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Volunteering at the Cotlands HIV/AIDS Hospice

Listed under Volunteering Opportunities in Cape Town, South Africa.

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I remember very clearly my first day at Cotlands HIV/AIDS hospice. I walked in the door to the main nursery to be greeted by a sea of babies and toddlers sitting on mats, and crawling or waddling around. Not knowing what else to do I sat down next to a little girl, picked her up and started feeding her some yoghurt that a staff member shoved into my hands. Little did I know on that first morning what an impact the moment was going to have on my life and how it would shape my experiences over the next 8 weeks.

As a volunteer I was expected to help with the daily care of the children who were all 0-3 years old, most of them suffering from HIV or AIDS. I had to learn to do things I had never even thought about before, changing nappies, bathing babies, heating up bottles for feeding, burping, singing children to sleep, thinking of endless new ways to entertain them.

Working at Cotlands was an adventure because each day was completely different, you never knew which children would have left or arrived or what new challenge would be waiting for you. It was a fantastic, fun, exhausting, and at times heartbreaking, but incredibly worthwhile experience which I would recommend to anybody.

The little girl who I picked up on my first day was called Simone and she was very sick with AIDS. I became very close to her whilst I was at Cotlands and I was constantly amazed at her strength and spirit. Despite being close to death at one point, she was making a steady recovery at Cotlands who provide excellent pastoral care. My experience was completely made by the bond I developed with Simone, she was an absolute joy to spend time with and look after.

Now that I am back in England I am raising money to send to her foster carers and I plan to return to South Africa and work for Cotlands again next July for a year. I can honestly say this was one of the best experiences of my life. In all honesty it is hard at times, you do need to have a certain amount of resilience to be able to deal with the possibility of death and the sometimes tragic backgrounds of the children. My advice to anybody thinking about working in an orphanage however is go for it, opportunities for this sort of experience are few and the joy that you will give to and receive from the children more than make up for the sad times.

For more information see www.cotlands.org

Letitia organised her project through WorkTravelSA.

Written by  Letitia Mckie.

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