volunteer cape town unite 20 06 19

Leo – UNITE volunteer

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Leo got the opportunity to work on his PhD in Cape Town. He has been living here for the past three years and has spent some of that time volunteering with UNITE. Read more about his time here below.

I grew up in the northern French Alps, near Switzerland, and lived on the countryside. My hometown had 800 inhabitants, so this environment is really different. Before moving here, I had been living in a big city in France for a bit so the transition was not too difficult.

I have been in Cape Town for three years now, so it’s really starting to feel like home. Being near the mountains reminds me a lot of home, actually, and I enjoy being able to do things like hiking. The only downside is that I don’t always like the superficial, plastic side of Cape Town, but that comes along with life in any big city. 

I ended up here because while I was doing my masters, I got a proposal to do a PhD in South Africa through a partnership between European and South African universities. It worked out and I got a scholarship to come here and work on my PhD. Originally, my area of focus was going to be about using sports as a tool to promote social cohesion. When I got here, I was put into contact with NGOs that focused more on migrant-related work, so my topic shifted to that. The field was fascinating, because that was when the refugee crisis was at its height. It’s been so cool to see how other countries deal with issues of migration and social cohesion.

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“I’ve learned a lot since coming here, like how to effectively lead a session, how to engage teenagers on complex issues, and how to explain these issues in a way they can understand. My PhD fieldwork has been heavily informed by this experience.”

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I studied sociology in university, and I’ve always been a very curious person, trying to make sense of the world. I think I got that from my mother. Sociology has taught me that everything is complex and layered, and through it I’ve learned to decode and try to understand the world better.

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Here at Scalabrini, I’m a UNITE volunteer. On a typical day, I come to Scalabrini and myself along with the other UNITE members go to a school and facilitate workshops. We cover three main topics: diversity, integration, and identity, and lead activities like debates or reflections to get the kids thinking critically about these issues. I’ve learned a lot since coming here, like how to effectively lead a session, how to engage teenagers on complex issues, and how to explain these issues in a way they can understand. My PhD fieldwork has been heavily informed by this experience.

My most memorable time here was during our UNITE camp last August. It was great to get to know the kids in a more casual setting and to bond with the other program leaders, being outside and doing fun team-building activities. Now that UNITE is finished for the year, I’m focusing on writing my thesis and hope to be done by the end of next year. My initial plan was to work for an international organization, but now I think I would like to carry on in the research field and possibly continue my work in the NGO setting, which I have really enjoyed. My advice to anyone coming to Scalabrini is to set concrete goals, reach them, and along the way to really invest in the culture and grow from it.”