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Law & Human Rights, Combined Law & Human Rights in South Africa by Rebecca Smyth

Rebecca and fellow volunteers admiring the view of Cape Town

I spent six weeks in Cape Town volunteering at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) and I absolutely loved it. Having worked at a corporate law firm throughout my law degree, I was ready to try something new. Volunteering in Africa has always been high up on my list of things to do and after graduating I knew I wanted to explore the social justice path. The Law & Human Rights placement in Cape Town not only provided me with the opportunity to engage in volunteer work in Africa, but also the chance to dip into areas of law I’ve always wanted to try.

Before deciding on Cape Town I was very unsure of where in Africa I wanted go. I was initially considering Ghana or Tanzania. After many helpful emails and chats with one of the Projects Abroad Volunteer Advisors, I decided on Cape Town. My Volunteer Advisor said I would get a good mix of both legal aid case work and hands on human rights work, in contrast to Ghana, where I might be working purely in legal aid or mostly in human rights. As the office in Cape Town is quite big in comparison to the other Projects Abroad legal aid offices, the supervision is fantastic – two attorneys and a paralegal provide ongoing support throughout the programme. If you’re unsure of where you want to go or what placement you want to do, I highly advise emailing the Projects Abroad team and explaining the exact sort of things you’re hoping to experience and gain from your placement. The team truly went above and beyond when it came to providing advice on the different programmes, as well as answering all sorts of queries about the safety of certain locations, the best time of year to go and much more.

South African wildlife at a game reserve

My host family

When I arrived in Cape Town my host Mum and Dad (Zelda and Justin) welcomed me with open arms. We shared many laughs and gossip sessions over dinner (oh how I miss Zelda’s tasty curries and stews!) Zelda was more like a big sister than a mum to me. On my last weekend my host family threw a karaoke party. This was one of my favourite nights in Cape Town - non-stop singing, dancing and feasting on a tasty midnight ‘Braai’ (BBQ).

I also lived with two Swiss girls, Lea and Carmen. I could not have asked for better host sisters! We were all doing the Law & Human Rights placement, so we spent a lot of time together. There were many hilarious and memorable mini-bus moments, KFC/Nandos movie nights and plenty of dance floor action when we got the chance! My experience would not have been the same without these girls.

My Law & Human Rights placement

Volunteer posing with a bust of Nelson Mandela

PAHRO was such a great environment to work and learn in. My supervisors were very professional and supportive, and they also knew how to have a good laugh. With new clients constantly walking through the door and other ongoing cases from past volunteers piling up, there was never a dull moment in the office. I had the opportunity to work on refugee, family, labour, property, wills and estate, and motor vehicle cases during my six weeks. Although a little overwhelming at first, with the support of my supervisors and other volunteers I soon got into the swing of things.

The outreach legal clinics were also a highlight. Every Tuesday I travelled to a township called Lavender Hill with my supervisor and one other volunteer. Driving through the township was an experience in itself. Usually there would be a long line of clients outside the garage where we held the clinic and always an array of interesting legal problems to deal with.

On my last day I had the chance to join the social justice team and assist them with their presentation to a group of boys at Bonnytoun youth prison. We piled into one of their cells and gave a workshop on the importance of education. I was surprised at how responsive the boys were, and how keen they were to engage in the workshop and answer questions. Two of them even got up at the end and thanked us, which was very moving.

Leisure time in Cape Town

Volunteers enjoying some time at the coast in Cape Town

There are endless things to see and do in Cape Town. Every weekend my host sisters and I would visit a new food, arts and crafts market, set off on a different hike, or discover new parts of the city. Table Mountain was definitely a highlight. We decided to take the scenic route up through the botanical gardens (this is the longest route, but definitely worth it). We went past two lakes on the east side of the mountain before reaching the famous table part on the top. We had a glorious picnic in the sun and decided to stay for sunset.

A few other volunteers and I also went on the Garden Route road trip on the Easter long weekend. It's about a five-hour drive along the South Western coast of South Africa. The scenery was stunning - it was like driving through one eternal garden. Along the way we did a day safari, which was incredible. We saw lions, buffalos, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, a cheetah (and cheetah cubs), zebras and more! Some of us also braved the 216m bungee. We went caving and stopped off at beautiful beaches and viewpoints along the way.

My experience in Cape Town is one I will treasure forever. It is such a wonderful place. I highly recommend the Law & Human Rights programme to those who have an interest in human rights, legal graduates who are unsure of what area of law they want to specialise in, and even trained lawyers who a looking to gain experience in human rights and social justice.

Rebecca Smyth

Ce témoignage est basé sur l’expérience unique d’un volontaire à un certain moment donné. Nos projets s’adaptent constamment aux besoins locaux, ils évoluent au fur et à mesure que des volontaires s’impliquent et s’adaptent aux saisons, ainsi votre expérience sur place pourra être différente de celle décrite ici. Pour en savoir plus sur cette mission, vous pouvez consulter la page de ce projet ou bien contacter l’un de nos conseillers de volontaires.

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