OUR Marketing and Communications Volunteer Melissa MacDougall, 19, spent time in South Africa during the summer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) volunteering at a variety of locations, including a cat rehabilitation centre, a crocodile centre and in a local village. Here she writes a diary about her experience:
“South Africa 2015 was the most unforgettable experience; it was filled with so many different emotions every day. I am so grateful for the travel scholarship that Northumbria Business School awarded me with; it meant that I was able to make a huge difference to many individuals in a community in South Africa, while also making a difference to myself.
Days 1 and 2 were very eventful; it all started in Manchester and ended in St Lucia, South Africa. The journey consisted of one train journey, four flights and a bus journey – but it was all worth it! On arrival at our hostel we adventured round and were given an itinerary for the week, we were all excited for what we were going to do in South Africa. My confidence had already vastly improved and I was becoming much more independent.
Days 3 and 4 we were thrown in at the deep end and immediately began our volunteering work. We worked with the local school in St Lucia and also went to an orphanage in Khula Village (Khula translates to continuously growing). We taught the children basic hygiene, basic English, and helped the children with daily activities. The school had 60 children per one teacher, whilst the orphanage had 40 children aged 0-14, with just a few ladies that looked after them. It was overwhelming seeing how the children appreciated all our time, a young girl came and said thank you to us personally and told us how life changing it is to them what we do. Another girl wrote a poem to say thank you. It was a great feeling seeing the positive impact you can have on someone’s life in such a short period of time.
On Day 4 I volunteered at the Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre (below). We helped make the cheetah enclosures bigger and also make enclosures for more animals. We helped merge two of the several enclosures into one, cleaned out all the water ponds, upgraded the fence separating the property and cat project and helped to prepare the food to feed the cats. This was a surreal experience, especially when we got to cuddle the cheetahs, it really was a dream come true!
Day 5 involved helping at the crocodile centre. This was a very eventful day full of adrenaline. It involved, cleaning and clearing enclosures, sawing wood that went to a local community and finally catching an alligator as it had a skin infection on its tail and needed treatment. This day certainly made me braver as a person and made me learn to live for the moment. It was great to see how team spirit and encouragement from other volunteers gave us all courage to catch the alligator.
On Day 6 and 7 we made a huge difference to Khula village and helped make a new house for a family of nine, who were sharing a single roof over a room 3m x 2.5m that included the main household kitchen. This house being made of stone, sticks and rough mortar meant that it would often leak during moderate rain and not withstand the cold temperatures and wind during winter. The new house will consist of four bedrooms and a kitchen, with two separate showers and toilets. The work we did to contribute to making this new house involved digging another two holes for septic tanks, digging holes to fence the property and digging a compost pit and making cement for the builders. The children would try and play with us while we were doing this and it was extremely touching seeing how excited they were to live in this new house. These two days showed me that with a positive team and great organisation skills a vast amount of work can be achieved in a short space of time. This is something I will definitely be remembering for when I begin my career.
Helping this community and seeing how happy everyone was with the work we were doing was an amazing feeling! Learning a new culture, helping others and allowing me to see things from a new perspective has definitely made it the best two weeks of my life! I am so grateful Northumbria Business School allowed me to do this with the scholarship I was awarded. My team work skills, my confidence, my communication skills have all became considerably better. I am also now a much more open-minded person. All of this will help me no end in my career.”