Have you heard about Nikosi’s Haven? Our newest volunteer opportunity is located in Johannesburg, South Africa and offers something special for all different types of volunteer. Maybe you’re an aspiring businessman or businesswoman that wants to hang up your suit for a while to learn about fundraising for NGOs. Or maybe you’re a teacher who wants to volunteer your time tutoring in another country. Whatever your passion, Nikosi’s Haven gives you the chance to take charge of your time volunteering abroad and use your unique skills to make an impact.
Want to hear more about it from someone who’s already been? We recently had a chat with Ryan, who volunteered at Nikosi’s Haven for a month. Ryan has worked in fundraising for several charitable organizations, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which has a strong relationship to Nikosi’s Haven. This helped him get involved as a volunteer and put his experience as a fundraiser to use at Nikosi’s Haven. As he explains:
Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS is basically the fundraising arm of the Broadway industry and community. Each year, they raise close to $20 million, mostly through fundraisers and donations related to the Broadway shows. The money is then granted out to AIDS service organizations, mostly in the US, but they do have a very special grant category that goes to South Africa. That’s because the Lion King is one of the longest running Broadway shows, it’s phenomenal, and a huge number of the actors in the show and the dancers come from South Africa. The Lion King also helps raise millions and millions of dollars for Broadway Cares. So, years and years ago, they decided it was only right and only fair that a considerable amount of money be given back to NGOs in South Africa. They have about 20 different grantees in South Africa that get money from Broadway Cares. Nikosi’s Haven is one of the most well-known, most beloved ones, and for good reason. It’s got heart.
So when I was travelling, I decided I wanted to spend about a month volunteering. Nikosi’s Haven came to mind, so I reached out to them and they welcomed me with open arms. I was pretty clear on what I wanted to do, I said “I have this fundraising experience, and with your permission, I’d like to help you with whatever fundraising programmes you have, or if you don’t have any we can talk about starting one up”. So I just sort of arrived, and with very little structure, helped Gail create a direct mail campaign to their existing donors. We also built something called Nikosi’s Angels, which is a programme for people to give at a moderate level and become Angels. In the evenings, I spent about two hours doing tutoring with some of the older kids.
While Ryan was discussing his work, he also mentioned the freedom Nikosi’s Haven offers volunteers:
I will say, there’s not a lot of structure with volunteers, it’s up to you to really take initiative and create whatever you want to create. If you’re excited about art, there’s a space for you to be with the kids in a new kind of art form. If you’re excited about dance, or theatre, or tutoring, or whatever it is, there’s flexibility for you to make it your own and really run with it.
As we all know, no volunteer opportunity is perfect. Ryan also informed us of one of the more difficult aspects of volunteering at Nikosi’s Haven, which may help you decide if it’s the right place for you to volunteer:
When they’re on campus, it can feel a little isolating because you don’t have a car there. You can get Uber, and I would recommend getting Uber so you can take it to the nearest mall if you just need a break. But there were days, a couple days at a time or even a week at a time when I wouldn’t leave. It does make the community even closer because you’re only interaction is with the kids there. But it’s not for everyone. If someone needs a lot of freedom or needs to be in the hustle and bustle of the city, or be able to step out of their door and walk somewhere, it’s probably not the best place for them.
However, at the end of the day, Ryan said what made Nikosi’s Haven the perfect fit for him was how he immediately felt at home:
I was in touch with Gail just by email for a month and a half or two months before I went. I flew in on a Sunday and Gail without question was just like “yeah, of course, I’m going to come to the airport in Johannesburg and pick you up”. She was with her adopted son, and they picked me up and drove me the 45 minutes back to Nikosi’s Haven. On the way back, she stopped at the mall so I could get a SIM card for my phone. She also called up Gracie who works in the kitchen and was like “Ryan’s on his way home, could you make him a special lunch”? I arrived and there was lunch set up for me, and then they took me around on a tour of the place. I think it’s hard for anyone to show up there and not get this overwhelming sense of love and community, you’re just embraced. Everyone who walks in those doors is fully embraced by everyone, by the students, by the kids, by the staff. There’s a lot of needs there, and I think they look towards volunteers as being able to temporarily fill those needs, whether it’s something as simple as attention, or playing with kids, or tutoring them, or even better, just bringing special skills to improve their lives, like business marketing to help the organization grow. I was immediately at home, I always felt like I was wanted there.