Last time I wrote I was saying goodbye to the orphanage. What an amazing three months I had volunteering there, I can’t believe how quickly the time flew by. I would highly recommend volunteering at the Johannesburg Othandweni orphanage, or doing any kind of volunteer travel project. It’s a great way to see the world and do some good while you’re at it. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, so I’m so happy to be able to check that off my bucket list.
The staff at the orphanage was great and we had a lot of fun together. 4 months later we still keep in touch with Whatsapp. I had an amazing group of volunteers while I was there. I lived with a total of 9 volunteers from New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany and Belgium, ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months, and I can’t wait to see them again (hopefully even this year). We shared a lot of laughs while we worked and lived together. I have fond memories of hours of talking (and sometimes heated arguments) about life, families, love, our different countries/cultures, politics and whether or not marijuana/prostitution should be legalized! Many hours were spent in the kitchen cooking for the group (Antoine and Loren, you’re excluded from this group, lol. Oh wait, Lauren made my bday cake, so she’s back in). I had fun introducing the others to the yumminess of quesadillas, cauliflower chickpea curry, grilled cheese sandwiches and sweet potato tacos. I’m still missing Roberta’s yummy Italian cooking! I also have VERY fond memories of Roberta, Loren and I having fun by turning off the light while Antoine was taking his bucket and listening to him scream like a girl and curse at us, then thank us when we turned them back on (and repeating the whole thing over and over and over again). What I wouldn’t Do by Serena Ryder will forever be ingrained in my memory as my “bucket shower” song. We had some great times working in the library, singing and dancing to the music while we cleaned and sorted the books. We spent some time tanning outside, and many hours walking and taking taxis to the mall for groceries and free wifi. We also got to explore Soweto and Jo’burg while we were there, learning about Apartheid and Nelson Mandela.
As for the actual volunteering part, working with kids definitely has its ups and downs (luckily mostly ups). I loved my time with the kiddies, and fell in love with a few of them that I would’ve loved to adopt and take home with me (my Buddha baby!!! I did think about trying to sneak him home in my suitcase, but I was doing more travelling after the orphanage, which would’ve made it hard). I miss kissing and cuddling my Buddha baby and having him climb all over me like his own personal jungle gym. I miss sweet baby cuddles from my little weirdo J, and playing with my pretty little Princess L. I miss my beautiful boy A, who despite having been physically abused, was such a sweet boy and just loved to laugh and cuddle. And of course I can’t forget my main man T, who was obsessed with me, and just wanted me to sing to him or play music for him 24/7. We got into lots of arguments as he would get upset if I couldn’t play music for him 24/7, he would get jealous when other kids would sit on my lap and he really didn’t listen well and was a little troublemaker. But he was also really smart, and picked up English really quickly. Whenever I would sing or talk to him, I could see him watching my mouth and concentrating, trying to learn the words. By the time I left, he could sing his abcs and Mary Had a Little Lamb. He also loved to point his finger at me and tell me to “Stop that!”, and being the mature grown-up that I am, I’d end up replying with: “No, YOU stop that!”, and back and forth we went, to the amusement of the other volunteers.
There are so many more kids that I could talk about and I could go on forever, but I’ll limit myself to just one more. One special 4 year old boy named M who has special needs and a smile that lights up the room. He loves to play and dance and just wants to be loved. So if you or anyone you know that lives in the U.S. is interested in adopting a beautiful little boy, contact the orphanage to find out more.
I will never forget walking into the orphanage and being greeted by 25 screaming toddlers, so excited to see us and chanting A-be-lun-gu! A-be-lun-gu! It took me about a week to finally get around to asking what they were chanting, turns out they were chanting: White person, white person! Definitely not the most politically correct thing, but they’re so incredibly cute I actually though it was hilarious! And since they never really knew our names (and because we’re often there for short periods of time), when they had questions they would either address us as “mama” or as “abelungu”. I did eventually teach the children my name, which was really cute, especially when I’d leave for a bit and come back and they would chant my name like I was a rock star! We had so much fun playing with the kids, games like Simon Says, singing songs, coloring and playing with the toys, cuddles and kisses and running around the nursery and of course the dance parties. The kids love music and love to dance, we had a lot of fun and they were obsessed with the chicken dance.
We did end up learning some Zulu (aka isiZulu; one of the eleven official languages of South Africa) while we were there, basically just words that were relevant to taking care of children. So stuff like:
Hamba (go); Suka (go away); Sanibonani (good morning/hello); Siyabonga (thank you); Lala (rest/sleep); Abelungu (white person); Ima (stop);
It was cool! It’s also one of the few languages in the world that uses clicks, so that made it super fun (and harder) to learn. I did manage to learn a few words with clicks and can do them reasonably well, so I’m pretty proud of myself!
My time in Soweto really was kind of magical. I’m not going to lie, at first it was really tough and I didn’t know if I would last, and there were some days when the kids were just wild and crazy and we needed breaks, but overall I loved every minute, good and bad. I learned a lot about myself, and met some really amazing people and some amazing children that just want to be loved and have someone pay attention to them. I would do it again in a heart beat and can’t wait to go back one day. Volunteering at the orphanage was everything I thought it would be and so much more.
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