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 →

Beyond Thankful for What I Have

Burning off the sugar in the bouncy house

Hello everyone! Hope you’re staying warm! Could you please send over some cold weather, I’m in a constant sweat. It is cool that we don’t have air conditioning because it’s all-natural, but on really hot days, it is miserable. It’s almost like we’re glamping all the time! Over the last two weeks, school has come to an end. It was the end of the year. As the heat has gotten stronger, I have tried to play with the kids in the shade because it is too hot to play in the sun all day. Also, to protect myself from the sun, I bought arm sleeves to cover my arms. I also wear a hat, pants, and sometimes glasses. The kids always wonder, “why are you wearing pants,” I say, “because the sun will burn my skin faster than yours.” They don’t look at me like I have a different skin color, they just look at me as the PT coach. The grade R-grade to grade 3 celebrated the end of the year with bouncy houses, candy, chips, cool drinks, and fried chicken. It was a blast, but exhausting. It is amazing what kids can do with sugary food and drinks. They are never-ending energizer bunnies!

Ice cream from ice cream truck

Something fun was that a local ice cream driver came through the neighborhood, so we grabbed ice cream cones right outside our house. Everyone was running around the house trying to find the cash to buy ice cream. The craziest part is when I heard that noise, my initial thought was, “it’s a fake ice cream truck trying to take kids.” When I told my host family, they couldn’t believe it. They have bought from this ice cream guy for years. It’s crazy how my experiences at home have caused me to be close-minded to the thought that an ice cream man may be trying to sell ice cream.





District 6 landscape

I also went to the district 6 museum to learn a little about the history of the Muslim community. District 6 was an area where the government told people they need the land to build on and that they will reimburse the people for their homes. The government was ruthless, they would bulldoze the house down whether it was empty or not. To this day, the land is still not built on, and the people of District 6 fight to keep it like that to remind people of how they were treated. The people moved further out of the city. The colored classes ranked as white on top, then Indian, colored, and then black. Based on this ranking they would be further and further from the city. Also, those who were colored or black had to carry a pass around. If they were stopped without their pass or after hours, they would be sent to jail.

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell

Speaking of jail, I also went to the jail where Nelson Mandela was in prison. The island is 11km from cape town, and anyone who tried to swim either drowned or was brought back to the jail and beheaded to show others to not try and escape. Our tour guide was a prisoner for 11 years. One of the most interesting facts was that they were forced to mine in a quarry. Due to the sun reflecting off the quarry, the prisoner’s eyes were damaged. Therefore, our tour guide had glasses that looked like the bottom of a bottle because his eyes had been so badly damaged.





The view from Table Mountain

On a higher note, I climbed Table Mountain. It was truly the hardest hike I have ever done! We climbed India Venster, one of the hardest ways to get to the top. It was so rewarding when we got to the top. Now every time I look at Table Mountain, I look at it as an accomplishment!

My host family are big soccer fans, so it has been a lot of fun watching the World Cup together. They are big Ronaldo fans, especially Ronaldo himself. I always pick the team against Portugal, just to be difficult. It causes for loads of shouting matches at the screen. This week at the host family things feel a little better. Now that school is out everyone is home all day so we are always on top of each other. I am working on coordinating a few days at other projects like medical and special needs before the holidays. So I’ll keep you posted! Also, I picked up my extended visa! I am allowed to stay in the country until February 2, 2023, but my flight is on January 29th, just to give myself a few days as a buffer.

What a traditional shack looks like in a township. Made of metal scraps they can find

One of the most impactful things I have done in cape town was visit one of the townships. (We did this tour through Stay Africa, and safety was a priority). We went to Philippi, a township just 30 minutes from Cape town. When driving through the townships the roads were unpaved and terribly bumpy. There were children who looked like they just started walking being led by other children who looked to be 3 years or younger. These children must grow up so fast because their parents are either at work (and can’t pay for childcare) or doing drugs. We went to a kindergarten that a gentleman started. He built a two-story shack in 2 weeks, with his house above his school. The school is funded strictly by donations. They have 60+ children and 5-10 volunteers who get paid if there is money left over in the budget. We got to play with these children for a while.

Kids from the kindergarten

They were very interested in my hand. They laughed, pointed, pulled their friends over, and even tried to separate my two fingers that are stuck together, which hurt... Because they didn’t speak English, I couldn’t communicate to them that it hurt, so I gently pulled my hand away. Other volunteers in the room said they were upset as they saw the kids laughing and pointing at my hand. I am used to this and I try to give grace to kids because they have never seen anything like my hand. I was fighting the tears the entire time. I just wanted to take all of them home with me and bathe them, feed them and love on them. The organization is called Community Kids Pot.

Also, while driving through the township, I noticed that there were a bunch of adults with leg amputations. This is because of poor living conditions and medical facilities being far away with long lines.

This experience required a lot of reflection as it was difficult mentally and emotionally. I concluded that although they don’t have what I have, it doesn’t mean I have to give up what I have. It made me appreciate not having to worry if I will be fed or freshly clothed. It made me reflect and be thankful for everything I have at home. It even sparked my interest in adoption, specifically from one of these areas, but don’t worry that’s not for a while!

As this trip is coming to an end, I have reflected on things I am going to miss. One of those is hugs from a precious 3-year-old or snuggles while we watch tv. But I’ll be able to replace those with hugs and cuddles from Gracie Jane! I will also miss Auntie V’s cooking, being able to walk to school, always being able to see Table Mountain from anywhere in Cape Town, the warmth and constant sun, and so much more. Something I didn’t know I needed was Jade’s ability to relate to my experience. She worked on a cruise ship for years before having Sophia, so she was away from home for extended periods. She helps me validate my feelings of excitement to explore, sadness when missing home, and thankfulness for this experience. I am so glad I have 49 more days here!

Sophinde sithethe (sow-pin-da see-teh-teh) we’ll talk again in Xhosa

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