Saturday, 15 May 2010

Volunteering at the Keiskamma Art Project, by Sofia Grönvall - Student in Fashion Business

My name is Sofia Gronvall and I just got back to my home in Sweden from having volunteered with the Keiskamma Art Project during two months. Just to get things straight, when it comes to trips I’ve never been the planning kind of girl.

Needless to say, the day prior to my departure to South Africa I still didn’t have much to say when my friends and family asked what the heck I was about to get myself into. Not because I was about to enrol in secret activities but more because I had no idea what was awaiting me.

At the airport I was instantly introduced to the culture differences as the laid back lifestyle of the "Hamburg:ers" clashed with my Scandinavian importance of being on time. Consequently, I managed to call the Keiskamma office three times in half an hour before the driver arrived, clearly surprised with my impatience (which, if I may add was a result of nerves and not how I usually am).

Together with another volunteer I started off living with a wonderful couple, named Gay and Jens, in a big colourful house on the top of a hill facing the ocean. The view was marvellous and I couldn't believe my eyes when I first got there. Being a volunteer I figured I should be grateful if I had a bed to sleep on so this simply blew me away. Here I stayed for two weeks, paying 80 African rands/day (which included excellent food made by Gay herself) while getting accustomed to the community and my job within the trust. Thereafter I moved to a charming house close to the beach that I shared with three other volunteers and medical students who worked with HIV education. Along with our friends from the project we truly had some wonderful parties in that house!

Together with Florence "Flo" Danais, Manager of the art project, I discussed what my main tasks would be the two upcoming months. After having wandered the beautiful beaches in the area I had come up with an idea of creating a range of accessories made of beads and materials from the sea, such as shells and bits and pieces of things that had been washed up on shore. Flo was very positive and before I knew it we were off to purchase supplies to get on with the project. Within two weeks I had made my first earring and soon I began collaborating with fashion designer, capoeira instructor and Keiskamma artist, Msindisi "MC" Mva.

The first month I spent the morning helping Flo with everything from photographing new crafts to teaching locals basic computer skills. In the afternoon I went down to one of the studios where we kept the tools and shells to make new creations together with MC. Later I started focussing more on the jewellery, working full time to make samples for the Keiskamma artists to be inspired by and make their own.

Throughout my time with the Keiskamma Art Project I always felt like I was surrounded by the best of friends which made me feel very safe and appreciated. Flo was always exceptionally caring and happy about letting me decide what part of the project I would like to engage in. After only two months I had made a whole bunch of new friends while I got to know the Xhosa beliefs and culture. My stay in Hamburg turned out to be the experience of a lifetime and I hope to go back as soon as time allows.

Please note that volunteering opportunities are limited. For any queries regarding that matter please contact Unathi Meslane: