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Volunteering in South Africa is one of the best ways of engaging with a deprived community, says NARINA EXELBY.

Imagine spending a few months of your travels living in Cape Town, helping out with penguins that need oil cleaned off their bodies, playing with children who crave love but received only abuse from their parents, and playing football with teens who have lived their lives on the street. Volunteering is a great way to get to grips with life in South Africa. You can't get a working holiday visa, so volunteering gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a community before or after you head off on your travels.

YDP, a Cape Town-based company, specialises in supplying volunteers to various charity organisations in and around Cape Town that desperately need an extra pair of hands - even if just for two weeks. But most people choose to stay longer; the spirit of the communities in which they live and the differences they make to people and animals' lives keeps them coming back for more.

Hope Journey
This group of projects focuses on education and healthcare of both children and adults. From caring for babies with HIV/Aids to helping out at a school for special needs children and rehabilitated street kids, to adult literacy training and township preschools, Hope Journey is all about encouraging people to believe in themselves.
What you need Experience in teaching, social work, arts and crafts, gardening, technology, computers or music is useful.
Duration Eight weeks to one year.

Animal charities
In South Africa many poorer people can't afford proper care for their pets. Volunteers on this programme work either with a mobile welfare vet clinic that helps with de?worming and dipping, spaying and general healthcare, or are based at the recovery clinic.
What you need Love and compassion for animals. The charity also needs people who can help with website development and PR.
Duration Two weeks to one year.

Heart For Orphans
The kids at this children's home are under the age of five and are orphans or have been abandoned or abused. They all crave love and attention, and this charity needs volunteers to increase the ratio of adults to children so the kids get the individual attention they deserve.
What you need Patience, a love for children and the ability to play learning games with them.
Duration Two weeks to one year.

Taking the street out of the child
There are many street children in Cape Town who have been orphaned or abandoned and need to fend for themselves. This programme encourages children to leave the streets and move to a multi-service centre, where they are given food, shelter and the opportunity to learn life skills. They are also encouraged to play sport, sing, rap or get involved in creative activities to help them achieve their potential.
What you need
This is quite a tough programme to work on as the age of the street kids ranges from quite young to about 24. Teaching, social work and psychology experience all help, as will having compassion and patience.
Duration Two weeks to one year.

Sports and youth

Empowerment
Gangs have become a way of life for many boys who live in the Cape Flats area, and the aim of this programme is to positively influence children's attitudes towards themselves and equip them to stand on their own and make their own decisions. There are three aspects to this programme: teaching life skills at primary schools, teaching life skills and sport at high schools, and leadership training.
What you need
You should be able to communicate well with teenagers and know about HIV/Aids and teen pregnancies. Sport, drama, music, computer, marketing or fundraising skills will be useful.
Duration
Four weeks to one year.

Penguin rescue
Injured sea birds are often found on the beaches and in the waters around Cape Town. Volunteers on this programme are taught how to handle, catch, feed and administer medication to birds; they work with birds that have been covered in oil, that are dehydrated or have avian malaria. Penguins, albatrosses, seagulls and cormorants are often fostered and re-released into the wild.
What you need You should be prepared to work hard and be relatively fit.
Duration Six weeks to one year.

Healing through horses
This programme offers free horse riding therapy classes to children who are disabled, autistic, hearing- or sight-impaired or who have cerebral palsy. Many of them are from disadvantaged communities. The movement of the horses allows the children to exercise muscles they aren't able to use themselves, and the classes involve riding lessons, games, music, coordination lessons and out rides.
What you need You must enjoy working with people and horses. Horse riding skills and experience in working with disabled people will be useful.
Duration Eight weeks.

Cheshire Homes
This is a place where disabled adults learn skills that enable them to live as normal a life as possible. They can receive physiotherapy treatments, participate in karate classes, go on outings, raise money for the home and even get their hair done. It's an inspiring place to be.
What you need A positive attitude, the ability to organise activities and raise funds. Skills in massage, occupational therapy and counselling will help.
Duration Two weeks to one year.

Haven for the otherwise able
This is a home for children and young adults who have severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Here they receive specialised care from nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists and the children are stimulated and encouraged to play and to learn. Volunteers on this programme help out with caring for the children, playing music for them, decorating their rooms and giving them affection.
What you need Patience. Knowledge of child development, disabilities and autism will help.
Duration Two weeks to one year.

• The cost of the programmes starts from R7495 for two weeks. For more information, see www.ydp.co.za, call YDP in Cape Town on +27-21-423-1583 or email ruth@ydp.co.za.


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