HOME IS WHEREVER I’M WITH YOU.

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At this point in life, some people fall in love with a person, some people fall in love with a new career, and some people fall in love with a show on Netflix. But me?  I fell in love with a place. Okay, maybe I fell in love with a show on Netflix too. But that’s beside the point.

It’s no secret that volunteering has become a new passion of mine. There’s absolutely no better experience or feeling. I got an itch to travel back in September and decided to pair it with some volunteering – an international volunteer trip. With help from a co-worker, I set up a week and a half long volunteer trip through IVHQ who then paired me with Dreams to Reality (DTR). DTR is an organization that helps provide aid and assistance to towns in South Africa. More specifically, I was placed in Muizenberg, a beach suburb about 25 minutes outside of Cape Town.

Going to South Africa alone seemed to be one of the most terrifying trips I would experience in my life. Granted, I wasn’t going to be alone when I was there, I would be surrounded by lots of volunteers and the many locals. But, for someone who has only left the country to go to Rocky Point, I was terrified. But after traveling for over 24 hours, I had finally made it to Cape Town!

I had signed up to work in childcare and was so thankful to be placed in Mary’s Daylight Educare, where Mary runs a preschool out of her home with two other teachers and 33 children. I’ll talk more about Mary and her school later on, but for now, I just want to give you the low-down on my temporary South Africa life. 18 Hastings was where I called home for the next week and a half. I lived with six other girls from all over the place. One from Boston, two from Sweden, one from Norway and two from Australia. Living with them taught me so much about different countries and the way other people live (apparently Americans are the only ones who don’t use the metric system and say ‘aluminum’ wrong). But we all had a few things in common – we loved to volunteer, we loved to eat, loved wine and loved to laugh. Living so close to the other volunteer houses made it easier to meet some of the other volunteers and I’m so glad I did. My trip would not have been the same without them! From Tuesday night “braais” at the Rec House to Wednesday karaoke at Brass Bell to Friday Market and then Tiger’s Milk – the fun we had was immeasurable. We sang terribly, laughed, probably drank too much, had adventures, beach days, movie nights and laughed some more. It’s hard to find better people than the volunteers – everyone was welcoming and so down to Earth, it was hard not to get along. I’m extremely thankful for the friends I’ve met and the memories we’ve made.

I got to do a bit of exploring while there, but not as much as I would have liked. I got to see some of Cape Town and little towns like Noordhoek and Costantia. Wine tasting in both towns (you know me) and horseback riding in Noordhoek – we even rode on the beach! Unfortunately, with limited time, I wasn’t able to go on a safari or go cage diving, but I will be back as soon as I can and will not leave until I do all of that – and more! Words literally cannot describe how beautiful it was in South Africa. The sunsets, the mountains (even on fire!), the beaches, I could go on for days.

For lack of a better word, the “vibe” there was always so laid back and relaxed. I felt so comfortable right away. For all of you who felt “skeptical” about me going, I can assure you there was no moment where I ever felt unsafe. Staying in groups and using common sense was all we really needed! I was so genuinely happy the whole time I was there. I felt carefree and adventurous and excited and just, alive. It was the best feeling in the world.

So – now to the real reason I am writing this, the sole reason this trip was what it was and why it impacted me so incredibly much – the kids! It’s obvious that these children are SO adorable. It was absolutely love at first sight. There’s a kind of love they give that can’t quite be explained and can’t be found anywhere else. The kiddos I was spending time with live in the township called Capricorn. The townships are basically neighborhoods or areas that are very poor and extremely dangerous. We never went there at night, but the school we were volunteering in was in the township as well. These kids are exposed to drug/alcohol abuse, violence, poor home lives at very young ages. Some are abandoned, orphaned, living with other family members. They come from almost nothing – at times arriving to school in torn shirts, socks with hole or pants too large or small. They don’t wear their shoes when they go to the park because they don’t have many pairs, so they can’t afford to ruin them. The park is across the street from Mary’s school, with monkey bars, those circle things that you spin around really fast on, a spider web climbing thing and a slab of concrete to play on. But there’s also dirt and trash and glass that they are running barefoot on.

With all of this being said – what do you think the kids were like? Did you think they were crying because they didn’t have nice clothes? Pouting because they didn’t have a basketball to play with? Frowning because they didn’t want to play on the playground with no shoes on? I can assure you that they were the farthest from it.

These kids were incredible, to say the least. Give them your love, a nice day and time to run around and play and they are happy little campers. Tantrums were almost unheard of (especially in comparison to kids here at home!) and love radiated out of them like sunshine on a summer day. Every single child had his or her own personality and getting to know each of them was the best part of my trip. I will never forget their laughs, dance moves or singing voices because they are constantly playing in my head as a steady reminder of where I left a piece of my heart. These kids taught me how to be humble, how to appreciate life and how to love everyone and everything around you, regardless of circumstance. They are the best people I’ve ever met and I cannot wait to one day be reunited with them!

This trip opened my eyes to so many things. Being grateful for life and all that it holds was a huge part. I think too often we take things for granted and being in a place like Muizenberg showed me that. Being in South Africa instilled a passion in me that was already starting to blossom, but now is in full growth. Helping people, volunteering, all of that is something I will continue to do for the rest of my life. I have never felt happier than when I did when I was there spending time with the kids, the teachers – giving them supplies, my time and love. They say volunteers are so important to them and the success of their schools, but I don’t think they realize how important they are to us, too. It’s hard to put into words just how much you learn from the people you volunteer with/for. I am forever grateful for Mary’s school and all of the students and teachers there for showing me their love and kindness, always with open arms.

Another thing this trip did for me was throw me out of my comfort zone. As I said before, I was terrified to go on this trip at first. I felt so comfortable at home, with the same people and same places. When I got to South Africa I was so lost, but in a good way. From public transportation to restaurants to people, everything was so different than home. I met so many awesome people, tried new things and bonded with strangers over the littlest things.

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In some way, Muizenberg took a bunch of us strangers, with mixed emotions and our own reservations, and turned us into family. Even though we were all from different places, thousands of miles away from where we lived, somehow in the magic of it all, we felt like we were home.

I think it’s safe to say; I am the luckiest girl in the whole, wide world.

HOME IS WHEREVER I’M WITH YOU.

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