When did you volunteer with Bobbi Bear?
I first went in 2006 and then returned in 2010 to research my Anthropology dissertation titled ‘Bearing Witness to Child Rape: negotiating adult perceptions of childhood in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa’.
How long were you with them?
The first time I came across Bobbi Bear was part of a tour, where we visited the ‘Tree Clinics’ four times. I returned to learn more and understand the culture, the need for Bobbi Bear and to research my dissertation. I went back for a full 6 weeks.
Has this decision affected your onward career choices? Understanding of life? How?
Working with the women of Bobbi Bear made me want to do similar work and ignited my interest in child protection. It definitely shaped my academic choices and my career aspirations.
What did your volunteering work consist of? What were your highlights?
Volunteering at Bobbi Bear is unlikely to be consistent due to the nature of the work. In my experience I spent time at police stations, in courtrooms, at the hospital, the tree clinic, Saturday support group, the Bobbi Bear house and I spent time with the staff. I didn’t get into schools as a result of strikes at the time. I worked with Child Safety Officers and everyday I helped look after two little girls who were in Bobbi Bear’s care at the time. I would help get them ready for school, they would eat with us, we would help with homework and we would put them to bed. I also went to a Bobbi Bear fundraising event.
With only a six week research period I didn’t spend my weekends away from Bobbi Bear although other volunteers did take some time to explore. The work at Bobbi Bear is challenging and emotionally draining but the people you work with are amazing and getting to know them and learning from them is definitely the highlight.
What were your expectations before starting? Did these match up to your experience when you finished?
I had some idea of Bobbi Bear’s work after having been to the tree clinic and an understanding of the context as a result of research for my dissertation. I didn’t really go with set expectations, I knew it would be hard and I knew it would be challenging but I don’t think you will ever be fully prepared for that sort of experience. The experience definitely changed me, I’m not sure you could come away from it entirely unchanged.
Why should someone chose to volunteer with Bobbi Bear? Who do you think is most suited to spend time with Bobbi Bear?
Bobbi Bear, in my opinion, is an incredible project to volunteer with. Those who practice or are studying social work, counselling, psychology, child development, youth work or anthropology I believe can gain a lot from this experience. Working within a different cultural framework, understanding the challenges of that environment and learning how Bobbi Bear work to overcome them can deepen your understanding of a subject and enable you to broaden your approach to it.
In your opinion, should people volunteer abroad? Why?
As an anthropologist I think that we can learn a lot from other cultures and think that as a result volunteering abroad can enhance the experience.I am incredibly aware of the critical and ethical concerns and agree that some volunteering can have a negative impact. But the right people in the right projects can have a positive impact for all involved. I think volunteering must always be sustainable and should never be approached ethnocentrically.
Would you like to follow in Jennifer’s footsteps?