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Experiencing the real South Africa as a volunteer in the township communities


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South Africa is famed for its safari Mecca status, dramatic landscapes, unspoilt beaches, remarkable wines, and multicultural spirit.

Tsitsikamma National Park // Credit: Eve Willis

Yet, alongside South Africa’s undisputed charm, is a chequered history of Colonialism and Apartheid that is woven into the South African conscience. Although its turbulent past is responsible for many of the social issues in South Africa today, it has resulted in a coexistence of cultures, races and religions that foster vibrant communities in which 11 official languages exist side by side.

There is no better city than Port Elizabeth that demonstrates this convergence of diversity. With Xhosa, Afrikaans and English predominantly spoken, it is a distinct coastal city for many reasons. Affectionately dubbed PE for short, Port Elizabeth has been named the ‘the friendly city’ and is one of South Africa’s major municipalities, located on the Eastern Cape Province. It is best known for its glorious surf beaches that fringe the Algoa Bay and its gritty industrial core; a result of its important seaport.


Port Elizabeth, although rough around the edges, is an up and coming metropolis with plenty to do in both the nucleus of the city and further afield along the Sunshine Coast. Within PE there is an array of cool restaurants, food markets, bars and beaches to keep you busy. Under an hour’s drive away are the game drives in Addo Elephant Park and surfing in Jeffrey’s Bay. Also in reach of PE is the Bloukrans Bridge bungee jump, shark cage diving at Mussel Bay and skydiving in Plettenberg Bay, making Port Elizabeth the perfect base to spend five weeks volunteering.  

South Africa Trip


Addo Elephant Park // Credit: Eve Willis

Camp South Africa is working with British charity United Through Sport to directly focus in the heart of the deprived township communities that are situated on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. United Through Sport uses sport as a tool to help children develop holistically, weaving it into the curriculum to improve attendance, raise awareness of key social issues such as HIV, and to overall create a positive impact upon the lives of many children.

In these communities as little as three out of every 100 children make it to university. United Through Sport and Camp South Africa (with its volunteers) aim to change this, by providing frameworks such as the Junior School of Excellence programme, which uses sport and education to inspire, encourage and motivate these children.  


As a volunteer my typical day would usually mean an early rise, breakfast, and a half an hour journey to the township school in which I was based. As the bus drove into the townships each morning, the area where most of the children lived, I realised the magnitude of the poverty in these densely populated pockets. I remember thinking how different the lives of these young children were to my own childhood and the lack of opportunities available to them - this stuck in my mind whilst I was there. I spent most of my time covering lessons and or working in the reading scheme established by the volunteers.

I found it most rewarding to build the trust and confidence of these children, many whom were from difficult or broken homes, and to use our relationship to develop their reading and English skills. At break and lunch times we would play with the children, learn their songs, or let them teach us some Afrikaans. After a day at the school we would usually be quite tired and we would have the afternoons free, usually to relax with other volunteers, or go to the beach or the boardwalk.

Alongside teaching English you can coach sport. This involves visiting between three and five schools a day and running sessions of netball, football, cricket, hockey or basketball. To children that usually play football with bunched up plastic bags these sport sessions with equipment and structured games are really exciting. Most volunteers alternate between teaching and coaching, in order to experience the best of both. 

Volunteers also have the important role of identifying students who could be eligible for the Junior School of Excellence programme, which gives them greater educational attention and the opportunity of a scholarship. Therefore, whether teaching or coaching you have an extremely important role in the framework of this charity.

South Africa Reading

Credit: Eve Willis

Camp South Africa will push you out of your comfort zone in many ways: it will make you face uncomfortable truths, do things that you never thought you could, and build your own skill set. You will have the chance to help make a difference in the lives of children by working with United Through Sport to give them opportunities that otherwise they would not have had - all whilst having the experience of a lifetime, in a new country, with new friends.

Eve visited Port Elizabeth with Camp South Africa as the winner of The National Student’s Student Travel Writer 2018 competition.

This article was originally published in our Freshers 2018 print magazine. You can read the magazine here.

Find out more about Camp South Africa at


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