Volunteering abroad is when soul-searching takes place on a foreign soil. I spent this summer volunteering with the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) in Cape Town, South Africa. This was the first time I took part in an international volunteer work camp, and it was one of the best experiences of my life!
Through my services to SHAWCO, a non-profit organisation, and attending sociology lectures at the University of Cape Town, I became more resilient and gained a lot of insights. I learned about South Africa’s political and historical background, especially the old system of apartheid, which denied black people the social welfare and careers that white people enjoyed.
The most memorable thing was the interaction with the kids. We were assigned to Mothers Unite, a non-profit organisation that focuses on the well-being of children. When we met the kids from underprivileged areas, we all fell in love with their innocent smiles. It made me think about life in Hong Kong, where many of the kids are spoiled and immersed in a materialistic environment. Some of them treat iPads as toys and gaze at the screen all day.
In Mothers Unite, with a lack of sophisticated facilities and networking systems, children enjoy a simple life by playing with their friends or some second-hand toys. Sometimes, you would see them sitting on the ground, making bracelets out of ropes. They would call your name while running to you when you were passing and present the bracelet as a gift. I treasured every moment with the kids as I got a sense of happiness from their pure smiles.
In Hong Kong, some kids suffer great pressure from their parents. They even start attending tutorials and interest classes from the age of three. And although they receive the best education and get whatever what they want, do they really feel happy? I would say life is happy when it is simple.
Another unforgettable moment was the scene when we were leaving after the farewell party. The kids kept extending their hands hoping for a handshake and we tried to reach everyone. Nevertheless, it was not possible since the whole area was packed with over 80 kids. By the time we left, many kids chased us, waving their hands at the same time. At that moment, though there was no never-ending feast, all of us still felt so touched and really wanted to stay longer.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime journey, and I am so glad to have had this opportunity to serve and support as a volunteer and make a difference. People think that to “volunteer” is to help others, but in fact the biggest beneficiary is ourselves! As long as you have love, nothing is an obstacle. Overcoming obstacles is growing; exchanging happiness is love and friendship. I will never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. And I will never forget to “Dream High, Serve Low.”