Aim for the Smile

Like most people, I decided to do volunteering work abroad out of a very simple desire to help other people and develop my teaching career. My only metric for success? To be able to put a smile on just one face, although I aimed (and got!) many more smiles.

Before I started I didn’t know what to expect, I simply wanted to take it day by day. In the beginning, we were trained by Jackie, and I got a taste of the uphill battle Bobbi Bear have ahead of them. I loved to see how they provide for the needs of every child whenever they need it. Every day is a surprise with plans changing every minute and they always do what’s right for the children. I loved to be a part of the Bobbi Bear family, which is why I’ve already gone back to visit them twice, and I intend to visit again soon.

My primary responsibility was to care for two traumatised girls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was taxing as those two little ones had had different caregivers every six weeks for about two years. It was almost as if they had lost the ability to bond so it was challenging to get their trust, but I think we were able to as much as possible at least.

I was stationed at Kwamakhutha police station to help one of the counsellors with their cases. I tried to let the children feel comfortable so they could momentarily forget their problems as I played and interacted with them, with their smile as my sole objective. There were also a few visits to the hospital. On one occasion, I went to home affairs to get an ID for a blind man which took more than one day. After that, I went to Prince Mshiyeni Hospital to get medicine for the same man, which was a daunting experience. There were very sick people lying on stretchers in the hallway, a sad image which shows how understaffed and overworked South African hospitals are. I was happy I could help the blind man with his medicine, but I was sad for those people who couldn’t a better level of care.

Every Saturday at support group we organised games and entertainment for the children, cleaned and tidied up the playroom. We also helped out at the clinic as we got some new cases where we did the best we could to make the staff’s lives a bit easier. We provided first aid, handed out clothes and food.

The thing that impressed me the most in the three months was how one of the ladies got her new house. She lived in a shack and she was able to get a government house. It was beautiful to witness the impact that had on her family’s happiness and I consider myself lucky to have witnessed that pure joy as we helped her move into her new place.

Another impactful memory was the silent protest we did at court for a girl that had been hidden and tied up for a couple of years by her parents.

Back home, I’m a teacher and I still tell my students stories about Bobbi Bear and their work in SA. They love those stories as they’re made aware of the fact there’s a lot more happening in the world outside of our classroom

The staff at Bobbi Bear have inspired me to pursue further education in coaching children. Their dedication to the children left an indelible mark on my soul.

Volunteering was a beautiful experience, there’s nothing like letting go of yourself and just giving without expecting anything back.


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