“Giving back” is a bit of an overused term. In fact, I think it’s become so commonplace, that it has actually begun to lose its meaning. Essentially, it’s supposed to mean giving back to the community, country or world that has given you so much, and spreading love, wealth, knowledge or time from those who have so much, to those who don’t have enough (now THAT I can get behind).
I think about this a lot in a South African context, the longer I live here. And I’ve begun to be of the mindset that as a privileged South African, living in a country with our very fraught and terrible history, and our very difficult present reality, we can’t NOT give something back to our fellow citizens, the people who also call this country home.
In fact it seems to me, one of the only ways to not feel helpless about all the bad news you hear around you, every day. It doesn’t have to be money, because I know most people don’t have much to spare. It can be time, even if you work full time. You can motivate for a regular company volunteering hour (whether it’s weekly or monthly) – I know most large companies have CSI budgets that they HAVE to use each month anyway. Or it could be skills transfer, or rounding up items you no longer need and donating them to someone who does.
It’s not just that it will make you feel less helpless. Volunteering helps you see things from other people’s perspectives, takes away your blinkers, opens up your mind, makes you more aware of your own privilege. There have also been many studies proving that volunteering can improve your health and overall happiness, so even if you don’t think of yourself as an altruistic person, know that it can actually be good for you, too.
Sjoe. Okay, lecture over. Sorry, but these kinds of things can get me emotional.
Anyway, I think the important thing is to find something you really feel strongly about and get involved that way. In my case, it’s literacy and reading. I joined a literacy initiative in Joburg but it didn’t quite work out as the kids I was reading with, didn’t seem to need my help that much at all.
This time things are different and I can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with how Shine Literacy is run as a programme. The best part is that I really feel like what I’m doing is making a difference in some little girl’s life. I first heard about Shine when I attended an event earlier this year through Woolworth’s MySchool. After seeing their work in action, I signed up to join their volunteering programme and attended a training day soon after that.
The training was really thorough and well run and I learned a lot! It also helps that my daughter is at the learning-to-read stage so I’m getting practice at home too. Anyway, now I attend a one hour session each week (but many people attend two or three). The hour you spend with the child you’ve been allocated is divided up into 4 x 15min slots: one for have-a-go-writing, one for word games, one for paired reading and one for shared reading. The time just flies by! I volunteer at a school in Woodstock, which only takes me 10 minutes to get there, but there are centres all around the city and around the country too.
I can’t give you any details (or show any pics) of the little Grade 2 girl I read with every week, as Shine is all about protecting the children’s right to privacy and I totally agree with that. I can tell you that she is a little beam of sunshine. She’s got the biggest smile and she’s bursting with confidence these days and I always reflect on our weekly chats for a long time afterwards.
The thing about her though is that she was really struggling to read. She would guess the words, instead of sounding them out. Her writing was poor and she was even finding three letter words difficult. That was when I first met her, a few months ago. But in the short time I’ve been working with her (and there are other volunteers she sees too), I’ve watched her reading make a huge improvement!
Now she knows the difference between “a” and “o” and even “e” and “i” – which is a hard one! She’s got more confidence in her ability and she’s trying, instead of giving up. Best of all, her teachers have noticed a difference in her work in the classroom, and directly attribute these changes to Shine. How neat? Now think if we could amplify that, all across South Africa, think how many young children could escape the cycle of “poor literacy, low educational attainment, wasted potential and poverty”? You can find out more about volunteering with Shine here.
But what about if you can’t commit to a regular hour a week? I get you, life is very busy and often your time is not your own. I was recently invited to an event with BetterSA, who have been described as “the Uber of volunteering”. BetterSA actually have ‘Hop on Hop off’ buses in Jozi which run every Saturday morning, between 8am and 12pm, picking up volunteers along the way.
When you arrive at any of their hubs you’re given a brief on what work you’re going to be doing and then get a pack along with a step-by-step guide on how to complete the activity, plus all the supplies you need. You spend 90 mins at the organization before boarding the bus and heading back to your car. Activities range from teaching computer skills, playing educational games and typing up hand written CVs for the unemployed to painting murals and environmental clean ups. Such a clever way of making volunteering accessible.
MySchool have partnered with BetterSA and sponsored one bus in Joburg which takes MySchool members to NGOs they may previously only have been supporting by swiping their cards. I like the way this brings people closer to the initiatives that may have seemed quite distant to them previously.
Although BetterSA doesn’t run in Cape Town yet (we went to an inaugural “test” event last week), they will hopefully be soon – so watch this space!
The days are getting lighter, brighter and warmer – enjoy the first day of Spring tomorrow, and have happy weekends.