ITS CHRISTMAAAAAS

First, i’d like to apologise for my lack of blogging- it’s not PURELY due to laziness (although that is a factor) but also due to how busy the last weeks have been! I have so much to mention but I will try to keep this as short and sweet and possible.

Due to the South African school year being slightly different to the UK’s- the school year runs from January to December as apposed to August to June- school life has been pretty hectic. Exams (although this doesnt effect the Enrichment Centre kids), end of year concerts, end of year trips, reports etc etc have taken up the majority of our time. Preparations for the Christmas concert was a daily occurance! Juniors, Seniors and Lifeskills all did seperate performances but they were all as funny and charismatic as the other. Dances to songs from ‘What does the fox say?’ to ‘Ag shame lovey’ (google it, such a tune), solo performances including a personal fave of Westlife (I couldn’t help but shed a tear) and a young girl dressing up as Sid the Sloth are just a few of my personal highlights. Not one person in the audience left without being amazed at the show and in a good mood! The hard work of staff and of course the amazing children paid off massively.

At the end of each term the classes go on day trips and I was lucky enough to go on both of the excursions that took place. The first was to a place called ‘Die Drift’ which is a gorgeous little farm sort of thing with pools, slides, zipwires and fun stuff like that. We had a picnic and spent the rest of the morning splashing about and trying to convince the kids to have a go down the slide, although some didnt need convincing and just repeatdly went down for the 3 hours we were there…

The second excursion didnt quite go to plan… after packing and preparing for a day to the game reserve with the hope of spotting some animals we were all sat eagerly on the bus, seat belts on, to find that our school bus was not working. The day wasnt a total disaster however and instead we headed down to the school swimming pool and played some games and had a brai (South African bbq).

As with all schools, we had our end of year assembly and prize giving. Alongside the mainstream kids, the Enrichment Centre kids also recieved awards. I genuinley felt like a proud mother in the audience when I saw the kids nervously walk up and collect their awards. The awards they got werent just mediocre awards.. “Excellence in Maths and English” was won by one of our Autistic boys, Hloni. Most of the other awards were more relating to the EC, such as awards for Tenacity, Improvement in communcication for a non-verbal child and improvement in independance to name a few. I couldnt help but laugh and smile when Hloni saw one of his classmates who is also Autistic go up and get his certificate- he clapped the loudest out of everyone, stood up and said proudly “thats my boy!!” It was too cute.

As well as school life being busy, we have been finding lots to do at weekends as well. We’ve had a trip to the waterpark, a trip to a Buddhist retreat up in the mountains where we spent 7 HOURS meditating and enough brai’s to do us the year. We also had a visit from some other volunteers from Swaziland which was lovely.

School has now officially ended for this tear and myself, Kathryn and Anna are now packing our bags to leave tomorrow to officially start our crimbo travels. Im very excited and also quite scared for some of the things we have planned for example THE WORLDS HIGHEST BUNGEE JUMP. If I don’t write another blog post you will know something has went wrong with that.

I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Advertisements

Swaziland

I spent the last week of Term 3 in the Junior class and I loved it! It’s without a doubt the most hectic class and after school every day a nap was most definitely required. The class itself is full of fun and laughter; the kids are always so happy to be there and their smiles are definitely contagious. The class has 8 children; Khumo, Tumelo, Ompile, Hloni, Areum, Malika, Heena and Thapi, and they age from around 6 to 9. This class is probably the most divided in terms of ability as only 3 of the children are verbal and able to do more academic work like maths and literacy, whereas with the other non verbal children more basic work is done. 2 of the non verbal boys are what we call ‘runners’- they are always trying to escape and run away! These two boys both suffer from quite severe autism so they both seek pressure and this is almost always done through biting, either their selves or us, but after spending more time with them we have learnt techniques to use such as applying hard pressure to under their chin to save us from being bitten! They are both very sweet boys despite this and very friendly, I always got a cuddle and a kiss (or 20) on my cheek when in the class. I was amazed by the ability of the kids who do maths and literacy, they are very bright and I loved doing their work with them. Another aspect of Autism is being incredibly afraid of failure, so sometimes the kids are not so keen and frankly refuse to try do something new as they are scared of doing it wrong, so sometimes it took a lot of persuasion to do certain things, like drawing a circle for the first time, but they always succeeded and were chuffed with themselves!

markets markets

After Junior week, it was the school holidays and to be completely honest, we had NO idea what we were gonna do and were so unorganized! We ended up in Swaziland (yes, it is a real place), visiting the PT volunteers who were living in Manzini; Jade, Izzie, Joe and Tom. We arrived on the Thursday and left on the Tuesday and after a stop in Joberg, we arrived back at Mitchell House on Wednesday. The journey itself was amazing and really interesting as we drove through countless amounts of towns and cities to get there, aswell as having to stop and border control to get into Swaziland. We managed to fit quite a lot into our 5 days there; we went to visit two of Jade and Izzies projects, went to the markets, went to the most amazing place- Swazicandles- which make the coolest candles in the shapes of all different animals and we even got to see them being made, visited the Cultural village and saw some African singing and dancing show and we visited Matenga Falls and accidentally swam with some crocodiles… We also managed to squeeze a lot of games of ’30 Seconds’, my new favourite board game and a trip to a Swazi pub/club ‘Marios’ in.

rhino candlemarkets bird candlematenga falls    group pic   candles

Its nice being back in Polokwane now and I literally can’t wait for school to start to see everyone again. Hostel food will be starting again which is a relief as i’m not really improving on the cooking and have been basically living off of instant noodles and peanut butter sandwiches. I seem to even be struggling to successfully make them after attempting to make them the other night and failing much to my confusion, to find out I had actually put cold water instead of hot on them. I’m blaming lack of sleep. The past few days have been spent chilling, we found the lost boxset in the hostel and are now on series 2.. A few skype calls (including one with my cat) and last night me and Anna attended the Polokwane Relay for Life for cancer which was a very emotional night but at the same time very uplifting and inspiring to see so many survivors.

skype with davetaking advantage of the under water camera

Week 3

The last week or so has been very eventful! Sadly, 4 Project Trust volunteers became 3 as one of my partners here, Michelle, decided to return home to the UK. I respect her decision and wish her luck for the future! This however meant that we were in a bit of a pickle about how to handle our work load until a new volunteer joins us in January, as there was 4 classes we need to be in but there was only 3 of us. After much stress and thinking we would sadly need to drop a class, luckily a former Matrix student here at Mitchell House has stepped up to help us finish the year. Meet Thabo!

IMG_1260

This weekend past was both amazing and bad. The volunteers from Fedile High School just 45 minutes away came to visit us, which was nice and it was lovely to here some familiar accents. We went for a meal to a place called Spur where I had a steak, dessert and two drinks and it cost me 180 rand, which is the equivalent to £10- I love the exchange rate!

On Sunday I had my first experience of South African crime- I had my bank card stolen. Despite the mugger failing to get me to tell him my PIN he still ran off with my card leaving me with the hassle of trying to cancel my card and finding a new way to access my money. Sadly I have just received the news that the remainder of my money in my account was wiped meaning I have no savings left which i’m quite upset about but trying to not let it bother me too much.

This incident didn’t stop me from enjoying our afternoon spent at the Lion Safari! We went for a drive round the reserve where we saw many animals (including giraffes!) but the real highlight of the day was getting the opportunity to hold 2 month old lion cubs and play with a 6 month old cheetah cub.just me being bitten by a cheetah
IMG_1221[1]IMG_1167[1]
IMG_1223[1]
IMG_1032[1]

School life has been tough recently but I’m still enjoying every second! Something I’ve really struggled with is leaving school things at school and instead having them on my mind in my free time. Most of the time in the enrichment centre I am in the best mood because of the kids- I’m finding it impossible to be in a bad mood in their company. They are all amazing and some of the most courageous and independent (when they aren’t being naughty) children I have met despite their disabilities. Sadly, along with the good there is the bad and as I’ve worked more with the children I’ve found out more about them and some of their backgrounds. Obviously this information is confidential so I can’t share, but some of the things I’ve found out are heartbreaking and things that I would wish upon a child or adult, never mind a child with a disability.

