Nellie Johansson came here in November to volunteer 2 months at a Home of Safety for boys in Athlone. She did an amazing job with the children and also raised a lot of money and to not forget; helped to paint a 390m long wall around the premises, what a job!!
Here are her words about her time at the organisation:

My time volunteering at St Francis Children’s Home.

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Week 1

My first day at St Francis started with a nice welcome from my supervisor Raj. We had a chat to get to know each other, discussed and brainstormed about what I could help out with and do in my 8 weeks at the children’s home. After we finished the talk I got a guided tour and introduced myself to the staff and the boys. I went home that day excited to come back and start working.

The rest of the week I wanted to feel the vibe in the area and get to know the boys. I spent my time playing around with them, but also trying to connect and blend in. Talking, laughing and enjoying each others company. We played with marbles, used the soccer field, hung on the sofa inside watching Naruto, drawing, listened to music just to mention some activities. Overall, having a lot of fun together.

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Week 2-3

The second and third week I started to feel more secure with the kids. Now they knew my name and had found a new friend. I was active in some more structured movements such as group session with a smaller group of boys. I also helped out with planning the soccer Friday that Lucas who did his internship at St Francis had started up.

It’s fascinating to observe the children when they are playing games with each other. It’s a challenge to interfere in. The competitive side takes over the boys mind and make them more energetic and filled with feelings which often leads to conflicts between them. On my firsts days at the home It was hard for me to be brave and secure enough to interact in the conflicts as a grown up and a leader, but after I got to know the kids and child workers I felt more comfortable to make a stand. You spend a lot of time trying to solve the conflicts the boys have with one another. To try to explain and teach the boys manners and common sense. It’s an interesting process to experience.

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Week 4

On my 4th week, I began to feel the desire of doing something more with my time at the Children’s home. I valued to make the kids smile and have a good time by fooling around with them. They are in need of love and caring, but I wanted to do something further. I wanted to leave a mark.

The social work student Lucas had started up a big project with painting the long, grey and dark wall around the facility to white with some parts with patterns in colours.

He thought that this idea would affect the environment for the kids, the staff and visitors in a more positive way. I couldn’t agree more with him, so I wanted to help out. So I was spending days helping out with the painting together with the staff and some kids who happily helped. I liked the combination to hang out with the kids but still helping out with a bigger project for a good sake.

After finishing that project my brain was overwhelmed by thoughts about what else I could contribute to the organisation. One thing I’ve been wanting to do was a fundraising. I’ve had some smaller projects in my mind such as doing a bigger activity with the kids, maybe also buy some more clothes for the boys that only have 2-3 changes of clothes. But to accomplish these ideas I needed money, so on the Friday the 2ond of December I put a long post on Facebook about information of St Francis, some thoughts, and some examples of what I wanted to do for the kids. After a few hours I had raised 5000 R and later it became 7000 R in total. That was amazing. I think many of my beloved, friends and others liked the idea to help out donating because it was a personal way of doing it.

I had the financial part covered, so I started planning my ideas for the most amazing boys which I’ve only in 4 weeks started to care a lot about. I think about them, and also miss them when I’m not around. They have stolen my heart.

Week 5-6

From week 49 to 50 my schedule was filled with things to do. I was spending the most of my time at the project painting the wall around the facility. Week 50 my biggest focus was painting from 11-17 Monday to Friday. I became forced to shower every day trying to scrub off the paint stuck on my body, I sweated, got burned by the sun, had soreness and suffered from fatigue every evening. But it was so worth it, of course it was! The white colour from the wall makes the facility look so much bigger and happier in a way. It lights up the playground but I think it also lights up the boys, staff and visitors eyes. We also wrote “St Francis” with the colours of the South African flag with big letters on one part of the wall. It looks amazing now. It’s so many kids and adults that been helping out from all over. It has been such a fun way to gather, collaborate and pushing each other to finish the project together. And we did it!

Some of my money I raised by posting on Facebook we used to buy rollers, colours and detergent for the painting project.

But I still had 6 700 rand left. More people had seen my post and donated money during the two weeks after I put the post on the web. I’m overwhelmed by the support my friends and family from home has given me and St Francis. So on my second last week volunteering, I was planning what to do with the rest of my donations, and it resulted in me taking the boys that still stayed on St Francis over Christmas and the staff to the Two Oceans Aquarium in Waterfront for almost a whole day. An exciting time discovering the life under the surface was awaiting them. The rest of my donations I was spending on 45 new pairs of shoes for the boys to wear to the school the upcoming semester.

Week 7

So my last week I was going through with the activity to the aquarium, also going shopping school shoes for the boys and last but not least spending as many minutes I could hugging, laughing and playing with the boys that still was at the facility. Also, I joined a pool party at St Francis that weekend with the boys. I was busy taking photos and portraits I hung up on the walls in the cottages before I left. My main reason joining the event was also to say one last goodbye to the boys that were going away on Christmas vacation the next day. It was difficult to comprehend. Goodbyes are always said, but hopefully, I’m going to come back someday to visit.

So my 2 months volunteering at St Francis Children’s home has come to an end. It has been a time filled with many feelings, thoughts and experiences. It has challenged me in a way that has affected me. I’ve grown as an individual here. I’ve met a lot of wonderful peoples with good hearts and a big bunch of boys each one unique and special. I’ve smiled a lot, and I think that is one of the most important things to do in life. The time I have been smiling and laughing together with the boys is the memories I think I will remember the most from my period here. It is moments I know never going to fade.

– Nellie Johansson, Volunteer from Sweden