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Bridget’s South Africa Experience

Bridget G.
Volunteer Name:Bridget G.
Project Attended:Community Health and Home Based Care Volunteering
Country Attended:South Africa


Tell us about your experiences with Kaya (sign up process, preparation)

I had a very positive experience working with Kaya. They were friendly, responsive, and professional and made planning easy with all of their support as well as the information they were able to provide. They also checked in with me throughout my time abroad to ensure that things were going well.  

What made you chose that particular project/country?

I have an interest in pursuing global health development and practice as a career as a physician. I was particularly interested in looking at South Africa as a model of development and exploring those factors which grant the country success that is unique to Africa. I was also interested in observing the intersection between public and community health and the way that culture and policy inform each other in the formation of healthcare systems. I liked that the model Is community-based; first and foremost, they seek to engage and empower the locals to create sustainable, long-term solutions.

Can you tell us a bit more about your role on the project?

As a medical volunteer, my job was to assist Shwele, a local Zulu woman, in her duties as a source of medical care in villages that primarily lack access to healthcare. She provides over-the-counter medications, wound care, nutrition assistance, transportation to clinic, physical therapy, and social support. We traveled to meet people in their homes to overcome transportation barriers.

Did you have any worries before you left?

I was nervous about traveling alone as a young woman, especially through areas where I did not speak the language. I was also worried about the experience—what I would see and do and how I would process it, whether I would be able to be helpful, how this experience would shape my career interests.

Did anything surprise you?

I was surprised by how much I learned from the travel/tourism aspect of my experience. I went into the trip very focused on the work, but my time was greatly enriched as I opened myself up to learning more from the people, the culture, and even the demands of solo travel.


What were the highlights?

One of my favorite things was having the opportunity to build relationships with some of the patients whom we saw regularly. Even though I was only there for a month, and though for the local community the volunteers are constantly revolving, our patients were open, gracious, and willing to engage with me. I am so grateful that these individuals welcomed me, a stranger, into their home, and allowed me to serve them in the small ways that I could.


What does travelling as a volunteer or intern mean to you vs travelling as a tourist?

I think that many of the benefits or traveling, and much of its meaning, stem not as much from seeing certain sites or physically being in a place as much as meeting people who are different from you and having the opportunity to engage with them and experience a new culture. These latter encounters, facilitated by volunteer work, help create the challenges that lead to the growth associated with meaningful travel. Additionally, tourism that is not socially conscious can be devastating to local communities. As a global citizen, it is important to me that my travel does not come at an expense to locals, and volunteering allowed me to go one step further to help enrich the lives of those who welcomed me to their home.


How has the experience affected you?
In an academic sense, gaining perspective outside the U.S. allowed me to step back to critically observe the intersection between public and community health and the way that culture and policy inform each other in the formation of healthcare systems. The experience allowed me to explore my interests in working in global health development and health policy and taught me about honoring cultural differences and effectively communicating with patients across social barriers. In a personal sense, my travel helped me to learn a great about myself and the world. The challenges I faced helped me to mature and develop a more nuanced understanding of global citizenship and how I can best advocate for others in need. My experiences will continue to inform me as new circumstances create different contexts for meaning.


What would you say to others thinking of interning or volunteering?

My time in South Africa was absolutely worthwhile. The challenges I faced helped me to grow but were not so overwhelming that the experience was negative. My advice would be to be open to new perspectives and experiences and focus on soaking in as much as possible. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, I truly believe you can grow the most by being humble and forgetful of yourself, as it allows you to realize how much the people you meet can teach you!