Rachel Vernon
Rachel Vernon
South Africa, 2022
Hi, my name is Rachel, I will be going to Cape Town, South Africa for 6 months to work with Volunteer Solutions. I plan to work in elementary schools with sports development and work in a local clinic. Read More About Rachel →

Cape Town quirks

Hello again! These past few weeks have been very laid-back. It has allowed me to read other Lumos travelers’ blogs and enjoy the slow life here. I have also been introduced to some of the challenges of living in Cape Town, such as expensive electricity and water shut-offs. Due to the cost of electricity, the host family turns the hot water on for 4 hours a day, so you have that specific time to shower. In addition, something called “load shedding” is where the electricity in a district turns off for a set amount of time. This is to decrease the financial burden that electricity has on the government. It was fun the first week because we would put our phones away and play cards in the dark. However, as this becomes a reoccurring thing, sometimes three times a day for two hours, it has become very inconvenient. There was also a local pipe burst, so we did not have running water a day, some parts of the city were without running water all week. It makes me appreciate constant hot water and electricity.

Load shedding schedule for the week (subject to change)

Playing cards in the dark during load shedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new member of the school

In other news, this week I made it a goal to get to know the staff around school, so here is an introduction to the staff. Dawn, the school janitor, checks on me every day! I missed a day last week, and the next day she made sure to find me and ask if I was alright. Mrs. Samsondeen, the chef in the kitchen, offers me to try the food with the kids. They often have a lot of rice, lentils, mince (beef), and liver. Mr. Anthony, a resource teacher, who takes care of the gardens, janitor duties, and discipline has also been welcoming. He recently brought a pet goose to the school! I also found out they also have pet rabbits. Mr. Anthony’s purpose for beginning animals and planting gardens is to teach the kids how to treat other living things. The children have been taught to kill any animal that comes into their path. Mr. Anthony also told me about a conversation he had with a child. He asked the child “where do eggs come from?”, and they replied, “Well the shop n’ pay, of course.” Mr. Anthony’s goal is to teach the kids that food comes from animals and gardens. Mr. Capp, the school librarian, has been helpful when I need a book to read with the kids. Mrs. Winegard, the principal, and Mrs. Wentzel, the receptionist, are always so nice when I arrive at school. Since I am at the school for a long period of time, it has been nice to get to know the staff better because it makes it feel more like home. 

 

One of three goodbyes..

Last week was the last week for two of the volunteers, so we enjoyed spending time together. We went to the Mojo market, Seapoint beach, and Bo-Kapp. Saying goodbye was way harder than I expected. I have known Daan for 5 weeks and Kato for 3 weeks, how could I be terribly sad to say goodbye? But after some reflection, I realized that not only do we spend every waking moment together, but we also created a unique connection. Since we are all traveling as solo travelers, we lean on each other in times of stress, sadness, and happiness. The connection with these three volunteers is unforgettable and I hope to travel to Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands to visit them one day!

Enjoying a Samosa in Bo-Kapp

 

 

On Monday, September 12th, I went into town to apply for a visa extension. As a tourist, you are allowed a 90 visa, but to stay longer you need to apply for a 90-day extension. This has been a tedious process, but everything was turned in and now I just wait to hear back. After my appointment, I decided to explore the city center by myself. I have been nervous to explore alone, but I was inspired by my mom, who will be exploring England, Belgium, and Germany by herself in October while my dad works. If she can travel by herself, I can too! While walking by myself, I didn’t know what to think about or which way to go. I got to choose how fast I walked, where I stopped to eat, how long I took to eat, etc. It was a refreshing and rewarding feeling. During this time, I did some reflecting. Here is what I learned:

  • What I am doing is crazy! Crazy cool and crazy awesome but also just crazy! I downplayed the fact that I had moved to South Africa because it is the wealthiest country in Africa and very westernized. But I reminded myself that it doesn’t change how difficult this trip is. I am alone, in another country, 8,500 miles away from home. That is nothing small! So I am very proud of myself for going on a trip like this. I have learned to give myself more grace when it comes to being sad or anxious.
  • Growth stinks! It is uncomfortable and overwhelming, but as I have grown over the last five years, I love who I have become! I am proud of my accomplishments and the relationships I have made. Growth is so necessary!
  • Being still is not easy for a busybody like me! I always had something to do in college, between practice, eating on the fly, and school. But while I have been here, I have been able to slow down. When I feel the need to get up and do something, I have challenged myself to stay still a little longer. It has been uncomfortable, but very recharging. 

