ICS Tearfund South Africa: Personal Journey

Over the last few years my passion for traveling has developed, where I am constantly looking to book flights to a new country to explore or researching new places or reading masses of traveling blogs a day.

Before this, I’ve always had it engraved in me to go through the process of education and follow my career dreams; I thought I had my future planned, and would be satisfied when I got there. I was always eager to go on to the next season of my life, whether this was to going to university or my year out or completing my Postgraduate Certificate of Education or my final goal of being a teacher of my own class.

I became a teacher as I love working with children and young people; seeing them grow academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually: I wanted to make an impact and difference in their lives. However, since becoming a Primary School teacher and reaching my ‘final goal’, I have not been content.  I have found that the schools I have worked in or the parents or even some of the children I have taught, have either not appreciated my long hours of commitment and hard-work or the focus has been more on paperwork and grades rather than the individual child’s well-being. Therefore, my reason for this chosen career has become invalid and felt like my life had come to a halt, thinking ‘Is this going to be the rest of my life? I should be happy: I’ve reached my career dreams, what about the next stage of my life?’ I knew I could make a difference and an impact to individuals elsewhere in the world; I knew that there was so much more to life than staying in the same career.  My heart and feet were starting to itch and yearned for a new adventure.

Last year, after travelling around Portugal when I realised that I should be doing more than just teaching in England and travelling in the holidays, I was praying to God about what I should do after teaching this academic year. I felt God say to me “Pack up your life: quit teaching in the UK, move out of your flat with your friends, sell your car and possession and go where I will send you”. What? Seriously? I know I’m not satisfied here but really? Am I hearing right? Was this a word from God or was I just satisfying my own selfish desires?

After praying and researching about where God might want me, I came across the ICS programme where I just fell in love with the idea of going to another country, immersing myself in another culture, serving the community, taking on the challenge of leading a group of young adults and making a difference to others in need.

As I reflect on the last ten weeks, volunteering in the Inner-City of Durban, South Africa, with Tearfund and Zoe-Life, who aims to reduce the vulnerability of children, I am surprised by the amount I have learnt, grown and changed. Through this placement, I have worked alongside my team with the teachers and owners of their unregistered Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres to achieve government registration, where they will benefit from government funding, thus reducing the vulnerability of children.

Even though on the surface, South Africa may not be known as a country in deep poverty as majority of residents have clean running water, a place to live and food on their tables, they are deprived in other areas of poverty, as it comes in many forms. Through my time in Durban, I have gained a deeper understanding of poverty; the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations, and how they focus on making the world a fairer place for all people.  While volunteering in unregistered crèches, as a teacher it has completely broken my heart to see that many children are not having their basic needs met in education due to the lack of knowledge and resources. I have become even more passionate to make a difference and impact in children’s lives in these deprived places so that they can benefit from the opportunity to learn and be educated.

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Teaching in one of the Creches

In that first week of being in five crèches, I encountered so many emotions from feeling overwhelmed, to feeling stunned by how welcoming and open some of the staff were, to being in tears because of the way the children were being treated, to being excited and motivated to work with the teachers to help them improve their ECD centres. I have really learnt the importance of building relationships with the staff to gain trust and understanding. Forming these bonds with the teachers has helped me gain insight in their story and life as well as the difference we have made as a team in each of their lives. When I saw the huge grins on the teachers and children’s faces and their overwhelming words of appreciation after painting their crèche, I was completely speechless and my heart was full of joy. I didn’t realised how such a small thing of putting some paint on the wall could completely transform and impact them and the community around them. Through working alongside the teachers; getting to know the staff; painting and giving teaching ideas and resources, I now comprehend the realisation of how much of a sustainable difference we have made but also the impact they have made in my life through their willingness, openness and sharing their love through hugs.

As a team leader, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the volunteers on a personal level, sharing in their achievements as well as their challenging times. Since I have not lead a group of 18-23 year olds, some freshly out of school where they haven’t been away from home before, I have learnt to manage them, sort out any issues and most importantly encourage them throughout the placement. From working with children in the past, I know the reality of crocodile tears so here I have learnt to be more sensitive and caring in addition to praying with the team members in their time of need. Also, I have grasped the concept of sacrifice and thinking of others better than myself while being a team leader because from a young age, I have been an extremely independent person and only needed to take care of myself. Therefore, I have had to continually sacrifice my own needs and wants for the benefit of individuals or the team. Through this, God has reminded me that Jesus was sacrificed at the cross for our sins to save others. Thus, I need to sacrifice aspects of my life for those around me.

My relationship with God has grown rapidly. I have seen a daily impact of God in my life and he has revealed new plans and desires for me throughout this placement. Being in a completely new context allowed me to see God in a new way. I felt that God called me to fast for a day, which was an incredible experience, allowing me to clearly hear from God. He reminded me that I am his child, that he will always be with me and from reflecting on my past, he has never failed to deliver me out of difficulties. I believe he also has given me a discerning heart to govern his people and administrate injustice. From reading a book I was given to take on this placement, God has given me a passion for broken women and children that are involved with prostitution and sex trafficking. Ever since this discovery, it has popped up everywhere: in conversations; passages from the bible; a blog a friend send me; daily devotions; in prayer times and in worship. I was able to explore this new topic that God had put on my heart through the project ran by ‘Nite Lites’. This involved going into a brothel in the inner-city of Durban, where my team and I were given the opportunity to minister and pray for a group of women at risk. It was important for me to start asking God whilst I was still here, how he wants me to use my life after this trip to tackle these issues. Prior to this revelation, my plans simply held moving to Thailand to teach for a minimum of six months. However, God again opened doors for me and has given me new opportunities in these areas in Thailand to widen my plans to fulfil his.

This experience has totally been part of God’s plan for me and it has prepared me for the next season.  I can’t even fathom the profound impact it has had on me, and in the long term, my future has been changed. I no longer just want to travel but to build relationships in deprived communities and make a lasting impression to those who I will connect with.

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