Many social welfare organizations in South Africa are currently working to alleviate the impact of HIV/AIDS; some of them have benefited from the direct participation of Visions in Action volunteers. Cotlands, formerly known as Cotlands Baby Sanctuary, is a nonprofit children’s organization in Johannesburg, South Africa that has long worked with AIDS orphans. Founded in the 1930s, Cotlands decided early on that more attention should be focused on preventing the contraction and spread of HIV/AIDS. Cotlands originally began its AIDS work as a hospice for children suffering from HIV/AIDS. The organization then made the decision to focus their work less on residential/institutional care and more on community work to reduce the predicted number of orphans in the next few years in South Africa from reaching 5.4 million. Cotlands’ approach involved going out to various communities and helping families and care givers with income generation and sustainability of care.
Chelsea Remster, an American who recently graduated in Biology & English from Wittenberg University in Ohio, was a VIA volunteer for Cotlands from July-December 2011. She worked primarily on the residential care program for Cotlands. She worked with the children in the orphanage by aiding their education by assisting teachers, and also worked in occupational therapy to enhance the children’s development. Chelsea worked one-on-one with a specific special needs boy assigned to her care. She states that “he made remarkable progress under my supervision and it was extremely difficult to leave him.” Working in such an environment, with children in such need of attention and love, it is almost impossible not to form a relationship.
“I have developed a very strong relationship particularly with one girl who is most severely affected by AIDS at Cotlands. I have learned much through this relationship and am amazed at the young girl’s resilience. She has come to rely greatly on me and often requests me to help her in daily tasks, as well as other staff asking me to help in understanding what she is needing/wanting since I have become quite good at communicating with her. I have also accompanied the nurse on community outreach visits, visiting children in their homes to check on their ARV (Antiretroviral) medication (medications for the treatment of infection by retroviruses, primarily HIV), and their living conditions.”
Although Chelsea’s work was concentrated in residential care, she helped wherever she was needed and thus had a wide range of experiences. Some days she helped with food preparation in the kitchen, other days she helped in fundraising or human resources. Chelsea states “I became a valuable asset to Cotlands as I was very flexible in my work.”
“There are many things that need to be done and it is not a job that leaves room for relaxation. I recommend this volunteer experience for the strong-willed because it can be very emotionally taxing working with children who have no parents because they have either passed away from AIDS, or the child is HIV positive and therefore the parents did not want them.”
Chelsea is one of four VIA volunteers that has worked at Cotlands over the past several years, and there is a continuing need for volunteers there. Has Chelsea’s experience inspired you to make a difference? If so please take a look at the supported volunteer opportunities in Liberia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania on our website