What difference can one person make? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Our family decided to spend the summer holidays volunteering in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Eswatini has the dubious title of having the highest HIV rates in the world. We would be working in Neighbourhood Care Points set up by All Out Africa to support preschool children, many of whom had been orphaned through HIV.
It was a month that none of us will ever forget. I supported the inspirational teacher Gugu to run a pre-school with 52 children, whilst Kris and our two kids (aged 10 and 12) would be working on the building programme – ensuring that all the care points were well maintained and had the appropriate learning spaces and facilities.
Disaster struck in my first few days at the school when one of our orphaned students had an awful accident at home as a result of neglect. Thanks to the swift actions of neighbors and our teacher, she received medical attention and was subsequently moved to an orphanage where she would receive the love and care she so desperately needed. I have to admit to shedding a few tears for that beautiful little girl as she was driven off to a new life.
Arriving at the school every day was an event in itself as children flung themselves at me shouting “Teacher, Teacher.” Working with Gugu was a joy. She has a permanent smile on her face and an indefatigable dedication to each and every child. We learned from one another and between us were able to give the children the one to one attention they craved. Seeing the joy on little faces as we taught them the alphabet or how to add up was beyond rewarding.
Kris and the kids’ first building project was at our school and I glowed with pride as my twelve-year-old son threw himself into hand mixing concrete alongside his Dad and fellow volunteers – who rapidly named themselves the ‘Concrete Crew’. It wasn’t long before the crew had made an entirely new learning and play space for the children.
Not to be outdone by her older brother our ten-year-old daughter got stuck into repainting the whole school, distracted only occasionally by her new band of little admirers. I was relieved not to witness her teetering on Kris’s shoulders whilst painting the ceiling! Finishing off their time at our school by fixing a tire swing to the tree – much to the children’s delight – they moved on to their next project.
After my final day of teaching we went to visit the little girl at the orphanage. Seeing her megawatt smile and meeting her new Mum, brothers and sisters was an experience my daughter and I will never forget. It was clear to see that she was surrounded by love and was back on track to a better future.
So can one volunteer make a difference in such a short time? Definitely. Whether it’s leaving a physical structure or teaching a child their numbers, every bit counts.
Kris will be running the Amsterdam marathon in October 2018 to raise money for a new Neighbourhood Care Point. You can sponsor him here:
If you would like to set up a family volunteering holiday contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find a program perfect for your family!