Nonhlanhla Mncwabe returned to South Africa in 2017 from her exchange year to Port Huron High School, Michigan, determined to give something back to her community. She became very involved in the life of the community, but the restrictions brought about by Covid-19 meant that she was no longer able to volunteer. Nonhlanhla told us that “most places closed or limited their volunteer use to protect members from Covid-19, the kitchen that served homeless people where I used to volunteer also closed its doors for a while”.

Not wanting to give up, Nonhlanhla found a children’s village that desperately needed support. Volunteering under Covid-19 restrictions can be a very different experience. “I do chores around the children’s house on my free Fridays – during school hours to minimise my contact with the children so they remain protected.”

One task that Nonhlanhla took on was the ironing of school uniforms. “The experience was sweet, as I ironed small children’s uniforms and big teenager uniforms and each one that I ironed I tried to do my best. I felt connected to each child even though I could not interact with them. Ironing the uniforms also made me realise the importance of education; for a lot of these children the one and only opportunity to improve themselves will come from education, and getting that education comes with the challenges of having a clean uniform to go to school with, having a full stomach so that you can concentrate better at school, and having a home study area – among other important things.”

Volunteers often talk about the pleasure of being close to those that they serve, but Nonhlanhla has shown that, even during these days when distancing is required, volunteering can still bring people closer.