I thought I knew – by Kerryn Whittaker

by / Wednesday, 09 April 2014 / Published in Blog, Blog Archive

Kerryn Whittaker shares her first-hand experiences of JAM’s programmes in Mozambique and South Africa while she was an intern at the organisation in 2013.

In March of 2013, I flew to Beira, Mozambique and crashed into culture shock. Having grown up in South Africa and Zimbabwe, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I had spent the last seven years living in New Zealand and had been desperate to be back on the continent of Africa doing aid work, my life-long dream.

After finishing my BA, I did a lot of research on volunteering and internships but they all cost so much that I gave up. Through a friend I heard about JAM and was accepted for an internship in Mozambique to do research on agriculture. I had never been to Mozambique and didn’t speak the official language (Portuguese) but these trivial facts were not about to stop me. I was returning to Africa!

Within an hour of landing in Mozambique, the reality of what it meant to not speak the local language started to hit me. I was tempted to catch the next flight home.

Work wasn’t easy. I spent much of my time worrying about my visa that was still being processed, struggling to communicate with colleagues and overwhelmed by the research task in front of me. I became acutely aware of how unprepared and naïve I had been. How did I expect to do research in a language I didn’t speak, in a place I didn’t know on a subject I didn’t understand? After three months of failed research attempts, I suddenly had to leave – problems with my visa meant that I could no longer reside in Mozambique.

Arriving back in South Africa, I wept when I saw that my new bedroom had a carpet – what a luxury! I spent the remaining seven months of my contract working with JAM in Johannesburg: Assisting Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres, distributing shoes and helping with admin tasks.

JAM gave me an incredible opportunity to live and work ‘in the field’ with a variety of communities. I returned to New Zealand a different person.

I came back with more questions than answers like: What should aid work look like, what should my view of poverty be, what should I be doing? I would never have asked these vital questions without the opportunity to experience things first-hand.

Kerryn Whittaker, JAM Intern 2013

Should you be interested in volunteering in any of JAM’s programmes, please email jamsa@jamint.com

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