Leaving South Africa

The summer is coming to an end, and I find myself back at home in the US after having completed an amazing experience interning at the art therapy center in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Having completed my internship, I now realize the immense growth that has come along with it. I arrived in South Africa alone, without knowing anyone, and I left with friends, new ideas, and a new culture. The time I spent there seems completely unreal. I alone was in charge of organizing and executing the Holiday Programme. I prepared all the logistics in advance and during the program made sure everything ran smoothly. I then wrote a report that I presented to my supervisor, the director of the organization, which will be sent to all the funders who supported this program. Throughout the duration of it, I was also privileged to see great facilitators at work with a group of mixed adolescents from all over the city.  Some were HIV+, others were orphans, and the rest were living in a condemned building. Seeing these children and the energy they bring, makes you question how and why so many of them have been abused.

Sketch of Mural
Mural painted with the adolescents on the third week of the Holiday Programme

My goals were to learn about art therapy and the ways it can be applied. By watching different counselors and observing several ranges of age groups, I did just that. I also wanted to figure out if this could be a potential career choice and I now realize how much more I connect to art therapy as opposed to art education. Working with these specific children going through such difficult circumstances makes me realize how much work still needs to be done to improve their lives. Two months of work, is not nearly enough to transform their whole living environment, which is what I most want to do for these groups. It made it difficult to come back, knowing that the work with these groups is only beginning, and I still want to be a part of it. As I look to my course schedule, I will have to factor in more psychology courses in order to be better prepared to enter into an art therapy masters program. I want to learn more about art therapy, in order to be as skilled as the facilitators with whom I worked, and come back to Lefika with a degree and be able to lead my own groups.

To a student interested in an internship at Lefika, I have several suggestions. Before coming, be sure to research more about art therapy and the different approaches to it. Almost all of the past interns have come with a masters degree in art therapy, which means that the directors are used to being able to hand over entire projects to interns and have them manage them. This was one of the hardest aspects for me because of the immense responsibility with little supervision. Another suggestion is to try to organize your trip around one of training workshops the center runs and the Holiday Programme. The workshop gave me an introduction to how art therapy is done at Lefika, which prepared me for working with the actual groups; and the Holiday Programme has groups running from 8 AM to 3 PM every day versus regular school sessions of only a few hours of therapy groups each week.

Traveling through Johannesburg is in itself another mission- there is no safe or reliable public transportation and distances in the city are quite far from each other. I managed to get around by making good friends who would pick me up, an amazing host family who really welcomed me, and occasionally calling taxis. You can rent a car, but driving is on the other side of the road and some areas are dangerous to even pass through.

All in all, however, my time spent interning at Lefika La Phodiso and living in Johannesburg were completely unbelievable and unforgettable! I learned so much and am so thankful to have been given such an amazing opportunity! If you have any more questions feel free to ask!!

– Nicole Bortnik ’14

7 thoughts on “Leaving South Africa”

  1. It sounds like you have really made a very meaningful impact. Abuse can take all of the life out of someone’s childhood, but maybe some of your work and Lefika’s work with Art Therapy can help put it back. It was fascinating to read all your blog posts, especially because I am interested in an area of work close to this. I have taken Psychology coursework so maybe I can give a few suggestions: other than Developmental Psychology, I work also look into Clinical Disorders of Childhood if you have time. There is a long waitlist so you need to sign up early, but I have heard it is well worth the wait. I would also recommend you take a course with Professor Jennifer Clearly. She has one all about applying Theater (Art included) toward helping people. The class may be offered in the Spring but I would keep an eye out for it.
    Good luck. It sounds like you have had an amazing summer, and I hope for the same next year.

  2. This is so incredible. I really admire you for doing such great work. How did you find out about this organization and your host family? I was also going to recommend Professor Jennifer Clearly, I’ve heard amazing things about her so definitely check her out. I really hope you get a chance to present on your work this year I’d love to hear more about it! – Jen Recinos

  3. Thank you both so much for the recommendations, I will be sure to look for Professor Clearly’s course!
    In a way, I found my organization through Brandeis. A student in the past interned with my director’s sister at another NGO. I spoke to her who then referred me to my supervisor at Lefika based off of what my interests were.

    If either of you would like to keep talking, I would love that and to hear more about your experiences.
    -Nicole Bortnik

  4. Hello Nicole!
    I am incredibly inspired by your story & internship opportunity. First of all, thank you so much for sharing your journey! Second, I am very interested in hearing more about your post-internship plans & how you will use this new toolbox for, perhaps, a future career.
    I am on to my second quarter at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM for Art Therapy & Counseling, while working for an awesome tour operator/safari company to maintain my income. This combo of graduate studies & work combo has recently sparked a great interest to pursue an internship in Africa, where the possibilities seem to be pulsating where the field is growing.
    So I am very interested to hear more & begin doing my own research into the Lefika program!
    Thank you so much & warmest regards,

  5. Hi Nicole!
    Your experiences at Lefika sound incredible!! I’m studying pre-art therapy at the University of Evansville in Indiana and am hoping to find a summer internship. Could you possibly give me the contact information of someone at Lefika to ask if they have a position available for this summer?
    Thanks for your help!

  6. Hey Nicole

    Your experience at Lefika la Phodiso seems fantastic. It appears that you had a worthwhile and engaging experience and were able to really help Lefika – something that is oft difficult to do with limited time.

    I will hopefully head out to Johannesburg this fall. Your account is hence very heartening and encouraging. Would it be possible for you to give me some further advice on what to expect, responsibilities, how to prepare and importantly, how I can make sure that I also am of use.

    Thanks in advance!

    I hope your studies are progressing well and that you achieve your goals!
    Warm regards,
    Josh Woods

  7. As usual, very insightful but also helpful post on World of Work (WOW) Summer Internship
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