This week I have been in the mainstream school in the grade 00, which is the 4/5 year old. I remember finding out that Mitchell House was a private school and instantly thinking that if these kids are paying fees to get into school they wouldn’t really be in need of any extra support, in comparison to a school that isn’t funded and has a lack of money. After 3 weeks here I have realised this is not the case. Even though the families these kids come from are pretty well off and they come to school with iPads and drivers that drive them about, I have found that even though they are not underprivileged when it comes to material things and money and there way of living, they are underprivileged in terms of emotional support and having time actually spent talking and playing with them. School starts at 7 am and there are still kids here, some as young as 4, at 5 pm at aftercare whilst there parents work- that’s 10 hours. Just the other day a little girl told me she loved me and when I said it back she told me that her mummy never tells her that which was quite sad to hear from a 6 year old girl. IMG_1244[1]

Next week I am working with the Junior class in the enrichment centre which is probably the most challenging class- I feel both nervous and excited! My aim for the next week is to fully be able to sing the national anthem which consists of 4 of the 11 official languages of South Africa- thankfully English is one of them!

Workin 9 til 5… (or 7.15 til about half 4)

So today marks exactly a week since I arrived in Polokwane at Mitchell House. Its fair to say its been quite a hectic week. 

IMG_0876[1]

So the Enrichment Centre here consists of three classes: juniors, seniors and the life skills class. The junior class is for the younger children varying from the age of around 5 to 9 years, the senior class around 10 to 14 years and the life skills 15 to 18 years. I have had the pleasure of working with the life skills class for the last week and will be doing so for the next week. They are such a wonderful and diverse group and over the past week I’ve learnt so much about them individually and about dealing with difficult situations. The class consists of 6 boys and 2 girls: Armand, Moses, Neo, Kamagelo, Rendani, Teteto, Mariam and Koketo. There disabilities and situations are all different: autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy to name a few. 

Each day is different but literally FULL of activities. The basic maths and literacy are taught but then we also do things such as horse riding and ‘job sampling’ which is pretty much work experience. In the summer we will be doing swimming (even though its currently 28 degrees during the day and its only just left winter here) which i’m looking forward to! 

A very sweaty me and one of my partners Anna after reaching the highest peak of Iron Crown

You’d expect (and so did I) that after a pretty intense 10 or so days my first day off would be spent relaxing- quite the opposite. At 7 am on Saturday morning I found myself on a bus to Limpopo’s highest mountain ‘The Iron Crown’ alongside around 10 pupils from the mainstream school, one of the life skills class, my fellow life skills teachers, another handful of teachers and South Africa’s first person to conquer Mount Everest. Although when I woke up at 6 am that morning I immediately regretted agreeing to go, i’m so glad I did as it turned out to be a very good day. The walk/climb itself up the hill was tough due to my unfitness (is that a word?) and my choice of footwear (converse) but the views were so incredible and it was a pretty good achievement. Also, seeing Mariam reach the top despite her disability made me very happy and proud.  IMG_0898[1] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first week

After a brief stay in England I left for South Africa from Heathrow on the 26th of August. Although I didn’t cry, it was very sad saying bye to everyone and it hit me that I was actually leaving for a year! To think this time last year I hadn’t even applied to go away with Project Trust… A lot can change in a year.
After a 7 hour flight, a 6 hour wait at Doha airport and then another 8 hour flight, we eventually arrived in South Africa where we met the Swaziland volunteers and our country reps, Ian and Yvonne.
Travelling to the backpackers gave us a chance to observe Johannesburg. I immediately was surprised by the two extremes within the city in terms of wealth- you would literally drive past a bunch of make shift shacks in which those living in poverty stayed to then driving past a luxurious mansion with a swimming pool and high tech security which obviously accommodated the wealthier of the population.
We stayed in Johannesburg for 5 days and those 5 days were literally filled with activities and information. On the Thursday and Friday we visited Johannesburg Children’s Memorial Institute where we had a talk about HIV with a professor. We then split into groups to do volunteering for the non governmental organisations which are based in the institute. I volunteered for Autism South Africa with the hope (and expectation) to be working with autistic people. I was surprised to find out that we were infact painting the office and bathroom of the organisation… But it turned out to be great fun full of laughs and it was one less job for them to do.
The highlight of the week for me alongside bonding more with the country group was being given a talk by man called Chris Trott. Chris was a project trust volunteer in 1984 (30 years ago exactly!!) and after studying and having a long career with the UKs foreign office his latest job was Consul General of Cape Town. His career included being the ambassador of many country’s and in total visiting 97 of them. I was in total awe of his incredible stories and I found it really inspiring that his journey started on project trust.
Today I left Johannesburg and arrived in Polokwane and at my project. After arriving at the wrong station we were met by our host, Jess and another staff member, Sue. Them alongside all the other staff are absolutely lovely and so passionate about what they do and have made us feel so at home. After a brief tour of the school grounds, which are absolutely gorgeous, we were shown our rooms in the hostel. It now feels like home with all our photos up and trinkets lying around.
Tomorrow I start my first day of
working and although I’m nervous I’m so exited to meet the children I’m working with and learn all about them.

The end of the beginning…

42 days and counting until I leave for South Africa and it’s safe to say I still can’t quite believe what I’m doing. In 42 days I will be boarding a plane and getting off to settle into a new life in a country and culture I have never experienced.. quite a scary thought.

After 8 months of preparation and fundraising I have raised my £5600 to fund my year and completed my training! Fundraising was something I’ll never forget: the stress preparing events, the tears when things didn’t quite go to plan but also the amazing sense of achievement when things did work out. I’d like to take this chance to publicly thank all those who donated and helped me in any way… A big thanks to Wood Family trust, Arbroath Rotary Club, Arbroath Round Table, Arbroath Improvement trust, The Allan and Nesta Ferguson trust, Churchill University Scholarship trust, The Alchemy Foundation, Lodge of St Thomas of Aberbrothock No 40. A big thanks to The Cliffburn Hotel for allowing me to use the hall for majority of events. Another thanks to the Cliffburn Hotel and also the Portcullis Bar for allowing me to have donation tins for the public. A massive thank you to those who have attended the events, sponsored any events, took part in events or sponsorships. And finally a huuuuge thanks to my friends and family (especially my mum!) for always supporting and putting up with me and my perhaps irrational moods during fundraising.

10537394_10203617505952350_6498423254653378268_n

My main point in writing this post is to officially start my blog at the official start of my adventure: training. I’m just home from my training course on the Isle of Coll at the Hebridean centre (the home of Project Trust) and quite like selection, it was a very intensive 5 days! Alongside my country group were the volunteers from Botswana and Swaziland, both countries which border South Africa and I plan on hopefully visiting. Training defiantly made things feel more real, making me feel equally more terrified and excited! Our 5 days were jam-packed with information, workshops, presentations and paperwork. We covered every possible situation in areas such as health, personal safety and travel. Training has given me much more confidence in terms of what to do in bad situations and also in my work role. Each project was given a post report which lays down all information of our projects from our holiday time off (14 weeks!!!), our work undertaken and details on our accommodation.

10429827_10203617507872398_8969454222948504608_n

On top of learning all this, training also is a opportunity to meet the people we are spending the next year with, as well as our desk officer, Peter! Out of the 40 people there, I had already met 3 from selection, so the rest were all strangers who turned into friends within a week. I’m very lucky to have such a great group of people who all get on fantastically. I met my fellow 3 partners who I will be working and living with and its fair to say Project Trust did a fabulous job of partnering us all up.. in the space of a few days we formed a great friendship which has made me even more excited to go.

10462929_10203617507272383_8986180395861486253_n

So now, all that’s left for me to do is make the most of my time at home with friends and family and pack! I can already tell time is going to fly by. 1551709_10203617506472363_7577628877181150533_n