 

People have been asking what the culture is like, and that is a good question! Some of the things I have learned about the culture here include:

  • Time is slow, family is important, physical space is little, and sharing is often. 
  • The pace of life is kind of like flying by the seat of your pants and letting the wind take you where you need to go. For example, Auntie V decides what to make for dinner at 1 pm each day, and always has food ready by 5:30 pm! 
  • Family is so important! I have witnessed the love and respect that each of the family members has for one another. For example, Jade told me about an amazing job opportunity she had but turned it down because it was more important to her that she spends weekends with her daughter than the pay raise. 
  • Diverse cultures are very accepted. The terms for different races include, colored (an olive skin color), black, and white. Also, there is a large Muslim population. They were originally brought over by the British for slavery and confined to the Bo-Kapp area. After the apartheid, they expanded beyond that area and have grown communities all over the Western Cape (which is one of the providences of South Africa). 
  • Teachers at lower-funded, government schools have a stronger relationship with their students. These children may not have a strong support system at home, so the teachers play a big role in their support system. This creates a less professional and more familial environment. Teachers speak to the children in a motherly/fatherly tone, rather than what I am used to in the US. I am so glad I am here for an extended period because it allows me to form strong relationships with the kids, much like the teachers. However, as I have seen the volunteers leave, it makes leaving that much harder. So thank goodness, I still have four months left! 
  • The kids are also so willing to help and share! I have been impressed with the number of students that come up and offer me the food they are eating. It is hard to say no because they feel offended, but I know they need that food to fill their bellies. 

 

Sorry, this was a little long, I hope you enjoy the update!

 

Settling in

Hello again! Here are your latest updates! The kids have loved teaching other kids that my hand represents “I love you.” Kids come up to me and just say, “I love you” show me their hand, and then walk away. It truly puts a smile on both of our faces. Last week at school, a fight broke out, we broke it up and one of the kids was alone cooling off. After a while, I went up to him and started to get to know him. His name is Jordan, he is 13 years old, in 4th grade, has two brothers, and lives with his mom and auntie. He is very small for his age, which leads me to assume that his mom was on drugs during her pregnancy. The majority of the children at this school were born to drug-abusing parents. Jordan and I hit it off really fast. Instead of going back to class, I asked him if I could help him with his schoolwork, and he jumped at the idea. We ran to his class and spoke with his teacher. The teacher gave me a math book to work from, more specifically fractions, my least favorite part about math. I asked him to write his name and date at the top of the page. It was the 23rd of August. He began writing 1203 for the number 23. I corrected him, and we moved on to spelling August. He started by writing the letters O and then U. I realized he had no idea how to spell either. So I showed him how to spell August in the dirt with a stick. Then I asked him to write numbers 1-10, it was a success, then 11-20. He couldn’t do it. So we switched to writing the alphabet. Yet again, he couldn’t do it. So we skipped the fractions and started with the basics.

I am not perfect at English, especially because I was diagnosed with Dyslexia in 6th grade, and then again in my sophomore year of college. It hasn’t been easy, but I have learned tips and tricks. I find it comical that someone with dyslexia is now teaching English. He was so excited to learn, it was contagious. The other kids would come around to check out what was going on. Lots would laugh and point, but I would not tolerate that kind of behavior. I kindly said, “if you would like to help, you may, but if you’re going to be rude, you must leave.” That was enough to run some off, but most were willing to help. I specifically chose kids that I knew were troublemakers because then it would build a connection between Jordan and that child. It was amazing to watch them help each other. After we had worked for a while, I asked the teacher if I would be able to work with Jordan every day. The teacher was very excited because is a troublemaker in the classroom. After all, he has no idea what is going on in the classroom therefore he acts out. He was late to start school so he never learned the basics, but due to his age, they sent him to the next grade.

After working with him for two weeks, he can write almost every capital letter of the alphabet on command, and he can write numbers 1-100, were working on understanding the 100s. He has taught me just as much as I have taught him. Some of the things he has taught me are, that making mistakes is ok because correcting yourself is rewarding and beautiful. Also, learning is fun, and it’s OK to ask for help. Jade mentioned that these children struggle to perform well due to their home lives. More specifically, these children do not live in safe areas, they have terrible sleeping conditions, and little food to eat, so how could they possibly be expected to perform at their best? The cards are stacked against them. I hope that by the end of my time working with Jordan he will be able to sound out words on his own, even read, and do simple math like addition and subtraction.

The school had a market day this week for the 7th graders. They asked for donations of food and then they sold it to the rest of the school. Their proceeds will go towards their class prom on Sept. 23rd. It was so cute watching these kids get so excited to sell things that they had made and worked hard planning for their table.

Outside of school, I have recently switched rooms because there are two new volunteers in the house, Kato, from Belgium, and Giorgia, from Italy. It has been so much fun getting to know them and having sleepovers every night. Unfortunately, they are only here for 3 or 4 weeks, but we enjoy the time we do have together. We tried to climb table mountain this past week, but the wind was too crazy, so we had to punt on that idea and try it on a different day. We also went to the beach to watch the sunset and enjoy the 22 C (72 F) weather. I quickly learned the metric system because otherwise, I cannot understand what the others are talking about. Also at home, I have settled in, I love hanging out and talking to Jade and Auntie V, they are like my mother and sister now. I realized I have had a lot of family units throughout my life. I have my blood family, the Finks (lived with them for a semester in high school), the Stones (also lived with them in high school), my college family (Ryan and Kelsey Neises), and my college friends. Now I get to add this family to the list of family members. It has been amazing to feel at home even though I am so far from home. Lastly, I made a pumpkin pie! Everyone around the world knows how famous pumpkin pies are to the Americans, so I figured why not let them try it? I used an actual pumpkin so it was nice and fresh. I had some help from Grandma Williford, and it was an absolute hit! I look forward to what the next two weeks hold! Talk soon!

The gangs all here (from left to right, Kato, Daan, Giorgia, Me)

Jordan (left) and another kid working together in the dirt

Market day at the school

Jordan writing number 1-100

The famous American pumpkin pie

Beautiful sunset of Table Mountain from my backyard

Moving has its challenges

Hi everyone! The last two weeks have been crazy! The first week here was very challenging. I felt so homesick, but I didn’t want to go home, I just missed the feeling of home. I was terribly uncomfortable, which I knew was going to happen, but I did not expect to feel the way I did. With the change of weather from 90+ at home to 49 and wet, I got sick, so I laid low and rested. Being still allowed me to process all the emotions I was feeling. I was scared, sad, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, and mad for feeling this way. But the truth is, what did I expect to feel when I got here? I just moved 8,000+ miles away from a life I had been building for 22 years. There were going to be growing pains, and there was no timeline on how long they were going to last. Fortunately, with each day I have felt better physically and emotionally.

A little background about my project site. I am at Belthorn Primary School (K-7 grade), a government-funded school. The school system here consists of three different levels of schools: private (most expensive), semi-private, and government funded (cheapest). It is a lottery system, however, the government-funded schools are primarily for students from the poor areas called “townships.” Each classroom in government-funded schools can have 30-37 children per class, whereas private schools cap their classrooms at 24 students per class. Having 30+ children in each class is a major problem because it is challenging to make sure each student is on the same page. COVID-19 has caused many children to fall behind in their classes and even fail.

Since the weather has been VERY cold (49F and wet), we cannot have PT (physical therapy) aka PE (physical education) because they do not have an indoor gym. On rainy days I assist in a 3rd-grade classroom. There is one teacher for 35 children. I walk around and make sure students are doing their work and understanding it. I worked with two children, one who was unable to sound out a word without looking at the board for help and another who did not know how to add or subtract big numbers. It is challenging for the teacher to help these children because they have 32 other kids to teach. When the weather is nice I, along with 1-2 other volunteers, take the kids out for PT. Grades 4-7 have a coach, but grades K-3 do not get PT without volunteers. We take the kids out and coach them in relay races and fun active games.

One of the coolest yet most difficult things at the school has been explaining to the children what happened to my left hand. I was born with 8 fingers. Kids are always curious, so it is fun to share with them what happened. I usually say, “I was born like this” or “God made me this way.” Most of the time the kids cannot fathom why God would make me like that, he must have made a mistake! But he indeed did not! I would not want to have ten fingers because it is an easy door to bring God into every conversation. I continue to show them that the two fingers together look like a heart, and if a pen is nearby I will draw the heart. I continue to show them my hand. **Please perform the actions included in the next sentence.** I tell the kids to first form a fist, then put up their thumb, pointer finger, and pinky finger. That sign means “I love you.” I believe that I have those exact fingers on my left hand (but mine is better because my fingers are in the shape of a heart). The children are immediately fascinated by this! They always run to their friends and bring them back to show them that I have 8 fingers. I then repeat this activity over and over, sometimes 20-30 times a day as more and more kids come to see my hand. I also get kids who come tell me their buddy is laughing at me. This does not hurt my feelings because it is a cool opportunity to teach them that bullying is not acceptable. It is hurtful to be the recipient of bullying, and you should treat others with gentleness and kindness.

