This fantastic testimony was provided by one of our volunteers who has asked to remain anonymous. In her story, you will find the very essence of volunteering work. The desire to give back to the community took this volunteer to the Bobbi Bear centre in South Africa and her experience acts as a powerful affirmation of the invaluable work done by the Bobbi Bear staff in assisting women and children who have been through sexual abuse and have nowhere else to go.
What did your volunteering work consist of?
As a new volunteer, you spend the first couple of days in training, learning about Bobbi Bear, the sexual abuse crisis in South Africa and the difference Bobbi Bear make in tackling this issue in the local community. The volunteering work consisted mostly of going to police stations with Bobbi Bear counsellors to talk with victims, in one of their weekly visits. Victims can tell their stories to the counsellor and as volunteers, we were allowed to participate in these conversations and sometimes we were asked to speak with either a child or their parents. We went to schools to inform children about HIV and AIDS, but it was also sex education in a broader context in which they paid special attention to sexual abuse. Bobbi Bear also helps victims going through legal proceedings. We went to court a few times to support victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes it goes further than just sexual abuse and they help physically abused or abandoned children – Bobbi Bear are all about helping children.
On some occasions, children have the opportunity to stay in the Bobbi Bear house. Volunteers can sleep there and are available to take care of these children from late afternoon until the next morning when the workers of Bobbi Bear arrive. There is a 7-year-old girl who lives at Bobbi Bear and is physically handicapped. Volunteers are asked to take care of her, but if they don’t feel comfortable with her, workers of Bobbi Bear take her home. That wasn’t necessary as she’s an absolutely fantastic, smart and spry little girl and every volunteer loves spending time with her, myself included.
What were your expectations before starting?
For me, it was hard to have concrete expectations. Of course you read about the project, but still, it’s hard to imagine how it will be exactly since every child you meet in the project is unique and that makes every single experience at Bobbi Bear a singular memory.
How do you feel the experience changed you?
It gave me a new perspective on the scale of sexual abuse and what’s being done in the field to tackle it – this kind of work opened my eyes to that reality. For the people at Bobbi Bear, it goes much further than work, it is their life’s work to save these children. I think that’s very different from the way we work with children in need in Europe. I am now learning to be a child psychologist and I hope I can adopt a bit of the extreme dedication these people have.
In your opinion, should people do volunteering? Why?
That is not an easy question. There is a lot of discussion on this topic and I believe that there is voluntary work that in the end doesn’t help others. For yourself, it is always a wonderful and instructive experience and I would absolutely advise everyone to do some kind of voluntary work. But I think you must critically look at what you give children and if that’s the best way to help them. You must not forget when you leave it can be very painful for the children to say goodbye to the people they have become attached to. On the other hand, your presence and love can make a difference in their lives, as they have been deprived of love more often that not. If done right, volunteering can be a wonderful experience and you can leave a lasting impression on the children.
Can you name the most powerful moment of your volunteering experience?
It’s hard to choose one as I picked up so many long-lasting memories but one general impression stayed with me. On one occasion, we went to one of the townships were some workers of Bobbi Bear live. These Bobbi Bear workers are such hard workers, live in small houses with sometimes dozens of children they take care of. Children that have nowhere to go, either because they’re orphans or because their homes aren’t safe for them. These workers spend all their money to feed these children and to make sure they can go to school. It is amazing to see that’s it is not their job to help children, it is their life.