Dreams To Reality; A Volunteering Trip with IVHQ.
So, in an earlier post, I told you about my experience of volunteering with IVHQ but I focused more on how IVHQ were as a sort of volunteering middle-man (Was it easy? Would I volunteer with them again? etc.) I didn't go into my actual experience of volunteering with the Dreams to Reality organisation because I knew it would require a much longer post, so here it is.
ABOUT DREAMS TO REALITY (DTR)
DTR has been in operation for over three years now. They run five different programs: Surf Outreach, Teaching, Childcare, Computer Training and Sports Development. The programs are now run in two locations - Muizenberg, with the Capricorn/ Vrygrond community and Hout Bay, with the Imizamo Yethu Community (this is newer and wasn't an option when I volunteered so I can't give any info on it). They average about 50 volunteers per month making them one of the biggest volunteering organisations in South Africa.
While you're a volunteer on the program you live in houses (there were 4 different ones!) with the other volunteers, in dorm-style accomodation. Your room can have anywhere between 4 to 8 people in it so you're forced to make friends quickly which is definitely not a bad thing. You get your sheets changed weekly and while the beds aren't crazy comfortable, you won't be spending much time there anyway.
You get breakfast and dinner - apparently they also include lunch too now. There are spreads and bread for breakfast as well as tea and coffee. Dinner was basic - meat, vegetables and a form of carbohydrates. It was simple but hearty. Most of the volunteers I was with (myself included) ate out a lot because food is so cheap over there and everyone wants to hang out and explore. Whenever we had leftover dinners from the house we took it to surf program the next day for the kids which they loved. Sometimes the food we served them is the only meal they would get. I don't think they were that great at providing options for people who had different dietary needs so keep that in mind. Probably one of the only negatives about the food was we used to get mouldy bread pretty frequently, sometimes even for the kids lunches. We basically just got on with it though, if we had mouldy bread we ate cereal (or at some of the amazing cafes around) and if the kids got mouldy bread we'd just pop down to the shop and buy a fresh loaf. Did it suck? Yes. Did we die? No.
I'll get down the basics of what was involved in the actual program first before really delving into my experience. The Surf Outreach program was different to all the other programs available because we spent time with the kids after school, not during. In the mornings we got to surf with an instructor and make full use of the surfboards and in the afternoons we got to hang out with the kids, surf with them or play games. You also get the opportunity to go to the school to see where they learn, but the best fun is at the surf shack and in the ocean.
As a Surf Outreach volunteer you don't have to know how to surf. I'd say 90% of the people I volunteered with didn't know how to. Most of the children are great surfers so you aren't there to teach them how to surf, you're there to hang with them and expand their horizons but don't be surprised if you expand your own horizons too. Your other duties include cleaning the surf shack, rinsing the wetsuits and making the kids sandwiches and tea.
This program is more time-costly than the other programs because you're around in the morning surfing and also in the afternoons whereas the other programs finish up when school does or even earlier. If you're keen to get out in the ocean and learn how to surf or practice your surfing then you'll enjoy the structure of Surf Outreach but I know there were some volunteers who changed to a different program simply to have more time off. I didn't fly half way around the world and spend all that money to have "free time" though. I went to surf and volunteer and that's exactly what I did.
You do get weekends off and you can take a week day off if you ask in advance. During my 4 weeks there I took 2 Fridays off, one for a three day safari and one for a Table Mountain hike when I had run out of time for it before I left. I highly recommend taking as few days off as possible during the week. The kids definitely notice your absence. In hindsight, I would've left myself at least a week at the end of the trip to do all the touristy things I wanted to do so that I didn't have to miss any days with them. Make your trip longer than you plan because I 100% guarantee you won't regret it.
One of the things you will hear people say is you get out of the program what you put in. It's real easy to get there and not make an effort to get to know the kids or help out at the surf shack or get to know the other volunteers. You need to be willing to try 1000 times to get a kid to open up to you or to scrub the floors when they need to be done. Get your hands dirty and quit the complaining, you're in Africa.
Another difference between Surf Outreach and the other programs is that the kids are generally older (in the 12-16 years old bracket). They aren't very receptive to new volunteers because they are old enough to know that you come and then you go, but they do soften up. One of the kids that I felt like I just couldn't quite get through to ended up all teary eyed on me when I said my last good byes (I, obviously, was blubbering like a baby when I said goodbye to them all). These are kids that have grown up with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime but you wouldn't even know it sometimes. They laugh and make jokes and they can be so cheeky and naughty but for the most part they are respectful, intelligent, emotional, happy children. You can't help but get attached to them and I still keep in touch with a few of the older ones on Facebook.
When I first started the program it was School Holidays so while none of the kids had to actually come, they chose to walk one hour each way, five days a week to come and surf with us. This program means a lot to them. They were way better surfers than most of us so we weren't there to teach them how to surf, we were there to show them what life is like away from the drugs and alcohol their used to, away from the violence and crime they grew up with. Surfing is an healthy and productive outlet for them and we open their eyes to other options that are out there, but they open our eyes too. You can't come here and not learn something from the kids and the locals. Volunteering is a two way street. You think you're going there to change someones life and you end up being changed too.
THE OTHER VOLUNTEERS
Some of my best friends today are people I met on that trip so long ago. Corey and I even went all the way to Canada to see two of them get married. You're going to be with people who have a lot of common interests. Not everyone is the type of person to go volunteering. Not everyone is the type of person to go volunteering on the other side of the world. You all get to experience this together and not just the volunteering but the game drives or the sky diving or jumping 216m off Bloukran's Bridge. You'll create amazing memories with people from all around the world. The fact that so many people go to this particular program means you'll have plenty of people to meet and hang out with from all over the world.
VOLUNTEERING WITH SOMEONE OR SOLO
I did this trip on my own. I actually started dating Corey one month before my trip which was unexpected. I'm thrilled that I did it alone, I really got to learn a lot about myself. There are pluses and minuses to doing this trip with someone or doing it solo. When you do it solo you're forced into making new friends and getting to know new people or even forced into doing things on your own. I went shark diving and sky diving by myself and I spent many mornings at a cafe by myself before surfing which isn't something I would ever have done at home. When you volunteer with someone else you get to share in the life changing experience. When I came home from my trip I had no one to talk to about how amazing my trip was. After the 2nd (thousand) time of me telling everyone just how much fun I'd had, everyone was done hearing about it, Corey included. So, with someone or without, you're going to have a great time.
WHEN YOU'RE NOT VOLUNTEERING
On your weekends off there is so much to do. Hiking Table Mountain or Lion's Head, shark diving, sky diving, bungee jumping, shopping in Cape Town or exploring the VA Waterfront, winery tours, game drives, weekend safaris, abseiling, paragliding, etc. There are activities for everyone and more often than not you'll be able to get a group of volunteers together to do stuff with you but there is nothing wrong with doing stuff by yourself either! I found all the activities to be extremely cheap in comparison to Australia for eg. Skydiving was $170 in SA, $300 in Aus. Make sure you take a look at all the things you want to do before you go so you can get an idea of pricing. You don't want to get to South Africa and realise you can't go shark diving if that's what you really want!
I would volunteer with Dreams to Reality again in a heartbeat. I loved the program, the children and the location. I never expected to get so much out of volunteering abroad but it was hands down the best experience I've ever had in my life.
Secret tip: the kids LOVE seeing photos of themselves. During my last few days I printed out all the photos I had of them and gave them each a few snaps to keep which I think they really enjoyed having. I'm sure it would go down well as a parting gift no matter where you volunteer!