Heading into my gap year I had my life mapped out. I got some great A-Level results and was headed to train as a Midwife at King’s College in London, one of the top universities in the world. Fast forward a year and I’m further south in Sussex, studying International Development.
So what changed? In short, I did.
My whole career and life path radically shifted after my overseas placement with Tearfund and the Zoe-Life organisation in South Africa. It was the classic ‘find yourself’ cliché experience. Staying in a township community called Chesterville, near Durban, I battled with homesickness, culture shock, actual sickness, team dynamics and language barriers. In essence, it was a world away from the comfort and security I was used to. Yet encountering the stark juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, the very real legacy of apartheid, and mass inequality in South Africa deeply challenged me.
Every moment of my placement instilled me with a passion and determination to make justice my life’s work.
The focus of the placement was to empower children and young people through education. My absolute highlight was collaborating on gender-empowerment workshops with my South African team mate Tshidi. We shared our own personal stories of victories and challenges, whilst addressing some widely-held beliefs about women in a typically patriarchal culture. We inevitably discussed love and relationships, but also the importance of chasing after your goals, positive body image and strong role models.
Our team was a kaleidoscope of personalities, races, backgrounds and goals. You pretty much 24/7 living in community together, and so the people you work with make a massive impact on your experience – whether positively or negatively! Working together, we muddled through our differences and emerged as a strong, unified team – a family that genuinely sought to care and look after one another.
I felt empowered that social justice is actually something we can all do.
More than a trip
As I write this, I’m reminded over and over again of the brokenness and beauty of South Africa. It is the only other place on the planet I would describe as home. It’s filled with such warm, fun-loving people and many happy memories. Yet for me, volunteering with Tearfund was about far more than travelling. I came back with more than a suitcase full of souvenirs and an album of photographs to reminisce over. It was more than an ‘experience’. My placement changed who I was and who I am today. It gave me a sense of purpose. Everything I thought to be true was challenged and stripped away. I gained a broader perspective and felt empowered that social justice is actually something we can all do. We don’t even need to travel overseas to make a difference. Social justice starts with us.
I’ve tapped out these words in my university flat, at the end of my first semester as a student. Changing course from the dream of Midwifery that I treasured for years, to study International Development felt like the biggest gamble. I have much to learn, but I’m so grateful for the opportunities my placement with Tearfund gave me. When I look back, I know these opportunities have shaped where I am today.
My best advice if you’re thinking about volunteering overseas on your gap year? Go for it!
Thinking of taking a gap year? Check out Tearfund Go to see how you can travel with us.
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