I’ve had an amazing time in the past two months as one half of Tenteleni’s in-country Pienaar project team. Read on for 5 of my favourite things about my job.
1. The People
Definitely my favourite thing about being a project coordinator has to be the people we’ve met out here. I’ve honestly never felt so welcomed by a community: from the tribal chief of Daantjie inviting us to dinner at his house, to the petrol station attendant in Lekazi straight up asking us to be his friend, everyone has been lovely to us and made us want to stay here. And OK, sometimes the welcome has been more along the lines of ‘Hey, no fair Netto, you’re always walking round with these white girls, let me have one of them’ – but even marriage proposals, while unwanted, aren’t unfriendly! I love that Tenteleni has such a good reputation within Mpumalanga, and I think that’s part of the reason we’ve received such an overwhelmingly good reception: everybody believes in what we are doing here, and wants to help us continue to do it.
2. The Purpose
Naturally the main reason anybody takes a volunteering job with a charity is because they want to make an impact; a positive difference. I genuinely believe in what Tenteleni stands for – supporting the development of young people in the UK and Africa – and I’ve seen what the project can do, and has done, for the schools we have worked with. We visited Tenteleni primary school, the place where it all started, last week, and heard about how since the first volunteers came here more than sixteen years ago, Tenteleni has gone from strength to strength, and is now regarded as a role model of the whole of Mpumalanga. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of that.
3. The Places
Working in South Africa has some pretty good perks. It’s not the main focus of the job, but it is pretty cool to be able to top off a really successful week of work with a trip to Kruger Park, or a shopping spree in Swaziland. But that’s not the only bonus. It’s actually been really interesting getting the experience of living in a township, though it does have its restrictions. It’s very different from city life, or from backpacking from hostel to hostel. You do get the inevitable bemused looks when you tell people who live in Nelspruit that you’re living in KaNyamazane for the summer, but it’s so great living in the community that you’re working with. It’s given us the opportunity to pop in to a South African engagement party, and attempt (and fail) to blend in at prophetic church. We’ve made friends with the guys who run the Internet Café and the security guards who stand around outside the supermarket. There have been so many fun opportunities working on project that I would never have had just by travelling through the country.
4. The Progression
There is no denying that a job like this presents new challenges every day. It might be a headache having to overcome obstacles all the time, but it’s also really great looking back over the project and seeing how far I’ve come since the beginning. For a girl who used to struggle even to ring the hairdressers to book an appointment, it’s pretty incredible to me that I’m now able to run a workshop for a group of strangers, hold my own in a meeting with the Department of Education, and make small talk with the Chief of Daantjie without batting an eyelid. Not half bad.
5. The Pleasure
It has to be said. Being a Project Coordinator is, quite simply, really enjoyable. Doing different things every day, having incredible weekends away and at home, getting a flavour of what a proper braai tastes like, managing a fantastic group of volunteers, learning a smattering of SiSwati (and being amiably laughed at every time we use it), working with kids, trying out the original Nando’s, hearing about South African history from people who were a part of changing it – it’s insane how much I’ve learnt and how much fun I’ve had learning it. It’s been such a pleasure these past nine weeks, and I can’t believe that it’s almost over. I don’t want to believe that it is.