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 →

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.

Teaching the kids I love you in sign language

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.

One of my students in my 3rd grade class

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.



Auntie V dishing out food


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.”









Cape Town FC game in the DHL stadium

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

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

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!

My room at the host family

Hand washing and air drying clothes in the sun


2 thoughts on “Moving has its challenges”

  1. We loved your blog Rachel! We have know for a long time that you have such a loving spirit. You have certainly shown that in Africa as you interact with the young children! You have looked for the good in missing some fingers on your left hand and used it to teach children how to treat others! God is so pleased with you! You have trusted HIm and he has shown you how to turn a situation that most people would complain about into an exceptional way to point others to Him! The pictures were great. It means so much to us to know that you are happy, safe and enjoying yourself! We will wait eagerly for the next blog! Love, Pa and Grandma

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