What did the garden look like?

The garden included a maze path, vegetable garden, compost bin, sand pit with shade, and a bench alcove for viewing surrounding landscape. Not pictured is tyre and timber playground equipment constructed by a similar group a few weeks before my arrival.

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Was it worth it?

My first time out of Australia was not without its struggles. I perhaps did not grasp every opportunity and I let experiences pass unexperienced. Distractions came as homesickness, time and money conversions, and learning how to be a foreigner rather than host. While maximum fun, learning and cultural exchange may not have been achieved, it’s still worth it.

It’s worth everything to contribute to Mandela Park’s new day care centre. Their new interactive, stimulating, sensory environment in which to prepare for school. Which simultaneously represents parents spending full days working for an income, knowing their children are being cared for and nurtured. Can you imagine my joy watching four year olds race to build in their brand new sand pit? The hope that comes from children playing and learning. Knowing that these young ones have a stable enough future to work towards any career which tickles their fancy. One day these children could change the world.

My favourite addition was the vegetable garden. It teaches the chain of food provision. Knowing our reliance on food crops which rely on the environment can only lead to improvement. Not to mention the benefits of knowing how to grow food for oneself.

Is this community better off? Yes.

Is the world better off? Yes, in more ways than you think.

Is volunteering the best way to bring about community development? That’s still up for discussion.

Where have you been?

Hello friends! Thanks for bearing with me despite my lack of updates. I now write to you from home having remembered which hours are for eating and which ones for sleeping.

Regardless of currency conversions and cheap purchases, it’s rarely inexpensive to travel. So days were crammed brimful with tasks, new friendships and cultural participation. While also trying to prioritise sleep for sanity I was unable to write anything worth writing here about. Keep in tune now as I remedy this.

What is she actually doing?

We’re upgrading a day care centre! Last year it was just a painted shipping container. Previous ISV groups have since built a playground, prepared an area for an educational garden and added a rendered brick extension which doubles the size of the building. The progress is huge especially considering it was mostly done by a few dozen novice uni students.

My first South African day was orientation and a visit to the school, cultural centre and medical clinic that past projects have built. It’s fantastic to see projects similar to ours proven to make a difference to life in the village. One of our guides grew up in the village and knows all the locals. He taught us some of the language; Xhosa. It’s a great sounding language with three different kinds of clicks. I’m learning very slowly but there are so many unfamiliar sounds.

So far I’ve done three days of the kind of work which your muscles don’t let you forget about quickly. I’ve carted rocks, dug out and carried soil, sanded smooth the rough render on the new walls, assisted in the assemblage of sand pit shade, befriended locals with their brilliantly beaming smiles and unquenchable enthusiasm. My favourite task has been transforming a patch of dirt into a vegatable garden. I accidentally took on an apprenctice, the children are so eager to lend a hand. Where others had tried to help then become bored, my new friend stuck with me with her small amount of English, my smaller amount of Xhosa but both with an eagerness for teaching and learning.

I’m looking forward to the next few days and will hopefully get a chance to write you something about travel, culture and the ethics of voluntourism.

Will it work? (Waiting to leave)

There are now less days in a week than days remaining before I leave.

As expected, I am feeling excited and nervous but also hopeful. I’ve just read a great article by human rights consultant Michael Hobbes about international aid effectiveness. The main point I got out of it is that not all solutions work everywhere. The examples were things like how some villages might really need a water pump whereas that would be a waste in another village whose main problem is worms. The medication might even be cheaper.

What I’m hoping is that ISV has taken the money I gave them and done enough research to decide that what is needed where we’re going is for a bunch of Aussie uni students to come in and build stuff.

Please pray that our work will be effective, money well spent and lots of learning done.

Here’s the article, it’s worth the read: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120178/problem-international-development-and-plan-fix-it

What’s the plan?

If you read my last post, you read that I’m aiming at developmental aid, yet I’m studying Environmental Science. It’s all logical, trust me. But it is still a work in progress so if you (yes, you there, reader) have experience in such adventures and spot a major flaw, please find some way of talking to me about it. Thank you!

