Paying it Forward
in South Africa
Every year I support an organization and do charity work. I have
devoted time to children with cancer, the elderly at a home for the
aged and boys who are mentally challenged. It has been a mission
of mine to give the gift of time to the ones who need it the most. In
my own little way, I wanted to touch the lives of the underprivileged
and the uncared for.
This longing to make a difference has led me to places I've never
been and to experience things I never thought I would experience.
No place was ever too far, too dangerous, too random and too out
of reach for me. Nothing seemed impossible to me. If I wanted to
go to a place, I would. If I wanted to do it. I would. No ifs. No buts.
Impulsive? Yes. But I made it happen.
This year I decided to put two and two together.
One very hot morning in Manila, I woke up and
decided I want to support an organization in Africa.
A lot of people didn't believe I would do it. They said it was impulsive, far fetched and dangerous. To others it was
nothing but a dream that would be difficult to materialize but then again I always believed nothing was impossible,
that everything was just within one's reach. It is just a matter of figuring out how to extend your hand to grab it. And so
after 6 months of research and planning I was finally sitting on a bar and sipping my scotch on the rocks at this random
Changi Airport bar waiting to board that plane to Cape Town. I had a three hour midnight Singapore layover.
In about fifteen more hours, I will be able to smell South African air. I looked at my things to do for the next
three weeks and I could not help but feel butterflies in my stomach.
I spent a few days roaming around Cape Town
and then boarded a very small prop plane to
the beautiful garden coast city of Knysyna.
I was met by the team of Edge of Africa,
the organization I've signed up with for my
volunteer stint. They have different programs,
| I've chosen to do one week with community
outreach and one week with animal care.
For the next 7 days, I would be living in
a volunteer house with people I've never met.
These were girls from Germany and Australia.
The differences in cultures piqued my interest
so much and even with our differences and just
seven days together, we've ended up being
such great friends. My five days was spent
doing community outreach. I helped make
a greenhouse made by wires and used plastic
soda bottles. The rest of my time was spent
with the less privilege children of a near-by
town. I went door to door asking locals for
probable symptoms of tuberculosis. I taught in
pre-schools and conducted art seminars.
I conducted HIV awareness to children aged
from 3-12. Yes, 3-12! It was said that 1 out of 4
people in the community had HIV/AIDS. It was
appalling and a very sad eye-opener. On our
last day, the locals threw us a going away party
with home cooked native dishes and made us
artworks as memorabilias. One child in
particular gave me an artwork and a parting
letter. It was a bittersweet goodbye. Spending
time with the locals, especially the children,
brought so much emotions. The learning
process worked both ways. I gave time and
taught them what I knew, and the they showed
me how to be grateful beyond material
blessings. They taught me how to be grateful
for love shared, time given and joy imparted.
For my second week, I was moved to a camp
site of animal care at the Garden Route Game
Lodge at Albertinia. My shelter for the next
7 days was a tent - a little short of glamping,
I suppose. I had a bed with comfortable mattress
and pillow with a lamp stand and a socket
to charge my gadgets. Not bad at all. We had
cheetah cubs and an impala as our backyard
pets. It was surreal. But the work was anything
but glamorous. I spent five days shoveling
elephant and cheetah wastes, going inside the
cheetah sanctuary to feed the cheetahs (best
advice given to me "whatever happens, do not run"), cleaning the elephant boma, scrubbing
walls, picking up rocks and branches for road
rehabilitation, making sheds and waking up
at 6am to look for the cheetahs, giraffes and
rhinos. Enjoying my morning coffee
was always spent driving and parking
at a higher ground looking over the reserves
where the view was breathtaking. It was
4 degrees celsius but the cold weather did not
dampen those beautiful morning coffee breaks.
It was not all work for the second week. I got to
experience the traditional African Braai - or
simply African Barbecue. We hovered around
the fire and grilled our steaks, shared our stories
and drank our wine and beer. On the last day,
I remember sitting in my tent and internalizing
the experience. It was too overwhelming to
grasp. I was overflowing with gratitude.
My last week was spent back in Cape Town to
experience the city. I stayed at 2 b&bs namely
Rouge on Rose and Blackheath Lodge, rented
a car and spent a night at Sanbona Game
Reserve. Tents were not available so I got
upgraded to the Manor - a presidential arrangment
with a fireplace and huge walk-in his and hers
bathrooms. I also drove down to the very famous
Bowlers Beach to see those cute penguins within
reach on the beach shore. I continued on and
stopped by the quaint town of Montagu for lunch
at The Rambling Rose. Back at Cape Town, I tried
a local African restaurant called Marcos. I wanted
to eat local delicacies but I could not stomach
eating ox brain or sheep's feet so I opted to try out
their local curry instead along with ostrich and
impala steaks. It was delicious. Afterwards,
I watched a local dance show at the old theater in
Main Street. I even participated in a whole day
wine and chocolate tour at Stellenbosch with
La Rochelle Tours, the great white shark cage
diving at Gaansbai with Great White Shark Tours
and to end the trip with a rush, I jumped out of
a plane 9000 feet high with Sky Dive Cape Town.
All of these these things I did in a week! I had
the aim to experience it all. And I did.
As the 3 weeks
came to a close, I was once
again sitting on a random airport bar, sipping
my scotch on the rocks, but this time waiting
for my flight back to Singapore. And then my
flight home to Manila. My heart is filled with
emotions I cannot pin point. Grateful? Sad?
Disheartened? Ecstatic? Thankful? All of
the above? This trip was a little bit of
everything. It meant everything to me. I've
accomplished my mission of sharing and
giving to the unprivileged. I've touched lives
not many would dare to touch.I've gone to a
place most could only dream of going and
I've experienced things others would only
read in books. I did it. I made it happen.