On a different note, I moved to the host family Monday, August 8th, and they were so welcoming! I love them like family already! There are nine of us in the house right now, Auntie V, who is the host mom, her daughter, Jade, and two sons, Ronaldo (16) and Rozanno (13), the granddaughter, Sophie (2 yrs), two long term guests Zi Zi and Yonga and Daan, a volunteer who came the same week as me. The best part about the host family is the FOOD! Auntie V cooks food every night. I usually start hovering in the kitchen around 5 for dinner because it is my favorite part of the day. I even tried liver for the first time and didn’t hate it.

I feel like I fit in really well in the house. Having the two younger boys around feels like having my two brothers around. Auntie V gave me the best compliment I have ever received. She said, “It is amazing how someone’s personality can make someone more pretty. I didn’t notice how beautiful your hand was because of how beautiful your personality was.”

Things I have learned about the culture so far. DO NOT PLAN ANYTHING, EVER! I knew moving here I would experience a change of pace; it could be described kind of like “island time.” I am starting to enjoy the beauty of not knowing what to expect from each day. It makes me appreciate each day on its own. I have spontaneously gone on hikes, to wineries, and even to a Cape Town soccer game at the DHL Stadium, where the 2016 Olympics took place. Another time-sensitive change is that when people say, “I am coming now or now now,” it means they would be coming in 30 seconds, 30 mins, or over an hour. The value of family is held very high. They love one another so deeply. The adult son, Baiden comes by the house daily to check on his mom and siblings. I am also learning a little more about other cultures through the other volunteers. I am truly enjoying being here and feel like I am exactly where I need to be right now.

Be sure to go back to the last post, I will add pictures. Also, I plan on making an entry every two weeks, so be sure to check back then!

Auntie V dishing out food

Teaching the kids I love you in sign language

My room at the host family

View from Lions Head, the hardest hike I have ever done

Hand washing and air drying clothes in the sun

Cape Town FC game in the DHL stadium

One of my students in my 3rd grade class

LIVER!

 

100% Chance of Precipitation

It is officially time for the adventure to begin! Although the forecast did not include rain, my face was constantly wet from tears flowing. It was hard to say goodbye. As some may know my family is moving to Dayton, Ohio in two weeks. Not only did I say goodbye to my family and boyfriend, but I also said goodbye to the house I have lived in for the last four years. When I got to the airport, my flight had been delayed two hours. Fortunately, Hudson, my boyfriend, was also flying out of Atlanta that day. But his flight was delayed as well, so we sat in the lobby of the international terminal and played gin rummy. We played 13 games, I lost 7-6. The goodbyes at the airport were the hardest, it was really setting in. An abundance of thoughts went through my head, “why am I doing this?, what was I thinking, I can’t do this! I should just go back now.” But I couldn’t turn down the biggest adventure and amazing opportunity for growth, so I put my head down, thinking no one could see the tears falling from my face, and began through security. 

Since my first flight was delayed by two hours, it meant I had 35 minutes in Amsterdam to get to my connecting flight, and I indeed made it! On the plane, I met a German girl who was going back to Cape Town to study physiology. She gave me some tips and tricks about renting cars, data plans, and the weather; she even told me a little about Germany. We compared cultures, and I learned a lot. We even played Yahtzee against each other, I won! When I landed at 11:30 pm South African Standard time, my luggage was stuck in Amsterdam. So, fortunately, I packed a change of clothes and my bathroom bag so that I could live without the checked bag for a few days. My first flight was 8:35 hours, and my second was 10:15 hours, I was ready to get on land! 

I was picked up by a friendly man from Volunteer solutions, he told me a little about the government. Such as, the laws are not enforced well here, for example, marijuana is illegal here, but everyone still uses it, the power goes out for a few hours a day to conserve energy and money, and the working class are a part of a union, which is a major problem. More specifically, if the government wants to tighten laws, they will need to regain power; since the country is unionized, the workers break out into major strikes when the government tries to get involved. The current unemployment rate is 34.5%, compared to 3.6% unemployment in the US.

When I arrived at the hostel, where I will be staying for two nights, there was a group of kids waiting to meet me before going out on the town. They were all so nice, but it was overwhelming. I was shown around the hostel, which is made of two houses that are combined in the back. The entire hostel/volunteer house can host 64 people! When I tried to lay down for bed, the emotions came flooding. Lying in bed, I started to cry because I was overwhelmed and scared, and VERY uncomfortable (both physically and emotionally). I was afraid of what was to come. Eventually, I fell asleep listening to music at 2:30 am with my face mask and two blankets. 

