Sebastian Quaade writes about his experience at our Wendywood offices
In the run-up to my month long August-September school holiday, I was frantically repeating my Google search request for ‘volunteering environment Johannesburg’ at least twice a day. I was hoping that a new advertisement would appear, and sending desperate e-mails to any organisation that contained the word ‘Green’.
Through a stroke of luck two days before my holiday started, I clicked onto African Climate Reality Project’s website, and to my elation saw that someplace, somewhere, had a need for me. I didn’t want to spend this holiday chilling. I wanted to do something, something meaningful. Food & Trees for Africa was the right place for me.
Food & Trees for Africa are the organisation in charge of coordinating the African region in Al Gore’s African Climate Reality Project. This is a very big task, with more ambition than manpower, so there was always something for me to do if I wanted to.
I carried out some of the more menial work, such as updating databases with contact information of affiliates. But that’s the thing about volunteering. You gain experience by taking care of the less exciting things, and then once in a while the unforgettable gems appear that cause you to grow as a person. Both are imperative to the volunteering experience.
One of the highlights of my time with FTFA was the blog post I wrote on slash-and-burn practices in Swaziland. I was astonished that they had faith that a 17 year old who is yet to complete high school could write a blog post good enough for such an important movement.
FTFA really encouraged me to personally involve myself and use my skills to do something unique, rather than always delegating jobs from the to-do list.
Another benefit of volunteering at FTFA is the diversity of activities you can do. Everyone at the office could always use a hand, so if I was feeling brave I could ask any of the super-friendly and welcoming staff if you could help out. There was incredible flexibility in activities if you wanted to engage in something different than usual. For example, some days I gardened in the food garden that surrounds the offices. That being said, on days I felt less enterprising, Elin Ström, a long-time volunteer, was prepared to find administrative work for me. I never felt out of my depth.
A few experiences were particularly memorable. First, one day we had to sort through multiple sacks of beans as they were to be used in a community development project the next day. Therefore, almost everyone from the office came outside and sat in a circle with a pile of beans in front of them and went through the beans, one by one. It was a tedious task, but it was made fun by the great company. As we sat each going through their mountain of beans, we reminisced with laughter of past mathematics teachers and their brilliance or oddities. After about an hour of conversation, we concluded that sorting beans was a great teambuilding exercise. The fact that everyone came to help out reflected the great atmosphere at the office.
I had an eye-opening experience when I accompanied Byron Maclean, an FTFA employee, to a primary school in Alexandria where they were using agriculture to create a community garden around the school.
I learned about gardening practices that are now proving useful back at my boarding school, and had fun gardening. I was even taught how to catch a chicken (after accidentally letting them loose from their enclosure). I had the privilege of being a part of a global movement that strives for a better future. And I now have a great network within the green sector, all thanks to my time at Food & Trees for Africa.
While it wasn’t ‘super chilled’, I certainly had a refreshing holiday packed with industrious enjoyment, gaining new experiences and insights from new places and the people I interacted with.
Volunteering is about giving and helping out, but if your volunteering experience was truly successful, you often feel as if you got more than you gave. I could not help feeling exactly that after being with Food & Trees for Africa.
* Sebastian Quaade is a Danish high school exchange student currently studying in Swaziland at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa. He volunteered at FTFA during August and September 2015.