Volunteer in South Africa
This September Jesuit Missions is launching a new volunteer programme working alongside refugees in South Africa. Earlier this month Jesuit Missions volunteer coordinator Teresa visited South Africa, to find out more about how the programme will run.
South Africa is home to around 800,000 asylum-seekers and 200,000 refugees, who have travelled long distances from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia in search of a better future. There are no refugee camps in South Africa; all the refugees are urban refugees. This means that they have to find their own means of survival far from home, often struggling to find a place to live, access to health and education and a source of income. The support provided by Jesuit Missions partner Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) through their different programmes is key to ensuring that the rights of refugees are recognised, and that they are able to integrate into the South African society.
Jesuit Missions are working in partnership with JRS Southern Africa to develop a new volunteer programme that will be launched in September this year. I recently visited JRS in Johannesburg to see what they do and find out how volunteers from the UK could contribute to their work. What struck me most from the visit was the invisibility of urban refugees who have to face countless challenges to survive in a new country. I accompanied the health team on home visits, who provide basic physical care, sanitary materials, home care education and counselling to refugees. We visited a Congolese lady who lived with her husband in a room they share with other refugees. Her husband had been tortured in DRC, and as a result, he could not move, see or talk, so he required constant care and assistance. With her very basic English, she struggled to understand what doctors said when she last visited the hospital, so the health workers explained how to follow his treatment and take care of her husband. They visit them regularly; their support goes beyond health advice, they listen and accompany them in their struggles.
I also visited the Arrupe Centre, a skills training centre for women run by JRS in Yeoville, Johannesburg. Women receive English language training followed by skills training courses such as baking, sewing, hairdressing, cosmetology and computer literacy. They also receive business training, and once they graduate they get a start-up kit with materials, so that they can generate their own income from the skills they learn. The centre promotes social cohesion by including South African women in the courses. After class, I met some of the teachers who had come to South Africa as refugees and were very excited to share their skills with other women in similar situations.
Jesuit Missions volunteers will work alongside local volunteers to support JRS in their different areas of work. For example, they could work in the skills centres, do health visits or get involved in advocacy work to raise awareness about the reality of refugees. By participating in the programme, volunteers will have a real chance to give hope and contribute to the lives of refugees in Southern Africa.