Alice Whiteman - Human Rights in South Africa
I signed up for the Human Rights High School Special programme in South Africa many months before I was actually due to leave. As someone looking to study politics in the future, I knew this programme would be a great fit, but I had no idea just how amazing the experience would turn out to be. From the moment I signed up to my departure, I was in constant contact with Projects Abroad staff, who patiently answered every possible question I could think of. I was also given login details for my own Projects Abroad page, which included details about the country I was visiting and what my project would entail. This made me feel a lot more comfortable before starting my journey. Before my flight, I was also put in contact with another volunteer who would be on my flight. This was very reassuring as this was my first time flying solo!
My first day in Cape Town
My first day in Cape Town was the perfect beginning to my two-week placement. I was taken to meet my host family, who were the kindest and most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I also began to get to know the other volunteers who were on the same programme as me. Little did I know, two weeks later, these strangers would feel like people I’d known for years! Almost all of the volunteers at my placement were from different countries, which gave us an amazing opportunity to try to learn about different cultures, a topic that took up many a conversation!
On my first day, we were also visited by our Project Supervisor, whose friendly personality immediately made us all feel comfortable and confident about what we were about to do. My first meal in Cape Town was also an amazing experience. As someone who is usually a fairly picky eater, I had been slightly concerned about how well I’d manage. However, by the end of the night, I’m pretty sure I had tried every dish available and I loved all of them!
My Human Rights placement
My first week volunteering was spent in the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office. On our first day, we were divided into defence and prosecution teams before being given an active case that we would work on for the week. I was placed on the prosecution team and we immediately began to look through case files and discuss how to proceed before the moot court trail on Friday, when we would present our case to the rest of the office.
We continued to work on the case throughout the week and to help us, we also had the opportunity to interview a local police captain about any questions we had. By the time Friday arrived, we felt fully prepared to present our argument and although we narrowly lost our case, we were proud of both the work we had done and what we had learnt from the experience.
For our second week, we were based in a local township and more specifically, the children’s centre iKhaya de Themba. We undertook a series of different tasks throughout the week, including hosting a Women’s Day event, conducting surveys in the local area, and installing a new rainwater collecting tank. Each task helped make us feel like we were genuinely contributing through the work we were doing.
We also participated in a guided river walk down to the beach, learning about pollution that was occurring in the area, which seemed particularly meaningful given the potential ramifications. On our final day, we visited a school named Little Angels where we helped in the classrooms before preparing lunch for the children and teachers. After lunch, we got to spend some time playing with the children and I got to try my hand at some face painting with varying degrees of accuracy! Throughout the week, I was constantly blown away by the positivity and friendliness of every single person I encountered.
My free time
Over the weekend and in the evenings, we were taken all around Cape Town to experience the many wonders that the area has to offer, while getting a chance to socialise with other volunteers. One of my favourite experiences was watching the sunset from a hilltop on one of my very first nights; the view was absolutely breath taking.
Breath taking views became a common occurrence in Cape Town, as were able to take in sights from Cape Point and Table Mountain. We were also able to get an idea of the local culture and history, through visiting places like Robben Island and participating in a local drumming and dancing lesson.
By the end of my stay I was dreading having to say goodbye to everyone I had met, but one consolation was knowing I had the means to stay in touch with everyone. One thing I knew I would miss, especially with no way to stay in touch, was Cape Town itself, and this has given me the motivation to return in the future. Upon my arrival home, I found I couldn’t stop talking about what an amazing experience I had.
I wanted to share every moment with every person I came into contact with. My experience with Projects Abroad will definitely remain vivid in my memory for a very long time.