This morning I woke up at 12:30 pm and was immediately introduced to everyone in the house. They all asked me to join their plans, paintball, food, zip-lining, or go to the zoo to see the monkeys. I chose to go get food because I hadn’t eaten for over 12 hours. A group of volunteers went to The Old Biscuit Mill, full of shops, food, and dancing. Here they use Uber to get around, which costs around 75 rand-135 rand (~$7-$10), which is the currency here. ($1= 12Rand (R)). When I got home, we went to a local intramural soccer game. I love watching soccer live! In my head I was thinking, “oh step up” or “just play it long.” You can take a girl out of soccer, but you can’t take the soccer out of a girl. Then off to the local market, aka spar. I grabbed food for the next two days until I go to my host family. And just like that, my first day is almost over! 175 days to go! 

Most of the volunteers are staying 2 weeks-7 weeks, so when I told them that I will be staying for 24 weeks, they were all very jealous because no one wants to leave, which is a heartwarming feeling. 

Advice: 

  • Keep your belongings close because people will try to steal your things.
  • Pack clothes, bathroom bags, and adaptor in your carry-on because you never know if they will get left behind. I also put an AirTag in my luggage to check the location of my luggage; currently, it’s still in Amsterdam. 
  • The water is safe to drink in Cape Town, but introduce it slowly as it could upset your stomach (advice given from an American) 
  • Bring ear plugs and a mask to sleep in a hostel because it can be loud, I slept through the night with no interruptions! 

Hudson and I playing gin rummy before the flight

Playing with baby monkeys at the Wold of Birds zoo

Went to the Spar (grocery store) for dinner

Went to a local recreational soccer game to watch soccer (and yes they call it soccer here)

The Old Biscuit Mill

The WHY behind this trip?

The WHY behind the trip!

Hi everyone! My name is Rachel, and I will be traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. I will be a part of a sports development program and a medical program through Volunteer Solutions. More specifically, I will be coaching soccer, and other sports, at a local school with 7-13-year-olds. Since their school calendar is reverse to ours, they will have summer break during December and January. During this time, I will be working in local clinics as a Registered Nurse and getting exposure to their medical care. 

Now for the WHY of my trip. Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to travel to somewhere in Africa for an extended period of time. I just wasn’t sure how to get there. My freshman year I heard about the Lumos scholarship, when Heather Ferarri, a teammate on the Belmont Women’s soccer team had presented on her recent trip. She went to Nepal for four months. I thought this was a unique opportunity and had my name written all over it. During her trip, she experienced the conditions of the medical facilities in Nepal. Over the course of the next four years, the Lumos project was pushed to the back of my mind. During my senior year, I had a decision to make, what to do after graduation? Everyone is faced with this question, yet I felt like I didn’t have a clear picture of the future. 

In January of 2022, I thought I wanted to travel and play semi-professional soccer. That would scratch two itches in one adventure. But as I did some more soul searching, I realized I wanted to experience more of the culture of the country I was living in. So I ruled out playing soccer, but still had NO plan! Which is very unlike me, who always has to have a plan! March 1st came around, and the Lumos project came up. The application was due on March 28th… not much time at all. I threw myself into this project, from losing sleep to staying in on the weekends. I made a bet with myself, if I can pull this off in 28 days then I will go on this trip whether it was on my own or with Lumos. But if I didn’t get to plan the entire trip by March 28th, then I would figure out a new plan. 

Well, here we are! 2 weeks away from the trip, I can not believe this is happening! This trip is a trip of a lifetime. I get to combine my two loves, soccer and nursing, in a country that I have always dreamed of going to! How perfect! But, the planning did not end there. It was just the beginning.

Things I have done to prepare to include:

  • Vaccination- Typhoid and malaria (typhoid was the most painful shot I have ever gotten, but it was so worth it, and malaria, I will be taking while I am overseas)
  • Booking flights- the flights there and back will be a 24-27 hour travel days! Going to be long days
  • Getting clothes- I needed new soccer cleats to be able to play soccer with the kids I will be working with (I also hope to join an adult team while I am over there), scrubs (to wear during the clinic part of the trip), and rain gear because I will be ariving the last month of rainy season 
  • Passing the NCLEX (National National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses)- which I passed! 

It is just the beginning of the adventure! I cannot wait to get my feet on the ground and get to know the culture of South Africa!