The Ultimate Guide to Volunteering with Children
Cape Town, South Africa
Africa is my soul continent. South Africa more specifically. You know – somewhere you belong, that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and you would probably fake a marriage to be able to live there. After a family trip to Kenya, I decided to go and volunteer in South Africa with Children so I could ‘give something back’ to the country that I loved so much. After volunteering for 14 months, I learnt the idea of volunteering is very different to the reality! So here’s my ultimate guide to volunteering with Children.
- Pick your destination wisely.
This is a place you’re going to be living not just volunteering! Pick a Country that you can imagine living and want to explore. After all, volunteers do have days off! If you aren’t sure where you want to go, speak to people, watch you-tube videos, read blogs on others experiences.
2. Pick a job linked to your interests
Volunteering is a job, you just don’t get paid. If you aren’t interested in what you do, you probably won’t be very good! You can most likely get a volunteer job in any kind of job in the world. I worked with children as I wanted a career working with children and thought it would teach me the basic tools for my future career. Pick an organisation to go with, that will ensure you are safe and getting to do the jobs that you signed up for too!
3. Children have emotions.
Children have emotions. I know, shock horror. They can have bad days. They can have bad weeks. You’re there and at times, they probably will take it out on you. Children within a children’s home have experienced some awful times, if it’s loosing their parents or having suffered abuse. It’s during these times, that you need to remember this. They may test you – test to see if you’ll stick around when the times get tough, test you to see how mad you get. Be patient, Be caring, Be loving but also remember you’re their authoritative figure, and don’t let them walk all over you. Remember during these times, that eventually there frowns will turn upside down and they are the times that volunteering is absolutely wonderful.
4. Play with them!
Yes, We’re there to make sure they did their homework, make sure they ate their meal, cleaned their teeth and washed their face. However, remember they are children and children like to have fun too! I used to remind myself of my childhood during dull days, what my parents would do with me, they might have never had that experience so make new experiences with them – play games and rent movies! You’re there to make a difference and if that means making them smile for the day, then it’ll all be worth it in the end.
5. Don’t have favourites
Don’t be that person that makes it clear who their favourites are. There is nothing worst as a child seeing that you aren’t someones favourite. Be mutual, don’t take sides and love them all equally. (Even if you do have a secret fave – you are human after all)
6. Explore with them
You might get the opportunity to go exploring outside the home with them and if you do take it!! There is nothing better than seeing them light up when getting to go on an adventure!
7. Don’t have expectations
Don’t have expectations of what it’s going to be like. Before going, I expected that all the children would love me and that on my arrival they would all come running up, hug me and thrilled at the thought of the scottish girl coming to live with them. It couldn’t have been further from the reality. They weren’t particularly interested, they saw so many volunteers come and go that I was nothing new and I really had to work for their love and trust. This isn’t to say that all projects are like this but as I say, don’t have expectations and you wont be disappointed.
8. Enjoy your days off
I remember when I first moved there, People at home where shocked to see me going out and enjoying myself (e.g. having a booze). I was so annoyed! I am a young person, giving up my time to do something dear to my heart but I deserve days off. Living and working with children can be pretty intense, you need some down time and if that’s going exploring or just a piss up down the local – you deserve it. This is you’re life and you spend your time how you would like. Just make sure the children don’t see or smell alcohol from you as this may frighten them or remind them of bad times.
9. Enjoy the volunteer life.
Volunteer life may not always be peaches and roses. You may be skint, a bit tired and wanting a decent meal. But before you know it, it’ll be over. I remember on my way home, I couldn’t wait to have my own bed and my own space. Yet after a couple of days, I was sobbing – I missed being around people all the time and having stupid conversations killing time. The other volunteers may be you’re friend forever or just something passing through your life. Either way – these people will make a difference to your life and enjoy it while you’re there. Language barriers can also be a bit of a nuisance too, but I learnt that people really love it, if you make an effort to learn their language.
P.s My first room mate is now my maid of honour!
10. Have open ears with an understanding heart
The children you may be caring for, may have experienced some pretty horrendous ordeals. Their stories can be tragic and their behaviour at times may be odd. To make things worst, the children may prefer to be at home. They may run away or talk about wanting to be at home. The most important thing about being a volunteer is being there. Being there to listen or being there to make them forget. They may not tell you their story. They may want to tell you all their story. Either way, you need to have open ears and a very understanding heart. Judgement can not exist as a volunteer. You cannot judge their behaviour but guide them to do whats right. You cannot judge their home situation as you don’t know the full story. The children’s home where I went – made a point to not tell you each child’s story to ensure you didn’t treat them differently. If a child trusts you enough to tell you their past, you better ensure you listen.
11. Expect all the feelings in the world.
During my 14 months, I probably experienced every feeling in the world. If it was happiness or sadness, anger or delight, homesick or not wanting to go home. You name it, I can probably tell you a time, I felt it. That is okay. We’re not robots and its okay to have lows and highs when you’re having a trip of the lifetime. As long as you remember that. That it’s a trip of a lifetime. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to take time out and volunteer. With every bad day, there will be ten good.
For me, Volunteering was a gift. Volunteering shaped me in to the person I am today. I was in a little bubble after High School and I think I probably could have continued that sweet life pretty easily. Volunteering challenged me, made me think differently about life and for that, I could not be more grateful.
Destination – Cape Town, South Africa
Organisation – Project Trust
If you would like more information on volunteering, please feel free to message me and I can give more information on how to go about it!
Instagram : @wandering_inwanderland
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
*I have chosen pictures for this post by hiding the identity of any children from the children’s home – This is for a number of reasons. Any picture with a child’s face revealed will be from a township project I undertook where parents or relatives were around and happy for pictures to be taken*