As college students, we are often told that volunteer work is something that will be a resume builder and act as beneficial experience for our futures. What we are told less often, however, is how truly memorable, enjoyable, and life changing volunteering can be. My name is Kayla Shearns, a Suffolk senior, CLAS writing tutor, and contributor to the CLAS blog, and in this post I’d like to share my volunteer experience with One Heart Source, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the gap between those who have access to bettering their lives and those who do not through education. My involvement with OHS went beyond volunteering, and I gained more experience, knowledge, and friendships than I could have ever imagined. I hope that sharing my experience might just encourage you to find a volunteer project that you are passionate about and give it a try, because it will no doubt pay off in more ways than one.
I heard about One Heart Source through a single email, out of many received in a day, passed along from a professor. Reading through their website, I learned that OHS had volunteer opportunities in Cape Town, South Africa and Jamaica, tutoring elementary and middle school students. It was a dream of mine to visit South Africa and through tutoring I have become passionate about education, so I was instantly interested. What was not so instantaneous, though, was my confidence that I could commit to the experience. I would have to travel for 30 hours, be away from home for over week, and engage in tutoring I wasn’t sure I had the necessary skills for. But after reading reviews online and seeing the pictures of the beautiful place and people involved with OHS, I decided to take the leap.
Arriving in South Africa is a moment I will never forget. My OHS fellows made me feel welcome and secure entering an unfamiliar continent, and told me what to expect on my drive from the Cape Town airport to my hostile in Hout Bay. The next day, I moved into my apartment where I met my six roommates, volunteers from different parts of the United States and the world. Throughout my week in Cape Town, I met all the OHS volunteers and learned from each and every one; being in such a diverse group that was so cooperative, kind, and with many surprising similarities was one of the best parts of the experience.
One Heart Source’s mission is to provide education to the students they interact with to encourage them learn and follow their dreams to better their lives. OHS runs an after school program for students from grades 4-7 at Oranjekloof Moravarian Primary School. The volunteers tutor reading and math to supplement what the students are learning in the classroom. I was specifically focusing on administering reading assessments to determine the reading level the students have achieved. One of my favorite moments from the experience was watching one of the students pass her grade 7 reading level, the highest before continuing to high school, with flying colors. I am truly privileged to have met and worked with such funny, kind, and smart students who are motivated in the face of adversity; I left the school every day having learned something new and with a giant smile on my face.
Outside of school, I was fortunate enough to experience some of the culture of Cape Town and Hout Bay. I visited the township where many of the students live, called Imizamo Yethu, meaning “our collective struggle”. The One Heart Source website explains the community as “Roughly 60% of residents in Hout Bay live in Imizamo Yethu, and the majority of residents have little or no access to stable infrastructure, such as running water, adequate plumbing, electricity, and waste management. Despite the great social needs, there is an even stronger sense of community and hope amongst residents”. The people of the township were willing to share their stories and invite us into their homes. I was even able to learn a little bit of the local language, Xhosa, with the help of our culture coaches and students. I had the opportunity to visit markets, restaurants, and historical sites; exploring the community was invaluable to understanding the students’ lives and the need for the type of work OHS engages in.
Leaving Cape Town was bittersweet. I was grateful for the experiences I had, the people I met, and the things I had learned. Working with the students and being accepted into such a beautiful culture was something I just didn’t want to leave. Through my volunteering experience, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and learned a lot about myself and the world. Not only did I accomplish something I never thought I could, but I became motivated to do more. I cannot emphasize enough how much I did not feel like I was volunteering, but that I was working together to better a community with people passionate about education just like me.
I encourage you to explore the One Heart Source website, https://oneheartsource.org/#home, and if the experience seems like something you might be interested in, I cannot recommend it enough. There are countless volunteer opportunities to do good with something you are interested in. Working at the CLAS not only sparked my interest in education, but gave me the confidence and skills I needed to embark on my volunteer journey. I began this school year with more motivation than ever to do my best as a tutor and in my own studies. If tutoring or working with a tutor is something you think might motivate you like me, check out the CLAS website or stop into the center. Thank you for reading about my experience, and I encourage you to try out one for yourself.