SCCT Volunteer Series: Elijah Watson

Elijah Watson is a Medical Anthropology student from North Carolina, USA. Currently, Elijah is on an exchange programme with the University of Cape Town (UCT), and is an Employment Access Programme (EAP) volunteer with the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town.

When he is not busy assisting clients at the EAP employment desk from Monday to Thursday, Elijah is attending classes which take place on Friday each week. During his leisure time, you are most likely to find him visiting museums and other historical attractions in and around the Mother City, or reading up on the history of South Africa. We found out about his time and experience at the Scalabrini Centre so far.

Where are you from and what is your field of interest?

I’m from North Carolina, USA, and my field of interest is Global Health.

What were you doing before coming to SA and volunteering at the Scalabrini Centre?

I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I am working towards my bachelor’s degree in Anthropology.

How did you find out about the Scalabrini Centre? What made you choose to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre?

My study abroad internship coordinator informed me about Scalabrini. I chose it over other refugee organizations in Cape Town because the volunteers are utilized in a defined and focused manner.

What have you learned since joining the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town?

It’s been so eye-opening to see the resilience and drive our clients show despite the hardships and struggles they have endured.

What have been challenges since joining the Scalabrini Centre?

Sometimes it is easy to get so focused on completing the task at hand that a client can become “just another client.” I have to remind myself that even when the Employment Help Desk is very busy that each client has a story and deserves to be seen as a full human being, not “just another client.”


 What qualities does one need to have to work in an environment such as this one?

Patience, kindness, the ability to encourage others, the ability to be stern when needed (but not in a paternalistic manner), the ability to do repetitive work that does not yield immediate results.

How has your position at the Scalabrini Centre helped you grow both professionally and personally?

Scalabrini validated my desire to do work centred on social justice. I am unsure of whether I want to work in an NGO one day, but working here has encouraged me to deeply consider that possibility.

Describe a perfect day on the job.

I love it when a client that faithfully comes and applies for jobs each week finds employment.

What are some of your most memorable moments working with the Employment Access Programme?

Some of my favourite memories are laughing and joking around with the other EAP team members.

Would you recommend friends back home to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and why?

Yes, because the volunteers are utilized in a structured and intentional manner. Interns can be confident that Scalabrini is doing meaningful work that positively impacts the migrant and refugee population of the Western Cape.

Did you experience any culture shock as an intern integrating into the Scalabrini Centre yourself?

Surprisingly, I experienced less culture shock while integrating than I expected. Both EAP and Scalabrini were very welcoming and my coworkers were very helpful in showing me what to do.

What is the one thing you’d like everyone to know about the Scalabrini Centre?

Scalabrini is at the forefront of holistically serving refugees and migrants in South Africa.

Generally, how are you finding Cape Town?

I love the beauty of the city and the people. I’ve enjoyed meeting and hearing the stories of not only South Africans, but people from across the African continent.

What hobbies do you enjoy doing as a form of relaxing in your spare time?

I enjoy exploring Cape Town’s natural beauty and reading about the history of South Africa.

What’s different about SA compared to your home country which you’d like to take back home with you?

I find that people are more inclined to tell you their stories than in the United States. I have had lengthy conversations with strangers or Uber drivers, which is something I do not experience back home.

What are your future plans?

I will be home from January to May. I plan on returning to South Africa for three months from June to August to do research for my Anthropology Honours thesis. In my future, I hope to return to Sub-Saharan Africa with the US Peace Corps and then go to graduate school to research the social and structural determinants of HIV/AIDS.


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