumelele, Kommetjie, Claremont – all of these places, that not 4 months ago would have been alien to me, are now familiar and home-like. That is the surreal beauty of travelling alone to a foreign country and placing your heart there for a period of time. It is completely different from popping to a country for a week and having a holiday; when you immerse yourself in a community and truly feel that you are helping through the work that you do, your surroundings become so much more meaningful and special.
To try and encapsulate my time is almost impossible, but what I can say is that I was completely culturally immersed. After a while, I really did start to feel like a local, doing as locals do and thinking as locals think. To go and casually surf was the norm, however now back at home I start to realise how weirdly wonderful that was. Aside from my personal gain, I feel that the children in Ukhanyo Primary school really did learn, not only from me but from all the volunteers involved. For a child to realise their
potential and discover a new talent is an incredible thing; for the child and for the person doing it!
I think that I may be harping on, but I am quite enjoying writing this! In my opinion, it’s very important to take some time out of your culture and community. Volunteering is a great way of keeping the balance between learning yourself and teaching others too. For me, I hope that I taught the children that they can achieve, and that happiness and creativity should be available to all. The children in return taught me that acceptance is essential in life, along with independence, optimism and selflessness.
All in all, South Africa was, and is, all of the adjectives I use when I reply to that question. However, it’s the experiences that I relate to them that make them so unique – whether it’s face-painting, climbing table mountain or trying sushi for the first time. That is why you should take the leap; though scary, it really will teach you things about yourself, things about South Africa (politically, geographically, culturally, and historically) and give you a chance to help out in a community that is sadly underprivileged and very different to your own.
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