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A University Student’s Account of Volunteering with EDGE of AFRICA

  • Jamie-Lee Hassett
  • 22 September 2010

As part of my university degree, I was given a chance to volunteer for six weeks (April to June 2010) in Knysna, South Africa, with an organisation called EDGE of AFRICA. Committed to responsible travel, EDGE of AFRICA provides “volunteer and internship placements in South Africa for gap years, career breaks, university internships, school groups and corporate team building projects.” Their aim is to make a direct positive impact on the local community and environment, while allowing travellers to gain firsthand exposure to the colourful local heritage, culture and traditions.

A group of preschool kids plays with a large branded ball

A group of preschool kids with whom EDGE of AFRICA runs weekly workshops plays with a large branded ball

As volunteers with EDGE of AFRICA, we were given the opportunity to learn about the extraordinary work that takes place on a local level in Knysna and I also believe we have learnt a lot about ourselves. The amazing people we met, including the EDGE of AFRICA staff, inspired me in many ways and I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for what I now recognise as an unforgettable experience.

I enjoyed every single minute of my time on this trip, but six weeks was surely not long enough for me. I have already decided to go back in June 2011 to volunteer again for a year!

Read on to learn more about the exciting community projects where volunteers can lend a hand.

The Sinethemba Street Kids Project

As a volunteer for EDGE of AFRICA, I worked locally for the Sinethemba Street Kids project, a community centre for homeless and disadvantaged kids and youth between the ages of 4 and 25. In the safe and picturesque township of Kayalethu, Knysna, in South Africa, this project aims to give kids another chance in life.

Sinethemba, which translates as “we have hope,” is an outreach program through which volunteers act as mentors to help teach kids through literacy, sports education, art and other important skills. Many of the children come from the streets, broken homes, and other harsh and painful circumstances, but hope is still visible on the face of every child.

Children on an excursion to one of our local beaches

Children of the Sinethemba Youth Centre (street children centre and shelter) on an EDGE of AFRICA excursion to one of our local beaches

Every day, I was in complete awe of these truly amazing young people. They taught us that unconditional love comes in all shapes and sizes and that “hope” is one thing that none of us, young or old, can live without.

MAD About Art

MAD About ART is a charity that exists in the Nekkies township of Knysna, South Africa, to unite children and help fight the spread of HIV and AIDS through art and education. The program delivers arts-based education and narrative therapy, which is designed to increase children’s knowledge of HIV and AIDS as well as reduce risk-taking behaviour by increasing self-esteem and self-advocacy. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce new HIV infections in children and young people.

The moment I stepped in the building I knew I was somewhere special. The children had an overwhelming enthusiasm and incredible kindness. Together with the other volunteers, I worked for three weeks to create a short drama, music and dance performance for the kids to perform at the end of our time together. Each child has had a difficult upbringing, experiencing things on a day-to-day basis that I’ve never even come close to back home. Despite this, they gave the performance everything they had.

Jamie-Lee (centre) with young people in Knysna, South Africa

Jamie-Lee (centre) worked with young people in Knysna, South Africa, to develop their arts and drama skills

Watching them during the final performance at the show, titled “When I grow up I want to be…” was a moment I will never forget. In that moment the children showed me that dreams should never be forgotten. I came home with an inevitable need to return someday soon.

EDGE on Talent 2010

The EDGE on Talent competition was an event that took place in Knysna, South Africa, thanks to the hard work of two other volunteers, Ennis McAvera and Sarah Desjardins, both Events Management students at the University of Chester. The show’s goal was to encourage unity between the residents of two neighbouring townships. They had just two weeks to organise the talent show with no contacts and no budget whatsoever. The task seemed nearly impossible to them, but it soon became one of the most memorable accomplishments of their lives.

Thanks to the extremely kind donations and support from the local business community, their hard work really paid off. The volunteers enlisted the many talented individuals they met at various local schools and youth centres, and showcased singers, dancers, drama acts and poets right in the centre of town.

Local kids, with face paint, prepare to perform in the first EDGE on Talent event

Local kids, with face paint, prepare to perform in the first EDGE on Talent event in Knysna, South Africa

The community was brought to life that day through the creative performances by local kids, who had a fun day out complete with many prizes, activities and giveaways. Knowing that they had organised this amazing day gave Ennis and Sarah an indescribable feeling of pride for the kids. They had left a lasting mark in Knysna. There is now even talk of making the EDGE on Talent an annual event, with planning for 2011 already in the works!

Kadiki Kids Project

Two other volunteers from Chester University, Louise Charmley and Laura Holden, worked side by side on another project known as Kadiki Kids, dividing their time between two local preschools serving children ages 0-7 year old. Before arriving in Knysna, the girls had even raised money back home, which helped to purchase some much-needed educational supplies.

As you can imagine, when the children saw the new toys they had been given – skipping ropes, balls, cars, paints, jigsaws etc. – they were extremely grateful. Over a period of four weeks, Louise and Laura also planned various literacy and math activities. These older kids learned and developed rapidly, which was amazing to witness. Ultimately, the project was a life-changing experience for every volunteer involved, leaving us with wonderful memories from this beautiful place.

Jamie-Lee Hassett is a third-year student at the University of Chester, England, where she studies drama and theatre. The unabridged original version of her article was first published on the EDGE of AFRICA blog.

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Africa, children, fine arts, health, homelessness, human interests, poverty, South Africa, Southern Africa, voluntourism,

2 Responses to “A University Student’s Account of Volunteering with EDGE of AFRICA”

  1. monirul says:

    Hi Tina! Great blog. I’m like you – punster first and then plot gets in there. I see you’re from Boston. My novels are set in and around Boston and the fictitious town of Laski, Mass. Thanks for following on Twitter… will catch up with you there! Cheers!

  2. monirul says:

    As part of my university degree, I was given a chance to volunteer for six weeks (April to June 2010) in Knysna, South Africa, with an organisation called EDGE of AFRICA. Committed to responsible travel, EDGE of AFRICA provides “volunteer and internship placements in South Africa for gap years, career breaks, university internships, school groups and corporate team building projects.” Their aim is to make a direct positive impact on the local community and environment, while allowing travellers to gain firsthand exposure to the colourful local heritage, culture and traditions.

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