Veronika Brachmaier - 2015 Program Participant

Hiking near the peak of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Hiking Table Mountain

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I always felt a passion to volunteer somewhere and wanted to do so with an organisation that worked with a local team.

Why did you choose International Volunteer HQ?

IVHQ was the cheapest volunteer program, and after researching it I found that they had very good reviews. I also liked that they worked with a local team and they offered an abundance of programs in many, many different countries, and were very helpful in the process of application.

What was your favorite part about the location of your program?

It was right by the oceans and located in a town that had everything you needed: a local supermarket, cafes, and restaurants, places to go out and party, places to book activities, and a train station. It was easy to go into Cape Town, but it was nice that we were in a smaller town so we could walk pretty much anywhere.

Also, South Africa in general offers absolutely amazing things to do, like skydiving, surfing, bungee jumping , diving with sharks, or getting super close to cheetahs, lions, elephants, and many other animals on safari. The markets are amazing and all of the people are just so friendly. There is simply never a dull moment in Cape Town!

Volunteer with a cheetah cub in South Africa

Cape to Addo Safari, petting cheetah cubs

What made your program experience unique?

The childcare program enabled me to be part of a local team of teachers in a township who do their best to take care of a very large amount of kids who all come from poverty-stricken families. Roughly one in six people in South Africa has AIDS, and being able to work with children who made do with so little was a very rewarding, yet challenging, experience.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They covered all of the basics in orientation on our first day (introducing the program, telling us about our placements, the area, safety concerns, daily routines, and so on), and were always there whenever we needed them. For example, on our second or third day, we didn't know our way to the train station, so the local program manager picked my housemates and me up and showed us the way, which was really nice.

Whenever there was a problem, someone was ill, or we needed something fixed in the house, they were quick to come around and offer a solution, as well as checking up on us and how we were finding our placement. Our local staff was always available as well; they never failed to pick up the phone when we called them, no matter what the issue!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

Planned it so I could have stayed longer, you will never want to leave!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

We got up around 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., made ourselves breakfast (which is provided at the volunteer house, you can make yourself toast, cereal, eggs, or fruit), and were picked up just after 8 a.m. most days, by our van driver who took us to our placement in the nearby township.

Since I did the childcare program, I was dropped off at my daycare and helped the teachers in my class out with daily tasks, such as feeding the kids, changing nappies, potty training them, and soothing kids when they needed a hug. We sang songs, taught the kids how to count, what shapes and colours are, and sometimes we would draw or go and play on the playground.

Normally, the children go down for their nap at about 12:30 p.m., which is when the driver would come and collect the volunteers; but most days, I stayed behind to spend more time with the kids and got picked up later.

Back at the volunteer house, lunch was usually waiting for us and we sometimes went to do activities, like going to a market, exploring Cape Town, or going to the beach to surf, and sometimes we just hung out at a cafe and got wifi. Dinner was usually dropped off by 5:30 p.m. and we had dinner together at the house, then hung out and chatted, met up with other volunteers at the local bar, or had movie nights.

A volunteer in South Africa with two children

A couple of the kiddies in my class

What are some of the things you enjoyed doing on your free time?

South Africa has tons of activities and amazing experiences to offer! My favourites were hiking (from Muizenberg Mountain in our town to Table Mountain and Devil's Peak), as it pushed me to my limits and was a great bonding experience with my fellow volunteers, and also the Cape to Addo Safari Tour that we did. When else am I going to have the opportunity to walk with lions and pet cheetah cubs?

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I was in a volunteer house with three to eight other people. It was quite a big house with three bedrooms. I shared my bedroom with three other girls and the whole house shared a bathroom. Our landlord lived upstairs and came down whenever we had a problem or something needed fixing.

I loved that I was living with other volunteers from different places and we would cook and eat together, build forts from our bunk beds and have movie nights, share all of our experiences and hardships, and just enjoy the amazing time we had together.

It was amazing how close we got in such a short amount of time! I made great friends in my accommodation! Staying in a house also gives you independence, and for me, as a 19-year-old, it helped me to learn about washing my dishes, keeping my space tidy, and sharing a room with a lot of other people.

Now that you're home, how would you say volunteering abroad in South Africa has impacted your life? 

It has impacted me in so many ways! My general outlook on life and what is important has completely shifted! I knew it was going to change me, but I didn't realise just how much. It is such an emotionally overwhelming experience to see how different my children's reality was to mine and how much was determined by where you grew up.

I am definitely a lot more aware and more thankful of the little things that I used to take for granted each day.

Volunteer playing with children in South Africa

With children in my class

Simply being safe on the streets after dark, having electricity and warm water, and being able to continue my education here without worrying about money is something that I appreciate a lot more now. It also gave me a lot more perspective, and I value my family and friends and the support I get a lot more. Materialistic things have just completely lost their appeal. It sounds like such a cliche, but after volunteering I really feel like I focus more on what's really important in life.