Laura Coughlin is a Sports Management graduate from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Laura has been at Scalabrini for just over two months now. Currently, she serves as an All-Rounder Volunteer to the various programmes which the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town runs.
Being an All-Rounder volunteer has given Laura insight into each of the six programmes at the Scalabrini Centre. Since joining the team, she has worked at the English School, the Unite Programme, the Zimbabwe Exemption Special Permit (ZEP) help-desk, and the Census Project.
Where are you from and what is your field of interest?
My name is Laura Coughlin. I am from Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. My field of interests is Sports and Operations/Event Management.
What were you doing before coming to SA and volunteering at the Scalabrini Centre?
In May of 2017, I graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management. I then went to Tanzania to volunteer at the Sports Charity Mwanza (http://scmwanza.org/), for three months. We helped local schools with sports training, equipment, and schedules.
How did you find out about the Scalabrini Centre? What made you choose to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre?
I found Scalabrini by looking up NGOs in Cape Town. I previously studied at UCT for an exchange, and fell in love with Cape Town. I wanted to come back but do something meaningful, not just travel. That’s when I found the Scalabrini Centre online.
What have you learned since joining the Scalabrini Centre?
It has shown me how often refugees are overlooked by the local community. Unless refugees or asylum seekers personally affect your life, people often don’t think about their circumstances and that needs to be addressed. It has shown me how a lack of resources (money, computer, English lessons) can seriously hinder your life and your opportunities. I have also learned how appreciative people are when they need help and how they take opportunities given to them seriously.
What have been challenges since joining the Scalabrini Centre?
I have struggled to fully grasp all the information there is surrounding peoples’ statuses and documents in order to give them the best assistance. I have also struggled when I cannot help. It is an inner challenge to remind myself that we are helping people, even at times when I have to tell someone “there is nothing more I can do for you.”
What qualities does one need to have to work in an environment such as this one?
Patience! You have to be patient and listen to clients. There are so many different circumstances and language barriers that cause issues. You have to be able to deal with this and look for the best solution to help the client, even when you do not fully understand each other. I think you also need to be sympathetic, but also realistic and know that you can’t give everyone everything, even when you want to.
How has your position at the Scalabrini Centre helped you grow both professionally and personally?
My position as an all-rounder has given me the chance to work on projects where I previously had no experience. This has allowed me to grow and become more comfortable with tasks I am not familiar with and to just try my best. It has also taught me that professionally, I want to be in a work environment dealing with people, not just a computer. I enjoy speaking to clients and hearing their stories.
Describe a perfect day on the job.
A perfect day at work would include the internet working smoothly and ice cream!! But seriously, I like when the day goes as planned but I also enjoy some flexibility and some unknown events appearing to keep things interesting. A little change in plans throughout the day to keep you awake.
What are some of your most memorable moments working as an All-Round volunteer intern?
As an All-Rounder I have worked with the Employment Access Programme and different tasks in the Computer Lab. I think my most memorable moments have come from clients telling me that they would not have been able to do the things they have done without us at the centre. It’s rewarding, and maybe selfish, but it makes me see that we are making a difference and it is recognized. I think that’s important, because the centre deserves to be recognized.
Would you recommend friends back home to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre and why?
Yes! I think SCCT has taught me so much about the history of Africa and Cape Town and its people and that is an important lesson. We do not learn about the people around us as much as we should, and SCCT has given me that chance.
Did you experience any culture shock as an intern integrating into the Scalabrini Centre yourself?
Since I have been to Cape Town before I do not think I had any culture shock this time. If anything, shock from the different languages and stories that I have heard from the clients. I was thrown into a lot of things and had to learn quickly but I think that’s the importance of an internship/volunteer position. The goal is to learn and I definitely have.
What is the one thing you’d like everyone to know about the Scalabrini Centre?
I would like everyone to know how many people the Centre sees every day and how many people it helps every day. I would also like people to know the generosity and commitment that all of the staff/volunteers show daily.
Generally, how are you finding Cape Town?
I absolutely love Cape Town. It is beautiful and the people are friendly and it’s relaxed. I feel very at home here. There is so much to do and so much to see, while it remains a chilled city.
What hobbies do you enjoy doing as a form of relaxing in your spare time?
I love to be outside at the beach, in parks or hiking. I love to go for runs and do yoga or play any kind of sport. I enjoy watching rugby, reading, and of course being around friends.
What’s different about SA compared to your home country which you’d like to take back home with you?
South Africa is just more relaxed and open-minded. Strangers approach you here, but at home that does not happen as everyone keeps to themselves.
What are your future plans?
I wish I could stay here forever, but I think I will need to go home and get a paying job soon. However, I hope to return to Cape Town every year and see this beautiful city.