Our Cape Town Team has recently introduced a new addition to our Gender Equality Volunteer Programme, which all of our newest volunteers will be able to enjoy, learn from and be a part of in a weekly basis when joining us! Our World Volunteering Cape Town Destination Manager Pablo has just paid a visit to it in order to experience it from himself and is eager to share with you what he learnt and found out.
¨Surprised, amazed, blown away, absolutely in love, tearful, shocked, troubled, inspired, confused, extremely joyful, laughter! I believe that can sum up all that happened to me during 3 hours of last Tuesday´s morning when visiting with a group of volunteers our newest and so called ¨Quirky 30¨ Gender Equality Volunteer Program in Cape Town.
As a Destination Manager for World Volunteering part of my role involves being in touch with people eager to join us as a volunteer in the projects we offer worldwide, guide them through the process, clear out their doubts, provide support and work together in finding the best project for them to join in and use their unique set of skills, interests and goals in the best way possible. Therefore, whenever I can, I try to leave our head office for a while and join our projects so to get to know first hand what´s going on there, learn from the progress we are making, meet volunteers and see them in action while getting their valuable feedback and at the same time enjoy doing something I love!
World Volunteering runs several Gender Equality Projects worldwide that aim to empower women so that they can achieve their potential and support their families, communities and countries. Our Girl Impact Programme in Cape Town, South Africa focuses in empowering and educating young people, boys and girls in and around Cape Town from underprivileged communities. Through these projects we cover different and challenging issues that our youth faces daily such as self confidence, safety, education, health, income generating and early pregnancy. We strongly believe that the only way of working towards gender equality is to include boys and young men in our groups as part of the program!
For the last couple of weeks I´ve been hearing extraordinary things from past volunteers and staff members about this new group we are working with. So without any doubts I needed to join and get to know our newest addition. This project is based in the Langa Township and we work with a group of young men and women studying computer programming. On the way to the project I´ve heard from the Cape Town Volunteers about the planning they had developed for the day, the topics we were to cover, the ice breaking activities and I could already see them really excited about what was about to happen. Our volunteers had designed during their Friday planning sessions a bunch of fun activities to cover topics such as team work, time management, money management and health issues. They had been incredibly creative in organizing games or ice breaking activities that would seem just for fun but would then reveal amazing concepts and ideas to discuss, giving a lot of time for debate, discussion and sharing personal situations. And they were spot on on how to approach these topics, and even better, our group of youngsters was incredibly responsive to everything.
I´m not going to take you through the details of those three hours, but I will share with you why if I was so inspired by this particular project, why did all of those feelings I´ve mentioned on the first line arose. And that has to do mainly with two things that I believe this project accomplishes and where it succeeds in an extraordinary way.
First of all it creates and provides a huge SAFE SPACE for this group of youngsters to express themselves, talk about their daily worries, troubles, dreams, anything they really want to! It brings them closer together. It transformed a bunch of strangers that didn´t talk to each other into a huge support group that allowed them to connect, share, help and challenge themselves together. I can´t express enough how big this accomplishment is! And this is not because we are just working in underprivileged communities. Just think about it for yourselves and your own lives. How often can you openly express without any fear, embarrassment or hesitance, what troubles you, what problems you face and look out for help openly? It certainly is not easy for me and I´m sure it can be easy for a lot of you either.
To me, being able to observe, and listen to this group talk about these issues openly and also about what this project, this space we´ve all created together meant to them and how it was changing their lives and daily routine was absolutely remarkable, and definitely something to learn from. I was overwhelmed listening to them talk about how it broke prejudices they had towards each other for meaningless reasons such as belonging to different communities, appearances, etc. They kept expressing how happy they woke up every Tuesday morning since the knew they were going to start the day with this group and its activities, discussions, debates and support. And they were really committed to the tasks involved and kept adding different and extremely interesting and challenging topics they wanted to talk about in the next sessions such as relationships and ethics. And when you think that this is just starting you can see there is so much potential and room to grow!
And there´s a second reason which is more personal to me. It´s quite common when you go to volunteer somewhere or when you are looking to give back and help a community such as in this case, that you try to go prepared, think of the topics to talk about, how to approach it, what to say, what “”wisdom to impart”” and share from your experience. You believe that there´s something that you have and can do in order to help. But this is really not how it works… I mean you should try to prepare yourself and plan some activities, etc. but it´s definitely not a one way street where someone comes and brings their knowledge, teaches something and finishes… And after volunteering for over 10 years I already know this is the case, I believe I´ve learnt it already, but this time, this experience gave me a good reminder of that. It´s always good remembering why you do what you are doing (whatever it is), and coming down to Earth so not to lose yourself in the daily routine. And why do I bring this now? Well, because definitely in this amazing project that World Volunteering has put together with our partners, I wasn´t a volunteer at all, and I certainly wasn´t a staff member. I was part of that group of youngsters (not sure if I can call myself a youngster at the age of 31 but I´ll give it a try) looking to find answers to daily issues that affect us all, looking for support, looking for an extra ear or set of eyes that could maybe point us in the right direction or give us another idea or perspective on things. I´m certainly no expert in themes like money budgeting, time management, team work, or being conscious about health issues. I´m no expert in being able to open up and express myself for sure. I believe I have more questions than answers in all of those subjects. More problems than solutions. And through this project I really felt challenged or without the necessary tools I wished to have had so to provide those answers. But that´s what I´ve learnt once again, what I take from it. I certainly became one more of those Quirky 30 struggling to open up without any shame and share my daily troubles, questions, worries and dreams. And as the rest of us in the group, when I managed to open up, I was listened, respected, supported and never judged. This became my safe space too, and for that, this group will hold a special place in my heart which I won't forget. I´m now only faced with the issue of explaining to my manager in Head Office that on Tuesday´s morning I can´t come to work since there's somewhere else I need to be!"
So if like our Destination Manager you are already in love with one of our volunteering programmes, or are keen to have your own personal experience find out more, join us in our Girl Impact Program in Cape Town!