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A Day at a Community Development Project

Our Communication and Marketing Intern, Marie, joined Projekt Ubuntu for one day. Projekt Ubuntu is a community project providing resources to the people of Masiphumelele, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. During her day with the organization, Marie experienced the positive dynamics that shape both the community members and the interns and volunteers. The main focus of Projekt Ubuntu is to strengthen the women in the community and giving the children a safe, loving shelter.

I arrived at the volunteer accommodation on a warm Sunday evening. Projekt Ubuntu has invited me to stay with them for one night in their amazing accommodation overlooking the Masiphumelele community and the beach. I was told before that it is a beautiful place still, I was surprised by HOW beautiful it was. The “yoga shala” volunteer accommodation hosts an average of 25 volunteers and interns from around the globe at a time. It is a safe and homely place for young people to connect and make an impact. After dinner which gets catered to the accommodation every evening, we sat around the fireplace eating popcorn and talking about the Ubuntu Projekt…

The next Morning

I woke up earlier this morning to have a nice, long breakfast in the garden. At 8:30 am the volunteers and I got picked up and driven to Masiphumelele. It was my first time in a township so it was quite overwhelming to see. However, Masiphumelele exceeded my expectations with it’s welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Everyone was smiling and greeting us. After an introduction by “Mama Pat” – one of the so-called Mamas running the community project – she gave us a tour around the township. We visited several different daycare centers. Some of them had very structured routines and others were primarily a safe place for children to play. Anyway, one thing they all had in common was the excitement of the kids to greet the new volunteers or “teachers”. Once we got into a new room, the kids were hugging and fighting for each “teachers” attention. It was pretty wild!

Due to the high unemployment and daily challenges in the township, a lot of parents numb their pain with alcohol. As a result, toddlers and pre-school children are left alone, playing on the streets. Mama Pat told us a story of a 4-year-old boy who was taken in by one of the daycare centers. When they found him on the streets, he was dirty and his long, wild hair unmade. His parents, who were drinkers, barely took care of him. But when they saw that “the Mamas” and volunteers were capable of looking after their son, they realized they can take care of him as well. The parents started to wash him and cut his hair. Pat told us not only his appearance changed but also his personality. This story made us understand the huge impact of Ubuntu’s daycare centers on the children and their parents.

The spirit of Ubuntu

Ubuntu means humanity. It is an African philosophy of sharing with and caring for the community. This “spirit of Ubuntu” is reflected in everything Projekt Ubuntu does. They are not only helping the community, but they ARE a vital part of the community. A community where everyone helps everyone and where “your child is my child”. However, the organization believes taking a child away from its parents is the last choice one should make. It can destroy a child. Therefore, they aim to educate the parents (usually the mothers since most of the children grow up without a father) and facilitating where possible. Projekt Ubuntu is not currently running parenting workshops but it is one of their main goals for the future. Because only strong mothers can raise strong, independent children. As an intern, you could be part of the development of these workshops among other things…

Volunteering vs skills-based Volunteering

Projekt Ubuntu has hosted over 6000 volunteers and interns the past 10 years. The volunteers are of great value for Ubuntu but they usually only stay for a few weeks working in the daycare entertaining the children. Therefore, their role is very practical and hands-on. However, for a more sustainable development of the projects, Ubuntu needs long-term interns who can help with the structure and management. Skills-based volunteering or internships with Ubuntu offer a combination of both getting hands-on experiences working with the community and putting academic skills into practice. Depending on the internship, you could provide psychological assistance to children, assist with marketing and communications or create fundraising campaigns.

Interested in interning with Ubuntu? Have a look at their profile.

Santa’s Shoebox

At lunchtime, we got picked up again by the volunteer bus. The driver brought us to a mall nearby where we ate lunch. It was kind of a strange feeling leaving the township and driving to this huge, air-conditioned mall. However, I was happy we went because I got the chance to buy a Christmas present for one of the kids. Projekt Ubuntu has started a Christmas project where every volunteer can fill a shoebox (or more) with presents. The shoeboxes should include one piece of clothing, something for school and a toy. So that’s what I did: I bought a T-shirt, an Atlas, color pencils and a ball. It was quite a challenge as I only knew my “secret Santa” was a boy between 10 and 12 years old. I hope he likes his presents!

In December, Ubuntu is having a Christmas party where every child receives a shoebox filled with gifts. Since I only joined Ubuntu for a day, I felt contributing to the (amazing) Santa Shoebox project was a great way to show my support. I’m a bit sad I won’t be there to see the happy faces when the kids get their presents.

The Afternoon

After lunch, we left the mall and drove back to Masiphumelele. The younger children get looked after in the morning when the older ones are in school. Therefore, the school kids can come to the daycare and play for two hours in the afternoon. Even though schools are free in South Africa, Mama Pat told us some of the children don’t visit a school on a regular basis simply because they are hungry. No one can learn on an empty stomach. Thus, Projekt Ubuntu is cooking for the children. In times when resources are tight, they can always rely on help from community members and volunteers who donate food. The spirit of Ubuntu is everywhere!

The afternoon program ended at 4 pm. Back at the accommodation, I talked to the volunteers about their experiences. They all seemed to enjoy the project. Working with Projekt Ubuntu they could experience a totally different life compared to the one back home. It made them and myself realize, how privileged we actually are and how unequal South Africa still is.

Projekt Ubuntu offers both the volunteers and the community an opportunity for growth and development. It is their mission to teach young individuals the principle of Ubuntu – human values – in the materialistic world we live in. After only spending a day with the organization, I could feel and see their mission in everything they do. It was a very inspiring and motivating experience. Making a difference in someone’s life can sometimes be as easy as a hug, playing a game or a smile.

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