I’m going to South Africa in January because I have never been overseas before. Ever. I only got my passport this year. I feel like this is an important step in learning how to operate in someone else’s home country, in their culture, in their currency and many other things, to just name three that start with ‘c’. I know that voluntourism is not the most effective method of aid but this is just as much a learning adventure for me so that I can get a little perspective.

I specifically want to focus on soil and water quality. I see a chain of change that starts with these elements. If these are healthier then agriculture can be more productive, then malnutrition decreases and income increases. With less malnutrition there are also less secondary effects like getting randomly sick with other things all the time. If kids get less ear infections and colds then they can spend more time in school and have more energy for being kids. And that can only do good things for employment. Hopefully from there, people would be able to read the bible together. Communities could afford to employ more medical staff.

Someone I know has quite a lot of knowledge about causes of poverty and how tackle it. She very wisely invests in education. And I agree that education is vital to escaping poverty in developing countries and vital to escaping ignorance every where else. But I speculate that a child could receive the best schooling in the world but it won’t help much if she dies of starvation before teenager-hood. Teaching is a very noble thing and I encourage more people to pursue it, and to invest in it. But personally, I feel I can be more helpful if I go play in the mud. Which is where the Environmental Science comes in.

To start with it looks like mud. But it’s so much more complex than that. Let me just rant for a paragraph or so. You’ve got chemicals, elements, compounds and nutrients huddling around aluminosilicates. There’s a whole array of micro-organisms which I have yet to learn about. But they can determine how available plant food is to the plants. They take dead stuff and turn it into stuff that can make life! Then you’ve got physical parameters like grain size and soil wetness. This determines how much water can get into the soil, dissolve the nutrients and take them up to the plants. Acidity and salinity are super easy to measure and diagnose and make a huge difference to the health of crops. And don’t even get me started on water. I’ve been studying for two years and I know that there’s exponentially more to learn. I can’t wait.

Who is Me? What is this place?

This blog is not a place for personal details so to the casual observer that should be sufficient. To those who do know me, you may appreciate the subtle word play.

My aim with this blog is for people who I already know to learn a little more about what I do in a general sense. To this end, I shan’t include names or faces. If it all works as intended then readers will be lead to ask more specific questions to me in person, over Facebook, or even in comments at the end of the post.

Now that that’s cleared up, let me tell you some general background information about who I am and why I do what I do. This is aimed at family I only see at Christmas, friends I used to see often but now only rarely, and the dear friends who I get so I excited to see I skip over some important details.

I’m studying a Bachelor of Science, specialising in Environmental Science and I’ve just finished second year. I’ve been interested in the environment generally for as long as I can remember and by the end of primary school I knew I liked science. High school brought the opportunity to participate in World Vision’s 40hr Famine. But I am not one to do anything by halves so I ended up running the World Vision club at my high school. I learned more about what poverty is and a seed was planted that grew into passion for aid. As high school crept to a close a few things became clear. World Vision claims a Christian tag line but doesn’t see it through to bringing the life saving message to the field. I felt called by God to bring His Word to the nations through developmental aid. This is just what I’ve found and I’m happy to be proved wrong if you know of contrary evidence.

Why am I here?

Depending on who you interpret “I” to mean there, the title could be asking why the author is here writing or why you are here reading. Either way, this post will answer the question.

I am going on a trip to South Africa mid January and I want to be able to share my experiences with you. There are a whole lot of people I want to keep in contact with and tell about my adventures but you either live too far away or we’re too busy having other adventures to talk about ones past. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this going into the future beyond the trip I have planned but for now shall we just talk about South Africa? Ok.

Where to start? Details about the trip? Alright, I’ll be leaving mid January and returning a month later. The first two weeks will be volunteering in a rural village on a community development project focusing mostly on schools. This is the main point of the trip but considering how many moneys go into air fares I figure it’s worth having some fun while I’m there. So the other two weeks will be “Adventure Tour”. Then a couple of days at the end staying with a friend who lives in South Africa now. The whole thing is organised by the International Student Volunteers (ISV) and I can also get academic credit towards my course. Fun fun.

But yes, why am I writing this as a blog? I’m not a huge sharer on facebook plus I just don’t feel like that is the place to write big long chunks of text. In this medium here I already feel like I’m writing an introduction to a novel. It’s not a novel, but it is a narrative and not just a snapshot of what I do in passing.