Devoted to supporting exchange students
November 03, 2021 10:28

70 years ago Youth for Understanding started as a volunteer initiative and still today that is the core drive of the organisation! YFU exists and thrives because of determined and caring YFU volunteers all around the world! To celebrate our amazing volunteers, the Anniversary Celebration team will be highlighting volunteers by sharing some inspiring stories.

We are delighted to share the story of our long-term volunteer Rouet Du Plessis from YFU South Africa.

“I’ve been involved since 2014, I started out as a host mother. I started hosting because of a big change in my personal life that left a bedroom available in my house. I thought, why not host? I always wanted my children to go abroad but they never wanted to go and I couldn’t understand why. So I decided if they don’t want to go, I’ll bring the world home to them. To decide on our students, we would have a family voting process with the profiles of the students. Everyone had a first, second, and third choice and the one that got the most votes, we picked. We hosted two full time, one temporary long term, and many temporary short term.

After my first year of hosting, I became a volunteer because I could see with my first student how she struggled and also how she, with my daughter, struggled to overcome the differences. I also saw how difficult it was for YFU to support her during her time in South Africa and saw how difficult it was for YFU to support me and my daughter. As a volunteer, I was a support person and my first student that I supported was also a challenging case. My children and I have learned a lot from these challenging cases. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to tolerate different differences. It’s amazing you can still learn at my age from the students.

While I was a support person I came up with an idea to try to solve the adjustment problem. I hoped that removing the student from the home for the weekend to discuss without the families what’s wrong, what’s bothering them and how we can help make life better for them. So we did that, students would come to my house and we would host this weekend. For some students, it really helped.

The best part of volunteering is being able to see the successful cases, the students who struggled and eventually overcame whatever they were struggling with and came out victorious on the other side. There was a girl from Hungry that was placed in a family in a very rural area. They had nothing out there, no wifi, no electricity, no running water, no roads. She struggled in general and with English. We visited her and guided her, we gave her ideas on how to cope and goals to work towards. It was unbelievable the transformation she made. She went from wanting to go home to facing her fears and troubles. I really admire the students who go to South Africa for exchange, I don’t know if I would. I just think that they must be very brave to do this. South Africa is a challenging place to live in, let alone visit.

I really liked working with the regional director at the time, Rynette, we were best friends. She has since passed away, the whole of YFU South Africa was devastated when that happened. She was YFU South Africa. She was such a good example, loved her job, people from all over the world knew her, and the kids loved her. She would sometimes have like 3 exchange students living with her and always the interns staying at her house too. I’m currently not volunteering with YFU because it reminds me too much of her and it’s still painful but I am trying to get back into volunteering to keep her memory and passion alive for YFU South Africa.”