Rebecca Kenigsberg - 2010 Program Participant

Volunteer in South Africa hugging a local boy

Making the “ouch” go away! All kids need is a little help after hurting their hands.

Your academic background is in theater, what prompted you to apply for an international program in child care?

I think the two interests have always gone hand in hand. I have always had a strong passion for discovering new cultures, people, and places. When I was eight years old I saw my first Broadway play, The Lion King. From that moment on I knew I was going to do theater, but also had a passion to learn more about other cultures. My favorite parts of the musical were the new African songs and all of the bright African-inspired textiles. I always loved working with children, so it just kind of matched up perfectly to travel, immerse myself in a new culture, and of course give back to a community and future generations.

What made you select South Africa for your volunteer experience?

Honestly, part of it I think does have to do with my love for The Lion King as mentioned earlier. It sparked an interest in me to learn more about the whole continent. In particular, South Africa always stood out from its awful history of apartheid. The country has grown so much, and yet there is still de facto racism and poverty. The idea that a country can have first world development across the street from tin shacks is unfathomable to me.

What made GVI’s volunteer program stand out when comparing the many options in South Africa?

The commitment to the project partners makes GVI stand out. GVI makes partnerships with local communities and schools and put their needs first. Every decision GVI makes is to impact the people we work with in a positive way.

Volunteer playing with a child in South Africa

Caught! The kids love being able to play with teachers and catch up with them!

What was a typical day volunteering with children in South Africa like? What kinds of activities did you do?

A typical day begins with circle time, which includes songs and dances to help the kids work on both physical movement, English skills, speaking skills, and of course to help them get their energy out! We always include reading and educational activities. Since we work with kids seven and younger, we typically work on activities to enhance their fine motor activities, such as coloring, cutting, gluing, and we work on shapes, colors, and letters. The afternoons were generally filled with free play or going to the park.

Tell us about the projects you created while volunteering in South Africa with GVI.

I did quite a few projects throughout my time. My most favorite projects I created come from my theater background; we would put on little plays. The kids would read a story, then we would assign the parts for them to act out the story. We also made costumes and props. This was great for them to learn vocabulary, pronunciation, physical movement, and break them out of their shells. So many children were so shy, but once they had a part to work on, they completely became a new person. It was beautiful to watch.

What was your favorite activity outside your regular daily volunteer duties?

Any time we had a volunteer come in with something in particular they wanted to bring was great. We had tons of artists come through and come up with really cool activities for the kids.

Child playing with spaghetti noodles

Creative ways to learn letters! The kids used spaghetti and colors to make shapes and letters.

What was the highlight of your experience with GVI in South Africa?

In 2010 I visited the township of Langa. I saw a community arts center that was filled with music, dance, ceramics, painting, jewelry, and theater. It was created solely from donations. It was that moment when I realized I could bring together my love for the arts, children, and international travel. The kids were so happy and motivated. According to the tour guide, since the center, the crime rate in the township has dropped!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in volunteering in South Africa?

I am a vegetarian, so some of the locals didn’t understand that and would try to serve me meat! 

How did the GVI staff support you throughout your program?

I never once felt alone or unheard. The GVI staff is there to greet you, walk you through the program and projects, and answer any questions you might have. I didn’t feel lost in a foreign country.

What advice would you give to others interested in the South Africa Childcare program?

Go in with an open mind. Be flexible and take every experience you have in. Also, make friends with some locals!

Volunteers and local children stretching in South Africa

Stretch! We work on physical activities to help keep active!

What makes Cape Town such an incredible place to volunteer abroad?

Cape Town is not only one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it is rich in culture and history. There are so many people from all different backgrounds living there. That being said, there is a big divide on access to education.

Everything you put in makes a huge difference.

You now work as a field coordinator for GVI, how would you say your experience volunteering abroad has impacted your career? Your life overall?

I definitely have learned to be open. I can easily step outside of my comfort zones to try something new and adapt to new cultures or people. I have worked in three countries with GVI and will be heading to my fourth this July. I feel fulfilled; not many people travel and immerse themselves in the country outside of the tourist zone.

What skills from your experience in South Africa do you use in your role today?

My ability to think on my feet, take every bump in the road and adapt, empathy, and creativity.