Volunteering: Growing Through Making a Difference.

South Africa is a popular destination for young volunteers from around the globe.

Words and images by Andrea Abbot

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From wildlife and nature conservation to food security, healthcare, and social upliftment projects, opportunities abound to get stuck in to make a difference while also experiencing personal growth.  “Many of our interns go home changed,” says Paula Thomson, Executive Manager of Woza Moya, the famous craft project that generates income for Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust (HACT) in KZN.

To gain more insight into the life-changing experience that volunteering can be, I chatted to Annika Sutter of Germany who spent about ten weeks at HACT working mostly for Woza Moya.

What made you volunteer at HACT?

“After completing my bachelor’s degree in International Cultural and Business Studies,  I wanted to go abroad to volunteer and practice my English before returning to do my Master’s degree.  Previously, I’d done an internship at CONTIGO, a German fairtrade company that’s a partner of Woza Moya and sells the Little Travellers. So that’s how I found out about Woza Moya”. (Little Travellers are diminutive beaded characters made by Woza Moya crafters and sold around the world.)

 What are some of your abiding memories of HACT?

One is of the singing and praying every morning before starting work. I found it an amazing and energizing morning ritual which made me feel a strong sense of community.

I was also impressed by the comprehensive concept of Woza Moya with its permanent volunteers, workshop, the variety of crafts, the colours, Paula’s caring attitude and the inspiration she gives to the crafters.

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 What did your role at Woza Moya entail?

One of my tasks was to interview crafters to create a booklet of stories that could tell customers about the women behind all the lovely crafts. I spoke to ladies of different ages, sometimes in English, sometimes a third lady translated from Zulu to English and back to Zulu. I’d always wondered what it was like living in a country where there are so many different official languages! Doing the interviews was on the one hand exhausting and needed huge concentration. On the other hand, it was interesting, challenging, sometimes despairing but at the same time hope-giving.

Could you elaborate on those feelings of despair and hope?

A huge gap between hope and despair accompanied my thoughts and feelings during my stay in South Africa and also after I was back in Germany.  I got to know extremes that were completely new for me coming from privileged surroundings in Germany. Privileged people take too much for granted.

In one of my diary entries I wrote that I would like everybody who’s living in a privileged situation to get to know places like HACT and the communities around it. Often, we don’t realise how lucky we are just because of the place where we were born and the conditions we grew up in.

When I left South Africa, I took a lot of Woza Moya’s crafts with me to sell them and send back the money.  I found though that once you’re far away and back in such different realities it’s difficult to give people an understanding of what’s behind the crafts.  I would love to come back to HACT and Woza Moya one day.

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