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20 February 2015

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Claire's Experience

Claire is writing a Blog based on her experiences in South Africa. Read more about her experiences by visiting her Blog.

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Knysna Update - Floods! (posted 5 Sept 2006)

I have been emailing my contact at Percy Mdala, Ian Perrin, on a regular basis but for a few weeks I have received no response. Finally an email came through and it seems they have had 9 months worth of rainfall just in the month of August! The worst rains since records began! On the 2nd August they had enough rain to cut off Knysna completely.

The N2 highway between George and Knysna has subsided and most of one carriageway has slowly been slipping into the sea. Convoys of lighter vehicles can use the other carriageway but trucks have to make a a 250 mile detour. Many of the townships were badly affected by the rain and the mudslides and many township families have been made homeless.

The school has also been experiencing 2 to 3 power cuts per week which has played havoc with their computer room and they have also been having trouble with a new internet link.

It never rains but it pours...

Table Mountain Sunset

The 'Moment'

After my return from a short trip to Cape Town, South Africa in October 2005 I decided to ask BBC Northern Ireland for a 3 month career break.

I felt that it was time to 'give something back' as the saying goes. Instead of just responding to charity appeals with a debit card wouldn't it be more worthwhile to go out and volunteer my time?

It all began one evening while on holiday there. I was watching the sun set over Table Mountain and I had one of those epiphany moments you hear people talking about but wonder 'Eh what's that all about?' I just knew that I would return, and soon, and 'do something'.

Once back in Belfast I looked around for a suitable agency to go through and after much research found Travellers Worldwide. Through them I applied for a two month placement at a township school and a one month stint in the offices of The Big Issue. I was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted and the count down began until my departure in October 2006.

Students at Percy Mdala

The Projects

Once I had been accepted at Percy Mdala school in Knysna I thought it would enhance the project if we could get a Belfast school to twin with the South African school. So, after a few really positive meetings with Mr Darren Scott, the 9D citizenship class at St Dominic's in West Belfast came on board.

The first priority was to design the site so our Designer, Bob Wylie and Coder, David MacDermott came up with a variety of designs to take to St Dominic's for a brain storming session. The students came up with the name , NISA Connect, which represents 'Northern Ireland, South Africa Connect', and gave valuable feedback on what they did, or didn't, like about our designs.

So, the idea is that the Belfast students will tell the students in Knysna about their school lives, curriculum and concerns via the website and with direct mailings. Then, once I am in Knysna the students and staff there will do the same.

Cow in a Knysna township

The Inspiration

The one thing you can't ignore is the startling juxtaposition of wealthy suburbs, complete with carefully tended gardens and swimming pools, and the stark contrast of the townships.

For Instance, the Cape Flats township, near to Cape Town airport, stretches for many kilometres along the main arterial route into the city. Although conditions are improving slowly, with the construction of concrete housing and the introduction of electricity, life is hard and the accommodation is often squalid and dangerous. Knysna has a number of townships perched on the hills dotted around the main town and they face the same problems of poor accommodation and lack of resources.

By volunteering in a township school in Knysna I felt I could help out in person and, just as importantly, could learn more about the challenges and obstacles that the students face. By volunteering to work in The Big Issue offices in Cape Town I feel sure that the experience will deepen my understanding of the challenges South Africa faces and then enable me to continue making contributions in any way I can in the future.

Volunteer Links

If you want to volunteer your skills and experience a different way of life find out more from VSO.

Travellers Worldwide is the organisation Claire is going with to take up voluntary placements in South Africa.

Other Links

Find out more about The Big Issue in South Africa.

Visit BBC News country profile of South Africa.

Find out more about South Africa by visiting the official government site.

Access up to date news from the Western Cape with IOL's online service.

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