My first steps for ICVolunteers in South Africa

Stéphanie with the team of the Volunteer Centre (centre, kneeling)
Stéphanie with the team of the Volunteer Centre (centre, kneeling)
Traducción al español Miguel Ortiz
16 May 2006

From time to time, I had volunteered for projects, but had never thought I would be given one day the opportunity to volunteer in South Africa. In March, I found myself on a plane to Cape Town. I wanted to improve my English, had been able to leave my job for several of months and was interested in doing volunteer work and getting involved in ICV's activities.

I arrived a bit more than a month ago and the first thing I saw of South Africa and Cape Town was the impressive Table Mountain. Regardless of where you are in Cape Town, you can see it, sometimes surrounded by some thick fog that makes it look enigmatic.

The Volunteer Centre is a partner of ICV and represents the organization in South Africa since 2002. It recruits volunteers for social projects in the townships.

I am here to strengthen the partnership between ICV and the Centre by developing our network, building new projects and participating in the activities of the Volunteer Centre.

I just arrived in time to get involved in a sports event coordinated by the Volunteer Centre, leaving little time to rest. Indeed, I was appointed the official photographer and started helping the coordination team.

The Centre also needs to optimize its computer tools and my skills in information management are helpful, especially for the creation of a new database including both all the volunteers and the organizations the Centre is working with.

I am going to create office and online research courses for a new training program. I have been pretty busy since I arrived with all this plus my English lessons!

I am living in a middleclass neighborhood where most of the people are of African or Malaysian descent. Religion is very important there and I am fascinated by the peaceful relationship between Christians and Muslims.

South Africa is really a "Rainbow Nation", as Mandela said. When I arrived, I was quite surprised to see a diverse population living in relatively good conditions demonstrating neither animosity nor inhibition even though apartheid was officially abolished only 12 years ago. Nevertheless, though things are starting to change, the majority of people of European descent are living in well-off neighborhoods and people of African descent in underprivileged areas.

I think I am starting to find my place. I remember my first two weeks when it was hard for me to understand what people were saying, because of the South African accent mingled with Afrikaans.

I did not feel a strong cultural difference because the way of life is pretty similar to the European one. Nonetheless, you may see differences mostly at the outskirts of town: illegal constructions built with all sorts of materials, where people have neither running water nor electricity. Generally, townships are mixed places, with wealthy, middleclass and poor areas.

People cannot leave their houses very easily after 7 pm, because of gunfights between gangs. Here, violence is omnipresent - every week, there is at least one hold-up in a bank. Cape Town remains a relatively safe town and I have never felt in danger so far.

These are some of my impressions as a volunteer in South Africa, a very enriching experience.

Stéphanie Veillet

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