South Africa & Swaziland, 2014 – An Intro

Welcome to the first post about one of my favorite, most life-changing trips I have ever taken (and likely ever will). My full feelings about this trip are full of clichés, but overall it can be summed up with a simple Avicii lyric – all this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.

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There are four countries in the world which for years have felt like home to me, even though until last June I had only set foot in one of them. Any time I think of them, a feeling of contentment settles over me. South Africa is one of those countries, and after being there, my feelings have only intensified for it.

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The trip itself was run through Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA), though it’s not just for students. I first heard of it through my friend Alex, who had seen a presentation of it by two VESA representatives in one of her classes in 2012. Brit, Alex, and I signed up immediately for a 2013 program, but ended up having to push it back to 2014. In the end, I was the only one who followed through.

I was nervous to travel so far largely by myself, but in the end, I was relieved in a lot of ways. I made some valuable friendships that I may not have otherwise, had I arrived with my usual group already sorted. The itinerary was a voluntourism mix – 6 days of volunteer work in 3 different areas followed by the remainder of the 2 week trip sight-seeing through South Africa and Swaziland.

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I have mixed feelings about voluntourism. This article and this article nicely sum up a lot of the issues and dangers of voluntourism. I strongly debated whether I should do the program, and in the end I’m glad I did, but I also wouldn’t do it again. I haven’t investigated too much into the inner workings of VESA, and frankly in a lot of ways I’m scared to. Part of me feels guilty for perpetuating voluntourism by participating, but I still had an amazing experience that I know I am selfish enough to never regret. One thing I appreciated about VESA was that part of our money went to hiring local construction workers for the construction aspect of the volunteer work (more on that in another post).

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I’m airing my feelings on voluntourism in this post, because I want the ensuing posts about my trip to be positive. At times, even while there, I felt conflicted about my presence, but I’ll focus less on that from here on out.

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I’m so excited to share my experiences with all of you!

Have you participated in a voluntourism program? Are there countries in the world that feel like home to you, even if you haven’t been to them?

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