Soon, we’ll use this space to tell the stories of our volunteers and the projects they’ve embarked on. For now, I wanted to share some of my past social work volunteerism projects that inspired me.
— Thea Bader, founder
The day was bright and hot in Khayelistsha, a township outside of Cape Town, when we walked along the narrow dirt pathway leading to one of the crude shacks that housed the clients, a family of five. The problem that day was the wheelchair that was stolen in the neighborhood was the only way the son, suffering from MS, could be transported.
The family was desperate for help. I followed the two Ikamva Labantu social workers into the darkness of the house and as my eyes adjusted I saw my surroundings—a small dwelling with a dirt floor, two rooms separated by a curtain, and no indoor plumbing. One child was curled up on a cot sleeping, another was sitting on the floor of the main room wailing, and the third—the son whose wheelchair was missing—wedged in a corner of the small house.
The social workers got to work immediately making introductions and talking to the parents in Xhosa, the local African dialect, to fully determine the issue and how best to solve the issue of the day.
The social workers immediately calmed the family with discussions of reaching out to a government office for the disabled for funds with which to purchase a new wheelchair. The family’s feelings of powerlessness were quieted by the hope of a solution and the social worker’s gentle and compassionate manner in the wake of their despair.
This a snapshot of one moment of one day in the life of para-professional social workers in Africa. Khayelistsha is not alone in the world when dealing with a myriad of social issues. Profound poverty, disease, violence, displacement from war, orphans as a result of AIDS—these are a some of the issues that plague communities across the globe.
My international volunteering “bug” began in late 2006, a few months leading up to my 50th birthday and when I decided to travel to Tanzania to work in a village at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The women that formed the Kiwodea Women’s Group which was a UN-sanctioned and part of the microfinance program wanted to learn English. Thus began my first taste of international volunteering and the passion for giving back to the less fortunate among us.
My interest in international volunteering brought me to a Senior Center in Lima, Peru, a group of mothers of pre-school children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the township of Khayelistsha, South Africa. I have taught English and more, using my social work skills as short-term, problem centered therapist as well as psycho-educational group leader, lending my knowledge of child development and a training-the trainer programs for para-professional social workers in South Africa. These are my experiences and ones that I cherish, but there are numerous ways social workers can help ease the burdens of life in problem plagued communities.
The capacity of social work volunteerism is endless and so important: global networking for the purpose of exchanging best practice information; working with agencies to prevent human trafficking; assisting with the rehabilitation of people who have been traumatized by war, sexual exploitation, or displacement, and train-the-trainer programs, to name just a few.
Social work professionals strengthen communities by addressing inequalities, providing support to local community workers, breaking down barriers, and driving reforms. In turn, they gain an understanding of global issues affecting communities around the world which deepens their own knowledge and clinical expertise.