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What past interns have to say about social work internships in South Africa

Sometimes it’s difficult to capture in words all our internships have to offer, so whenever possible, we like to let our interns speak to their own experiences. So, we thought we’d do just that and share some feedback we’ve recently received on one of our social work internships in South Africa.

In August, Matthew Devens completed a Youth Social Work internship in Cape Town. This program places interns with a social development organization, Project Ubuntu, in Masiphumelele, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. They run the Ubuntu Centre, which provides up to 100 children each day with daycare, healthy meals, and educational programs, and provide support for other daycare centers in the township too. Matthew, current Psychology Major at DePauw University, was with Project Ubuntu for two months over his summer break, and here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“I would say that the internship exceeded my expectations. I was not really sure what I was getting myself into at first, but I found a really comforting place here in Cape Town and I was shown so many incredible things.”

Read more about the Internship programs in South Africa we offer here.

What to expect when booking social work internships in South Africa

With flights, visas, and everything else to consider, booking a social work internship in South Africa can be a daunting prospect. Matthew admitted to being a little trepidatious before his departure but said that he was “very happy with the support (he) received” arranging his internship. And once he arrived at the project, he realized he had nothing to worry about.

“The first week of my internship was amazing and I felt right at home. I wasted no time in going to work and exploring the opportunities that Cape Town had in store for me.”

What you’ll do on social work internships in South Africa

On this program, interns assist with the day-to-day running of the Ubuntu Centre. This can include creating and running after school programs, supporting children through difficult periods, coordinating volunteers, fundraising, and coordinating with and supporting other daycares. So, days are varied. Matthew got involved with a bit of everything on his internship:

“My first job was working at the Ubuntu Centre…, my colleagues and I would plan activities, field trips, and lessons every week to present to the children. I helped coach a youth soccer club that would meet weekly as well… We would also get the children involved in community clean ups and have them help plant vegetables and plants in the garden. This offered them the education of sustainability while having fun at the same time.”

As with all social work internships in South Africa, the work is meaningful and its impact tangible. Growing up in the Masiphumelele township, a child must deal with serious social issues such as poverty, crime, and high levels of drug and alcohol abuse. The Ubuntu Centre aims to serve as a haven for these children. Matthew says he could see his work at the Ubuntu Centre “contributed in providing a safe space for the youth to go to after school in order to keep them on track for success.”

What you’ll learn from social work internships in South Africa

Professional development and valuable learning are always at the forefront of our mind when devising our programs. That said, it’s always best when an intern has space to use their own intuition and follow their passions. Here’s what Matthew had to say about that:

“I developed many professional and personal skills over my internship…. Not only did I focus on my project and job, I was also given the time to explore and find new things that interest me. One of the skills that I worked on a lot was my cooking abilities. I would cook meals for all of the residents of the volunteer house and it was a beautiful way to bring everyone together and share stories about our days. With that said, I really developed my interpersonal and communication skills. I learned how to create a positive environment with individuals that come from completely different backgrounds than myself.”

Moreover, we can provide an intern with an experience, but there’s no telling what they’ll take from it. Matthew, during his internship, gained experience event-planning, public speaking, coaching and leading a class. He developed his interpersonal skills, his organizational skills, and his cooking abilities too. He played a role in providing much needed support to the disadvantaged communities of Masiphumelele. And here’s what he took away from his time with Project Ubuntu:

“I am very proud of all the work I have done over the past couple of months. However, I myself have learned so much from the community in which I worked. The children that I worked with taught me so much about love and happiness, despite the difficult conditions they may live in… I feel like this internship has given me a new outlook on life and will help me to look at things with more positivity and gratitude.”

Social Work Internship Highlights

When we asked Matthew what he enjoyed most about this social work internship in South Africa, the first thing he mentioned was the people he’d met.

“I enjoyed building a great connection with the community of Masiphumelele and I really am glad to have met so many amazing people here…I not only worked with lovely people, but I made some lifelong friends along the way.”

Having heard what a lasting impression they’d had on him, we wanted to know more about the people Matthew met during his internship. So, we asked Matthew if he could share any more with us. He was kind enough to oblige with this story form his internship:

“There are so many amazing stories that I cannot even think of where to begin… One individual who stood out to me was a man by the name of Rasta Sam, a metal worker in Masiphumelele Township. Although we did not spend a ton of time together, we shared positivity and peaceful encounters whenever he would run into me on his way to his work while I worked on the garden outside of the Ubuntu Centre…. Before I parted, Sam sent me off with some of the most spectacular gifts that he made with his own hands and scrap metal. The gifts consisted of a copper bracelet with my name engraved into it and a meter high traditional African mask that he put together out of a recycle braii pit. I was speechless when he presented those gifts to me. Those are just the types of people you are surrounded with when you are in this community. The best!”

What we guarantee our interns at Roots is valuable learning, professional development, meaningful work, and beautiful destinations with rich cultures. What we can’t prepare you for is the people you’ll meet and how they’ll affect you.

What happens after social work internships in South Africa?

Of course, the hope is that a social work internship in South Africa continues to be of use to you, even after your flight home. The experience you’ve gained will add bullet points to your CV as you enter the job market. You’ll take the skills you’ve gained with you on the first day of your next job. Even better than this, an internship could change your path altogether. You might find a new career to pursue, a new country to live in, or, like Matthew, you might find yourself with new friends around the world to visit.

“I am graduating from college this December and I am planning on heading back out to Cape Town in January where I will stay for a few months to help manage the volunteer house and cook meals for the residents. After that, I am continuing my job search in child development and other psychological fields.”

So, what are you waiting for?

A social work internship in Africa is not only valuable for the benefit it has on your career, or for the impact you can make in disadvantaged areas, in fact, it is perhaps most valuable for the life lessons it can impart on both sides of the cultural exchange. It is stories like this that remind us why we do what we do here at Roots. Our internships don’t simply provide work experience, we’re in the business of LIFE experience.

Interested in Matthew’s program? Learn more about our NGO Even Management Internship here