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Volunteering at MEMPROW SA in Johannesburg

This Fine Art student volunteered at a women’s empowerment and enabling organisation called MEMPROW SA, in South Africa. She was awarded funding from Santander Universities to help cover the costs of her placement.

How did you find your placement?

I visited South Africa to implement Healing and Empowering Art workshops for Women. I was employed by an organisation called MEMPROW SA, a women’s empowerment and enabling organisation who aim to combat sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). MEMPROW have a base at a drop-in centre called Sithand’Izingane Care project in Tsakane Township, Johannesburg, South Africa which supports residents who may be unemployed by providing short courses and skills to get them into work. 

My involvement with the organisation began in 2018 when I was part of a team that was implementing workshops within the centre. Later on, I was asked to go back to continue the much needed work. Luckily, the Goldsmiths Go Abroad Scheme funded the workshops in 2019, so I was able to implement an elevated set of workshops with more women at Sithand’Izingane Care Project.  The workshops were 4 days long, and consisted of poetry and spoken word, life drawing, self-reflective sculpture and an Exhibition on the final day where the community would come to see the work and contribute to the conversation surrounding SGBV and women’s empowerment through art.  

What was the highlight of your experience volunteering abroad? 

The highlight of the experience was the exhibition where all the women opened the dialogue about the work that they had made and the positive impact the workshops had on them. We had a screening of videos from the previous 3 days of the workshop so that the visitors could see the process as well as the finished products. 

What was your daily routine like and how did this differ from being at home? 

My daily routine was as follows: 

7.30 am  8.30 am 

  • Rise and breakfast  
  • Take agenda for the day’s workshop and necessary materials and equipment 

8.30am – 10.00 am  

  • Arrive on site Sithand’Izingane 
  •  Prepare the space with appropriate materialsequipment and presentation for the arrival of participants 

10.00 am  

  • Arrival of participants and icebreaker activities 
  • Begin implementation of workshop activities

This is very different from my routine at home which has less structure and doesn’t include presenting and teaching groups of women. One thing that I found challenging was witnessing the oppression of women first-hand and feeling like my safety was at risk at some points because of the high rates of sexual violence and abuse of women. 

What did you gain from your experience abroad? 

Professionally speaking, my ability to teach people in a clear and focused manner so that they can be properly motivated within my workshops has improved immensely. On an academic note, the experience affirmed my understanding of the intricacies of SGBV in South Africa; namely the different factors that lead to it such as poverty and colonisation. Personally, the experience also taught me to have more gratitude for the privileges I have such as  basic human necessities that others don’t have access to

What tips do you have for students who are about to go abroad? 

I do recommend for anyone who is planning on going aboard to volunteer that they do their research, speak to the people you are volunteering with and be open. Ask the community what they need or what you can do for them and keep in mind that what applies in UK cannot always be readily applied to other countries.