Volunteering Abroad In South Africa As Told By Alyssa Ramos

Volunteering in South Africa with Alyssa Ramos

California’s Alyssa Ramos joined IVHQ this year and while volunteering abroad in South Africa, Alyssa blogged about her experience as a first-time volunteer teacher (and surf instructor on the IVHQ Surf Outreach project). The following are excerpts from Alyssa’s blog to offer a unique look into the life of an IVHQer in Cape Town…

“Karl’s here!” Someone yelled from the girls’ room. At once everyone started running around like the house was on fire, throwing dishes in the sink, grabbing bags, and running outside. We piled in his van with some other volunteers he had already picked up from the other volunteer houses, and set off for the first school were our orientation was. I was a little shocked, but extremely happy about the raging music video mixes he had playing on a screen at the front of his van.

We were taken to what would be my favorite place to be for the remainder of the week – Christian David Moravian Primary School. There wasn’t much to it, just an old building with about five or six classrooms, a couple of detached portable rooms and a grungy-looking dirt play area. I was enrolled in the teaching program, so I was taken to the tutoring room where the volunteers tutor students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and a special needs person works with children the rest of the time. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous at first, wondering, what if the kids don’t like me? What if I’m bad at teaching? But all of my worries dissipated when the bell rang for interval (recess) the second we walked in, and my arms, hands, and waist were suddenly engulfed in little arms and hands, pulling and pushing me outside. “What’s your name?” They would ask in their adorably tiny voices. “I’m Alyssa, what’s your name?” I would reply slowly, watching their wide eyes fill with wonder and excitement. “Ah-liss-Ah”, they would repeat, sounding out my name before resuming the hugging and handholding. There was so much love that I could hardly contain myself from smiling and laughing as they jumped, tugged, hugged and pulled. Many of them had American names like Susan, John, and Ashley, while others had to teach me how to say and spell their names so I could pronounce them correctly like Sinsile and Khotah.

Volunteer teacher Alyssa Ramos volunteering in South Africa with IVHQ

They all spoke English as well as Afrikaans, and I could tell what grade they were in by how good their English was. They were like most elementary school kids with their curious questions, and the way they played and fought, except for one very big difference. They didn’t have most of the things that other kids do. There were no balls or toys for them to play with, and there was no playground, although they seemed perfectly content running around on the dusty dirt. When the bell rang again all of the kids scattered to their classrooms, but not without taking my hands, legs, and waist first and pulling me along with them saying, “Come to class with us!” and “Can you bring me to class?” But we were stationed in the tutor room to teach the students whose teacher was out sick.

We helped them with worksheets and math and spelling games, which I never would have imagined I’d be teaching to a second grader, but seeing them not only pay attention but actually trying and then looking to me for help and approval was beyond incredible. I wanted to add and subtract little pictures of ships and bananas all day! I should have been exhausted from playing with, carrying, and being swung from all day, but their surplus of energy transferred to me in the form of inspiration, making me eager to come back to school the next morning.

Tuesday morning in Muizenberg, was even colder than Monday since the icy rain drizzle was still lingering from the downpour the night before. They really weren’t joking when they said bring things to layer. I put on a pair of leggings, skinny jeans, fuzzy socks, my new gangsta boots, a knitted head warming thing, a tank top, a long sleeved shirt, zip-up hoodie, and a loose black wool sweater – both for warmth and because I learned the day before that if the kids can see the outline of your phone in your pocket, they will beg you to take pictures, and they are pretty much impossible to say no to.

Volunteer Teacher Alyssa Ramos in South Africa with IVHQ

We went to the first grade classroom first where the tiniest humans I’ve ever seen were practicing their ABC’s and spelling. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the wrong mushroom and gets stuck in the house sitting in their mini chairs at their mini tables, but they absolutely love when you sit with them. I gave the three at my table their assignment – a connect the ABC-dots puzzle that made a frog on one side and a cat on the other. I learned so much from those little guys, just by guiding them through the alphabet, and praising them for their coloring skills. I learned that all of them have very different personalities, but one common trait – they all love to feel loved and encouraged.

I also ended up joining in the sports program since one of the volunteers was out sick. Some people didn’t understand the importance of the sports program and PE, but the activities not only keep the kids healthy (and extract some of their energy surplus), but they also learn coordination, how to play on a team, and not to mention it’s really fun for them. “Ok! Everybody get in a circle!” Charles (the PE Coach) ordered. They all scrambled to grab onto my hands first, and when they were each protectively occupied, they grabbed onto each other’s to form a circle. When they were all evenly assembled Charles waited for them to be quiet to start one of their favorite warm-up songs;

“One day, one day!” He chanted. “One day, one day!” They all chanted back in their tiny voices.

“My mama say!”

“My mama say!”

“Sooooozie”

“Sooooozie,” they chirped, accentuating the high pitch at the end after the long ‘o’s.

“Make me some porridge!”

“Make me some porridge!”

“By uuuuuusing!”

“By uuuuuusing!” Again with the adorable noises.

“Your right hand!”

“Your right hand!”

After repeating the song’s instructions, they all starting pretending to stir an invisible pot of porridge with their right hands. This continued on to adding in their left hand, right foot, left foot, head, and bum until finally concluding with “by uuuuuusing, a spoon.” That song is known to spring up out of nowhere at any given time and will have other volunteers chime in out of nowhere as well without fail. We continued to sing and wiggle around to more extremely catchy songs like “Baby Shark”, and “Hi, My Name is Joe”, until they were all warmed up for the first activity – capture the flag. Except the first round was us against them.

They all patiently waited in line for their flags, then tucked them securely into the front of their pants and lined up against the fence. After Charles explained the objective, I crouched down in a ready stance as if I were prepared to catch all of them on the first try. Pfft. I caught none. They’re not just teeny and agile, but they’re wicked fast too! Luckily after some of them got caught they had to switch sides and catch the others who still had a flag. I was too scared I was going to break one of them anyway so would just swoop them up in the air then let them go as they giggled hysterically to the other side of the “safe zone”.

Wednesday was my fourth day in Muizenberg, and the day that the unthinkable happened. I was somehow convinced to go surfing in the freezing cold and rainy weather. I was about as thrilled as a cat doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but how could I possibly say no to surfing in South Africa? I had about five seconds to grab my laptop, GoPro, phone charger, and change of clothes before I was rushed out the door of the Albertyn House and on my way to the local surf shop.

Alyssa Ramos on the Surf Project in South Africa with IVHQ

“It’s OK, the wetsuit will keep you warm!” I was promised, as I was being waved into the water. “It’s too cold!” I yelled, avoiding being blasted in the face by another icy wave. I was shivering spastically as I hovered over the board, trying my best to “help” push it with him. “You know, it’s best if you just dive in”. But apparently I somehow managed to “catch all of the waves” (meaning I went forward, stood up for 1 second, then fell) that I had attempted surfing…Which was only about four before I was too cold to even swim.

I also had this grand idea to make an awesome GoPro video by shoving my GoPro in the front strap of his wetsuit so he could film me, but that failed miserably. As did all of my “these are going to look so cool” GoPro shots of me on the board that just look like I’m terrified and about to drown.

The IVHQ Surf Program is a free after school program for the kids that go to the schools we volunteer at and the program is largely funded by the surf program volunteers. It gives the local kids with disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to spend their free time in a safe, healthy, productive, and happy way.”

Once you start packing for your adventure, be sure to check out Alyssa’s South Africa volunteer packing tips!

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