Every year, we have university students studying psychology, medicine, education and more volunteer at our sites. Recently, Morgan, a psychology student, volunteered with Bobbi Bear in South Africa helping children who have been victims of abuse. This experience made her more aware of global issues and inspired her to continue to volunteer in the future. To hear more from Morgan, read our interview with her below:

So obviously our programme with Bobbi Bear can be really, really tough. Were there times when you got a lot of enjoyment from it and found lighter moments?

No, there were definitely lighter notes because you could hear the success stories from the staff and listen to the achievements that Bobbi Bear has already had, which is really good. It was always very positive on the weekends with all the kids coming to the Tree, because they were just coming because they loved hanging out with the other kids and getting the experience of that. That was really fun and you could see all the kids there were really happy. So it wasn’t all just doom and gloom; obviously you heard about abuse, but there were a lot of fun times when kids were hanging out.

And what were the kids like?

They were really sweet, they were really cute. They were very welcoming and would just talk to you immediately and they were really friendl

Did you really feel like you made a difference while you were there?

Yeah. It’s hard because it went so quickly and I was only there for four weeks, so I could never fully experience a full case going through. But just being there with the kids and hanging out with them, especially at the tree on the weekends, then you definitely feel like you’re making a difference because you just talk to them and they can get to know your culture and you get to know theirs, and it just felt like they wanted to hear about it. I feel like I had some impact.

Do you feel like you made a difference to the kids you were working with or Bobbi Bear as a whole?  

I guess it’s just being there for the child to give them a voice they didn’t have before, and give them someone to talk to that they’re comfortable with. To just feel like they’re getting some care and attention that they might not be getting at home, it could definitely help a child face the abuse and talk about it at a young age rather than holding it with them for a long time, which would affect them later in life. So I guess in that sense it would definitely help them and make an impact that they know there’s someone there who cares about them.

 I can imagine it may be quite hard for them to open up, so how did you build those relationships in a short period of time?

Yeah, I was actually surprised, I mean a lot of the cases had been there for weeks and months before I arrived, so Bobbi Bear had already built a relationship with the child. I suppose how much they did open up and talk about it depends on making the child comfortable in the situation. Introducing me I think helped, because I didn’t understand what they were saying since they were speaking Zulu, so that made them feel more comfortable. Yeah, I think it’s just knowing that you’re there to help them and that whatever they say isn’t going to hurt them or harm them. Just letting them know that it’s not their fault and just constant reassurance to them just to feel more comfortable and open up.

I think it also helps, in a way, being from a different country, because you can talk to a child and you can explain your own culture and they can learn something. I think it was exciting for them to meet someone from abroad as well. It’s quite nice sitting down with a child and sharing your own culture with them.

 

And did you feel comfortable while you were there? In terms of the staff and who you were surrounded with, did you feel warmth and security and ease in terms of how you were feeling day to day?

Yeah I felt so comfortable, everyone there was really lovely and if you needed anything they’d help you. Yeah they were really lovely. That makes a difference.

Can you name the some of the most impactful moments of your experience?

One of them was a 12 year old who had been raped and had gotten pregnant from it. Because it’s quite a religious country, her social worker was obviously against abortion and she was telling her lies, like if you have an abortion you won’t have kids afterwards. The girl came to Bobbi Bear and they just told her the facts and talked her through it, and they ended up taking her to the hospital. The day after I left she was admitted to have an abortion, so that was quite nice that they really made a difference by providing that child support.

So that would be really impactful, seeing the difference Bobbi Bear make? 

Yeah, seeing how they can help a child. Because at 12, you should never have to go through that. And it doesn’t help that the one person that’s meant to be helping, the social worker, isn’t really giving the fair facts about it.

And then another one was the sentencing of a 21 year old boy who had sexually abused six different children, but he basically got let off scott-free. That was quite hard to think about, because it sort of shows how different the culture is; that he could sort of get away with it because his parents had money and they sort of paid their way to get him to a different court that treated him differently. After that, I was actually talking to one of the parents of one of the children he had abused, and that was pretty awful because she was just describing it and how she was going to appeal the case. It was hard hearing it from the mother of the child.

