It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve been in South Africa, and 5 weeks working at Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT) as part of the Monash University/Oxfam Partner Internship Program. Having absolutely no expectations or any idea what I was heading into, the experience has been life-changing and unforgettable to say the least. From my second week, the feeling of “volunteer outsider” was organically shrugged off, and I quickly felt like a member of the HACT team (one that just happened not to get paid). As a new Public Health student, I came with the intentions of finding out what exactly a life of working with NGO’s could involve. I can now happily say that if I ever end up working in a centre similar to HACT, I will live a very fulfilling life. I worked with almost every department during my time here, and learned that each area of the centre contributed something unique, valuable and sustainable to the Valley of 1,000 Hills. I was fortunate enough to be given a balance between working in the centre and also accompanying trips out into the Valley - meaning I could truly gain an understanding for who the centre was serving, and why.
Being based with the Marketing and Fundraising department, I was able to acquire a wide scope of each unit and see how they worked. One particular highlight was accompanying the Feeding Scheme out into the Valley to deliver food to 41 dependent families. We travelled far and wide to each family and were received graciously by each one. Through this I was able to comprehend just how vast the region is that Hillcrest is serving, and how they approach this challenging task. Another highlight was working with the Education department, which included going with their skilled team to primary schools in the Valley of 1,000 Hills and bearing witness to their amazing Life Skills program – almost a performance in itself, having captivated each child with their messages in an engaging and creative way.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of all however, was getting to know the team at HACT. Each of them proudly claims each other as family, and it is a remarkably unique working environment. Seeing people come from all different backgrounds and cultures, but sharing the same vision and passion was a truly humbling experience.
I will never forget my time here at Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, and I have every intention of returning and seeing what new and great work the centre is doing. Anybody who has the chance to contribute or be part of the team (even temporarily) is incredibly fortunate, and I am glad to include myself in this.