South Africa Volunteers

Kelly Leach, 31. The UK

Volunteering has become 'the thing to do after years of routine in the same job', to A: give yourself a break and B: do some good in the world that does not necessarily benefit you directly.

At Amapondo in Port t Johns the idea has become more of a philosophy - a practiced way of life. And the fulfillment you get when you "pondify" yourself is one of immense satisfaction.

Port St Johns is on the East coast of South Africa, a small town buzzing with energy and wildlife, a very real slab of Africa, (but with hot showers and very tasty food!) It is here that a group of people; a mix of black Xhosa natives, white Afrikaans natives, a couple of English, two Canadian and one Dutch representative, all got together and formed a family. As this community grew, so the idea to make some realistic, practical and wholesome changes came about. Africa does not need saving. It does not need the western way of doing things thrust upon it. This is not the only way. And you begin to learn and understand this only by living and breathing amongst it, by volunteering.

Amapondo's vision is to ensure empowerment, ownership and sustainability of a land and people through a series of projects and programmes. Their philosophy is not to try and impose western strategies and infrastructure, but to embrace and retain African culture and tradition every step of the way. By doing this, African people are not changing WHO they are, they are changing the way they do certain things in order to enhance, progress and develop their existing lives. So far, Amapondo and the team are on their way to opening a school based on interactive, all inclusive Waldorf principles of teaching and a small shop that will sell crafts, jams and goods made by their growing community. All profits will go towards the cost of running the school. An ambitious project using permaculture as its basis, (using land to create food, water and shelter) is also in the making, at Mama Pats, 45 minutes along a very bumpy dirt track on the back of an open top 4x4 up to a small village with no electricity, little sanitation and very basic food production. The idea is to transform the area into an ecological paradise: two types of biodegradable toilet, a nursery, a compost heap, a mud brick maker, a water pool, plots for fruit, veg, plants, space to keep animals and buildings for workshops and classes. The plot will act as a model for other communities to see and learn how best to make use of their land. On a sunny day you can see down to the ocean from Mama Pats and it’s difficult to describe in words the beauty of the landscape and the sense of peace you feel when you're up here.

As a volunteer you can work with the family at Mama Pats and the Pondo team to sow seeds, build chicken coops and plant gooseberry bushes. You can work with the teachers at the school, make crafts, garden, and learn Xhosa. You can create workshops for the boys at the local orphanage where there is talent and enthusiasm and laughter in abundance. A hearty breakfast, a satisfying lunch and a bloody tasty dinner are all included - a good mix of traditional and western style grub.

If you are looking to really experience Africa amongst the people who live, know and understand the land and its history, (and have an absolute blast doing it) then come to Amapondo. Day trips also included and they never work you too hard! It's an incredibly relaxed and beautiful place to be. I will never, ever forget my time here.

25th October 2007.