ISV: South Africa 05/12/2011—-02/01/2012

In December 2011 I spent what may have been the best month of my life volunteering in a remote village on the Eastern cape of South Africa. I had always wanted to do volunteer work and also travel but would have never thought my experiences would or could have been as great as they were, but through a company called ISV (International Student Volunteers) I was able to experience the best of both worlds. I arrived in a foreign country along with twenty four complete strangers hoping to do some good in this messed up world, in just two weeks we were able to completely refurbish a school, and build a playground for scratch for the children of the local and impoverished Cintsa township. I would be lying if I said that it wasnt hard word, because it was. However, no matter how many times we wanted to cry and give up, when we had completed our task the looks on the local childrens faces quickly rid us of any unpleasent feelings. Working in a third world country does have its limitations, funding is scarce, donations are hard to come by and the enviromental conditions can be unpredicable but that is all part of what makes an ISV trip such an amazing experience. The second two weeks are more about letting your hair down. We spent the following fornight travelling around the various regions of South Africa from Blyde Canyon (the 3rd largest canyon in the world.) to Cape Town and everywhere inbetween, emersing ourselves in the culture and diversity that is South Africa. Along the way we were challenged both physically, mentally and emotionally, experiencing activities such as abseling down the side of Table mountain, seeing wild lions and rhinos on game drives, walking through the oldest and most impoverished black township in Cape town and even do the highest bungy jump in the world! All along the way we were supported by not only great project leaders but also by each other, who just 4 weeks prior had been complete strangers, but were now the best of friends. I dont think I can really ever express how much this journey has done for me, it has tought me humility, and how to be thankful of my situation no matter what I'm faced with. It has taught me that I am stronger and more independent than I let myself believe and that when faced with physically, emotionally or mentally challenging situations I can respond and act in a positve way. I have also made friends that I know I will keep in touch with for life despite how far away they live. Most of all I have learnt what most tourists or travellers spend their whole lives trying to discover, that yes beauty is all around us but the true beauty? Providing someone with something as simple as a wonky looking playground, seeing them shed a tear come up without speaking a word of English and stare right into your eyes and knowing that for just a minute you have made this child's life that little bit more bearable. Despite only being twenty years old I beleieve I have found my true calling in life, this trip has not only changed my opinions of society and myself, but has also changed the focus and direction of my life for the better. I am currently attempting to save enough money in order to return to Chintsa in the summer or if funds permit complete another ISV tour to broaden the horizons of my volunteer work.