Volunteering at Bobbi Bear has changed my life. Before this experience, I was just a psychology student at a university, extracting information from books, and I never had any practical experience working with victims of abuse. I had never travelled this far to do something so impactful. In fact, I had never travelled alone before this experience!
When we started we took part in some training where we learned about South African culture, what volunteering is and how we can make the best out of it. However, there’s no training in the world that can prepare you for real volunteering work. The only thing you can do is to make sure the victims get the best help they can. There’s so much happening – you don’t get a chance to process the full magnitude of the sadness you come across every day.
I absolutely loved everything about my volunteering experience in South Africa. After witnessing everything that happened at Bobbi Bear, especially the impact of the great work all the staff members do on the children, I realised I want to do something identical. I want to work with traumatised children, support them during their sorrows and help them find happiness in life again.
One particular memory has stayed with me after all these years. On one of my last days at the centre, I picked up the phone to a man frenetically speaking in Zulu using only a little bit of English. I only heard the words ‘girl’ and ‘dead’. I immediately put him in contact with one of the staff members. A four-year-old girl had been abused, strangled and left for dead. If it hadn’t been for a casual pedestrian walking by, the girl wouldn’t have survived this ordeal. A horrible event by any accounts but this little girl wasn’t done with life just yet.
We went to visit her in the hospital the next morning and this precious, sweet little girl was playing around in the hospital like nothing had happened to her. Her mother had a cold gaze upon her face, filled with pain and thoughts of revenge. We gave the girl one of the Bobbi bears to play with and took them to a quiet room to ascertain what had happened. At one point, I saw the girl hitting her legs, still playing with the bear. Later, I found out the girl was telling the staff members that there was blood running down her legs when it happened. The mother started to cry hysterically and this was the moment I needed to grab some toys, some candy and take the girl out of the room to play with her. We couldn’t understand each other, although we could play. I had this sticker book and the girl started to put stickers all over our arms, with a quiet serenity. Barely a moment later, she started to scream and I realised just how traumatised she was by what happened. She just wanted to be with her mum. And who could blame her?
Being at Bobbi Bear and seeing all the cruel things happening to such sweet innocent children made me think about how child abuse can be such a widespread calamity. Why do people do such cruel things to each other and to children? Where do we need to change things to make get rid of this cruelty?
At Bobbi Bear, I felt like I was doing something meaningful in this battle, I felt like I could really help the children. When I went back home I felt like my work over there wasn’t done yet. I want to make a difference in the world, by working with traumatised children to make them smile again.
Everything that happened to me at Bobbi Bear is still on my mind, I think about it almost every day. I miss volunteering so I’m saving money to go back one day. Volunteering is an experience that will be with you for the rest of your life. If you do it once, you will keep wanting to do more.
To volunteer for Bobbi Bear