Here’s what volunteering in South Africa looks like, in 12 photos

Here are 12 of my favourite photos from working in Ngqeleni and Mabetshe during my 3 months on  ICS with Restless Development. Each showing a different aspect of life on placement.

Left to right: Avu, Asa, Naymax and Ingah on our first day being introduced to the Senior school we were going to be working in.

I took this photo of Avu, Asa, Naymax and Ingah on one of our first days in Mabetshe after we had been introduced to the junior school we would be running sessions in for the following three months. At this point, I didn’t realise how our counterparts, who at this stage I barely knew, would come to teach me so much about personal strength, resilience, emotionality and aspiration.

Avu in community.
Avu after finishing one of our final junior school sessions.

Avu – Whenever we struggled in motivating a class to participate and engage in a session, Avu was always the best at starting energisers: always ending the song or dance with every member of the class on their feet. Not just this, she encouraged even the quietest and most reserved students to sing or demonstrate their own dance in front of the class. The more I watched Avu, the more I realised the reason everyone joined in was because of the energy and enthusiasm she put into each activity, constantly aware there wasn’t time for a half-hearted attempt. From this, Avu taught me if you want  to  motivate others, you need to be motivated yourself.

Naymax showing me how to make ‘fat cakes’ in our host home.
Naymax delivering a SRHR session on teenage pregnancy.

NaymaxFrom the first week of training, Naymax already stood out as a confident public speaker. Driven to make the room feel comfortable with the art of making jokes, I respected him greatly. Naymax and Ingah both showed me many South African cooking techniques such as making pap or ‘fatcakes’ and one of the best feelings was the first day I cooked something that both of them would finish (after multiple failed attempts at making pap!). Naymax turning to me with an empty plate, saying “you should cook pap like this for your mother”, is a memory that will always make me smile. He taught me that the best teachers are those who instantly treat you as a friend, and that everyone has something new they can teach you.

Asa in community.
Asa and myself going through some myths and facts about HIV/AIDs and hearing students stories.

Asa – Asa’s lesson was one of faith, and loyalty, to her beliefs, family and self. She showed me the strength of the relationship between families is undoubtedly stronger having shared deeper difficulties together. One of my best memories of placement is Asa teaching me a traditional healer’s dance and laughing at my huge feet as I attempted it. The traditional healer would be barefoot so they are better able to connect to their ancestors in the earth and, although I never truly learnt the dance, I learned the importance of embracing your heritage and where you fit into it.

Ingah smiling on even on our last day in community together.

Ingah – On our first night on placement, we had to share our room with four other volunteers as it was too late for them to travel to their community. As all eight of us attempted to get some sleep, cramped next to each other on four small single beds, Ingah started watching a clip on his phone. At first there was just a quiet laugh coming from underneath his blanket across the room. Then a half-suppressed chuckle which only grew and grew; it was a unique laugh that has to be the most contagious I’ve ever known. The feeling of fellow volunteers trying to stifle their own laughter led, inevitably, to us filling the small room with our howling laughter. Ingah’s smile never faded and he kept us laughing even when we hit lows. I still don’t know what he was watching that night.  

Cindy and Dylan post Lwandile careers event.
Cindy and Zee preparing meals for stakeholders and students attending the event.

Cindy/Dylan – Cindy/Zee  – While working, cooking, cleaning and planning, you continuously learn about the people around you and their motivations, trying to understand their experiences and their unique perspectives. Becoming close friends with people is hardly an experience unique to ICS Restless Development placements. However, the uniqueness of becoming close friends with people from, what seem like, opposite backgrounds to your own is, and it reinforces a strong sense of global citizenship.

Mfusi delivering a passionate speech to inspire students and fellow volunteers.

Lwandile Careers Event – Lwandile was the most rural community Restless Development was working in this cycle; the only community with no electricity at all. Previously, events had taken place in communities closer to main towns with easier access for stakeholders, but we decided our event should take place here. As a team, we had multiple issues to deal with during planning and on the day; not everything went as smoothly as we would have hoped –  from stakeholders not turning up, to mixed messages and worrying about the amount of food we’d provided etc.

The Ngqeleni team after finishing our event and one of final days together as a team.

This final photo shows the team at the end of the event. Despite everything that had and hadn’t happened, we were still a united group having achieved our goal of hosting a careers event.

Although I say my counterparts taught me lessons, at no point did they realise they were doing so and I only recognised that they were teachers after reflecting on the experience. The key thing I will take away from my counterparts is: in the same way they were unintentionally showing and teaching me, I would have unknowingly reciprocated and hopefully, what I was teaching was just as positive.

Here is a video from my placement which hopefully shows more what being on placement is like and the relationships that formed between volunteers and host families.


Kieran volunteered with Restless Development on  International Citizen Service (ICS) in South Africa.

Here he talks about the power of partnership, friendship and learning through a series of photos from placement.

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Here’s what volunteering in South Africa looks like, in 12 photos

by wearerestless Reading time: 5 min