Feedback from Jean & Tom Penny

For a variety of reasons, this was one of the most meaningful volunteer experiences we have ever had in eight years of doing humanitarian aid work in Africa. For one thing, we traveled as a couple, rather than as members of a large group. For another, the founder of the Dreamcatcher organization, Anthea Rossouw, meticulously developed an individualized itinerary for the two of us & then her field personnel, local representatives, & even members of the group’s Board of Directors seamlessly implemented the plans. This required coordination & teamwork of the highest level. It was an ambitious undertaking & the outcome was a unique & unforgettable volunteer experience that was truly remarkable.

Due to our ages (70’s) we opted to stay in private commercial accommodations rather than home stays. This assured that our often fragmented sleep patterns, frequent trips to the lavatory, & my nocturnal intolerance for artificial heating would not disturb anyone else—such as our hosts or other guests. Since an integral part of a Dreamcatcher volunteer experience is spending quality time with the Kamammas in their guest houses, daytime visits for lunches, tea, & sometimes just relaxation & conversation were arranged for us in every community where we had volunteer assignments. This flexibility of approach insured we did not miss out on the various flavors of typical South African home stays & the heart of the experience was preserved (while still accommodating our special request for evening privacy).

Another example of the flexibility & attention to detail that marked our whole experience was the choice of accommodations. In Cape Town, we stayed in a gorgeous small B&B well “off the beaten path” in an area specifically chosen for its privacy & safety. Ditto for George. In Knysna we stayed in a charming & immaculate boutique hotel within walking distance of the quay. In Stilbaai, we stayed in a lovely furnished & fully equipped oceanfront rental home with a restaurant nearby if we chose not to cook. In the Worcester vicinity, we were treated to a fascinating farm stay on grounds of the Conradie Family Vineyards in Nuy Valley.

To illustrate the high esteem in which Dreamcatcher is held in local communities, the owner of the Nuy Valley property & his family provided us with transportation when our assigned driver experienced mechanical problems with his vehicle. When I remarked how appreciative we were for this extraordinary service, Mr. Conradie insisted it was such a rare privilege to be able to do something for Dreamcatcher, it was the family who were honored by the opportunity to “give back.” They feel the entire community benefits from the local Dreamcatcher projects related to childhood education & care for at risk, disadvantaged, & medically compromised kids. What an enviable reputation.

In every community we visited, from Cape Town to Stilbaai, to Worcester, to Knysna & beyond, we heard nothing but good things about the Dreamcatcher organization as an effective, hands on agent for good works. The local people, even those outside the Dreamcatcher network, have the utmost respect for what is being accomplished. To say that Mrs. Rossouw, the founder of Dreamcatcher, is absolutely revered is not an overstatement. When we walked down to a local tavern in Stilbaai after leaving an internet cafe to inquire about their restaurant, we asked the owner’s wife if a local taxi service was available, should we decide to come back for dinner (our driver would be going off duty soon for the evening). Instead, she insisted on personally driving us herself, saying it was the least she could do!

For our South African volunteer experience we opted to work outside of our customary assignments: we focused on education & motivation (rather than my typical medical clinic participation & my husband’s usual organizational support team duties). This meant we were in a continual learning curve. We were extremely impressed & gratified by the flexibility & sensitivity of Dreamcatcher staff members in helping us work out creative ways to provide meaningful experiences for children, elders, & the infirm/medically challenged.

In Knysna, because school was out for winter holidays, a local Kamamma rounded up a sizable group of at risk children for us to work with in makeshift classrooms, once in a church hall & another time on the property of the Vermont Home for the Aged & Infirm. Both days she helped us get set up, arranging tables & chairs, & even furnished her own chalkboard & easel. After the sessions, she returned to serve refreshments to the kids & reinforce the motivational concepts we had introduced. The children had a rollicking good time & enjoyed showing her their artwork almost as much as the sandwiches & juice she furnished.

In the Vermont Home, as there were multiple other groups onsite providing physical care (nursing students, student carers of all ages & skill levels, & a bevy of Red Cross volunteers), I decided to circulate, observe, & “socialize with” the residents while my husband made snacks & drinks to serve at mid-morning. I’ve had considerable experience doing organizational assessments via strategic interviews but not with such unanticipated results. To a person, residents I spoke with had nothing but praise for the institution & the staff. A retired nurse with years of experience herself in providing elder care offered the insight that you can find fancier settings that cost more, but in her opinion you cannot find a better staff. She selected Vermont Home precisely for that reason. And that is the same impression she shared with me about Dreamcatcher: saying that by reputation, the people involved with the organization locally & the work they do in the community are top notch. That level of community recognition is amazing.

Since for this experience we did not travel in safari vans & chose not to self-drive, daily transport to & from assignments required creativity & coordination. Sometimes we used local public transportation & other times we were chauffeured by Dreamcatcher personnel. Not once–in nearly an entire month of sometimes daily pick-ups, drop-offs, grocery store expeditions, long distance transfers, meeting arriving flights, dropping off for departing ones, crossing borders, etc–did anyone leave us hanging. If the designated individual couldn’t appear, a substitute did. If one vehicle broke down, another one replaced it. That is quite simply awe inspiring coordination & teamwork.
Creativity was also shown in turning our long distance transfers between assignments into entertaining outings in their own right, making the time count. On more than one occasion, we traveled in a comfortable vehicle driven by a gracious & articulate Board Member (accompanied by her equally charismatic husband) & were able to hold interesting conversations, take sightseeing side trips, share lovely lunches, & make what could have been a tedious time enjoyable & productive. On one outing, we visited an innovative garden for the blind, where my husband & I picked up ideas we have subsequently been able to share with another NGO we know of who have started a library for the blind in Kenya (using audio books, braille materials, & magnification devices for low &/or failing vision). Now they are going to start an edible herb garden & also put in medicinal plants. A win-win outcome.

The leisure portion of our trip (about a week & a half) featured the same impressive level of teamwork, coordination, & meticulous attention to detail that marked the volunteer segment. Due to the vast network of regional contacts Dreamcatcher has cultivated, we were able spend time in quality tourist venues in neighboring countries, comfortably & enjoyably; safely & without incident. The contrast with our final USA segment, returning from Washington DC back to Florida, was marked. Weather up & down the Eastern seaboard had wreaked havoc with connecting flights, caused flight cancellations, delays, luggage issues, etc. Such a drastic change from what had gone before throughout South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, & Botswana, with Dreamcatcher & its agents always looking over our shoulder to ease the way!

All in all, in our opinion & years of experience, the Dreamcatcher Foundation is without peer. We have been involved with, traveled with, & provide ongoing support for other NGOs in Kenya & in Tanzania who are doing a fine job. But never before have we been in a situation where so much forethought & planning were in evidence to ensure not only the quality of the overall experience but also provide for our comfort & safety every step of the way. The volunteer opportunities to work with children, elders, & the infirm were rewarding & meaningful. Each & every Dreamcatcher agent or representative we dealt with was personable, competent, & professional. This was an invaluable opportunity for us to see a different part of Africa & to be of service to others. To do so as part of the Dreamcatcher family was an extraordinary honor & incredible privilege. One we will never forget. Thank you, Dreamcatcher.