A landlord’s ‘gap year’
Penny Costley-White on her adult gap year volunteering in South Africa
“Earlier this year I rented out my cottage in Wytham, through Finders Keepers, to volunteer at the Tertiary School in Business Administration at Karatara in the Western Cape. It’s an amazing project where residential scholarships are given to very disadvantaged students to complete a two-year certificate. TSiBA’s aim is for the students to continue on to further education, find a job or start a business of their own. This is a huge achievement, given the limited resources available. I read about the project in a newspaper article and applied to volunteer.
The TSiBA campus is housed in a low Cape Dutch-style building in this rural village. It’s a green campus with a large vegetable garden run on a permaculture basis which supplements the students’ meals. I have huge admiration for the staff. They are all totally committed people with a great empathy for what they are doing.
My drive to work from Knysna, on the coast where I am living, up to Karatara, goes through breathtaking scenery through the ever-changing, dramatic African landscape. When not rushing off to work, I spend time in the garden watching the incredible birdlife. To keep fit I try to have a cycle ride or a swim each day.
Having come from a background both in academic publishing and at Oxfam, I’ve been asked to work on related projects. Setting up an academic library is challenging but vital, as it is a requirement for the college to be properly recognised. For months I’ve been dividing the vast donations of books into those to keep, sell to raise funds or donate to other charities or libraries.
My second task has been setting up an internet café and shop selling produce from the kitchen and garden plus printed t-shirts. I had a team of six second-year students to transform two rooms, get them painted, shelves up, with products packaged, labelled and priced. At the end ‘The Hub’ looked quite inviting. Second-year students apply skills from their first year in a practical business model. The strong sense of warmth and support among the students and an awareness of how fortunate they are to get on the course is palpable.
I’ve also been teaching reading and comprehension skills, which are a major problem in South Africa. It’s precisely why a privately funded college like TSiBA is so valuable. It can bridge the gap for disadvantaged students, which can make all the difference. My original six months has expanded and it’s great that my tenant wants to stay too. It’s one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done and fantastic to see the students develop.”