When you say that was impactful, it’s in the way that it was a wake-up call and a shock. What kind of effect do you think that had on you and your time?

I think, because it was quite early on into my time there, it was just definitely a wake-up call of how the courts and the government all work and how it seemed like they’re not for the children even though they claim that they are. It was just very eye opening and made me realise how important Bobbi Bear was, because the courts aren’t really doing their duty. And then just talking to the parents made it feel a bit more real, hearing that all from their perspective as well. It was just kind of hard hitting and eye opening.

 

Children under the tree with Bobbi Bear, South Africa, Volunteer Abroad, Volunteer Invest, Morgan Allen

 

So what would you take from that experience now that you are home and have reflected on it?

It encouraged me to help and volunteer over here as well and to find similar programmes. It’s not as common over here, but it does happen, so there must be places where there are support programmes like Bobbi Bear. So it encouraged me to help other people over here.

And if I can help some way over there from abroad, by doing a fundraiser and try to fundraise money and send it over. It definitely just encouraged me to do more volunteer work like that, because it makes you aware of how impactful it is for all the victims.

It definitely opens you up a bit and gets you out of your little bubble at home. You realise there’s so much more going on in the world. It’s hard coming home, because there’s so much going on that’s out of your hands, but it encourages you to help more.

In your opinion, should people volunteer?

Yeah, definitely. I 100% would go back again if I can find the time next summer, possibly for longer. It’s such a good experience.

Do you think it’s a programme that only people that are studying psychology or law or something similar could do because of the nature of the programme? Or could other people do it?

I reckon you could do it. I was in the room and I didn’t always understand the case because I didn’t hear the kids saying it from their perspective but through a translator, I only heard it from the Child Safety Officer that I was shadowing telling me afterwards the facts and what the kids were saying. So obviously you are aware of what happened, but you can’t actually hear the kids saying it. Which I think made it easier, because I think it would have been very hard to sit there and listen to the kid describe it themselves. So I think you could do it, I think you just can’t take the emotion of the kid on yourself, you have to be one of those people that’s able to handle your emotions.

You have to have a lot of resilience, and at the end of the day just relax yourself and not think too much because it will become really hard if you’re constantly thinking about it. I think it could be open to broader people who are interested in that and not have experience, because most of the time you’re just being there for kids, not actually providing the counselling yourself, so you don’t have to have that experience as much. It comes in useful in understanding how the kid is behaving from studying Psychology and why they’re behaving like that and having a different perspective from that side.

And do you feel that the experience has changed you in some way?

Yeah, it’s made me aware that I’m quite resilient I guess. It’s changed my outlook on the world and I’m trying not to be so narrow-minded in my world and be really aware that a lot is going on in other countries that are a lot worse off than here. And it just made me more appreciative of what I have.

In terms of what you’re up to now, what are your next steps and how has it impacted your future?

So I’ve got one more year of my university degree in Psychology left. I might try and look into programmes here that are similar that I can get involved with. I definitely want to look into more opportunities to volunteer and just get involved with it. Maybe counselling, but it’s quite hard to translate that into something in the U.K.; maybe some sort of criminal psychology. The experience made me think I might want to do something like that. Or maybe the law side of it, more the people side of it, helping victims. So, that’s a possibility, I just have to see if I can get some kind of experience with that, some volunteer work if I can. Career wise I’m not really set on what I want to do, I’m just kind of testing different things and see what I like. Doing the Psychology Volunteer Programme with Volunteer Invest has given me a new perspective that I can take and apply to my future volunteering and work placements. 

 

If you’re a Psychology student interested in volunteering abroad apply here!

 

If you have any questions, we are always here to talk. Visit www.volunteerinvest.org Email us – sian@armsaroundthechild.org