You may not be aware that our program name, VACorps, is an abbreviation for Volunteer Adventure Corps. Because many people inquire about the origins of this name, allow us to share a special piece of program history with you— the story of how our name came to be and why we still use this intriguing name.

VACorps, history

VACorps participants gather inside the Boomslang Caves during a VACorps Friday Activity in 2011.

Our professional internship program in South Africa was founded in 2006 and the original design only vaguely resembles today’s program structure. The very soul of our program was founded on the concept of experiential learning through travel. Our initial conceptual sketch involved a series of scheduled trips across South Africa that would allow participants to engage the region’s rich cultural diversity. This country is filled with many beautiful and very accessible locations to explore and we hoped to emphasize learning through discovery. We believe that reading a book about life on Robben Island falls far short of actually visiting Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell while speaking with former political prisoners.

VACorps, Cape of Good Hope

VACorps program participants pose for a photo at the Cape of Good Hope in February of 2013. Our corps of adventurous individuals is one of the defining qualities of our amazing internship program.

During our naming brainstorm, we looked at the fundamental elements of such an experience and came up with the following:

1) Participants would be volunteering their time at various organizations during their trip.

2) Participants would be signing up for a travel adventure.

3) Participants would be participating in the adventure within the context of a group of fellow travelers.

After bouncing a few of these ideas around, we came up with “Volunteer Adventure Corps” and after a quick search of available website addresses, we registered www.vacorps.com. And in 2006, an internship program was born.

VACorps

VACorps program participants pictured at an excursion to the Ubuntu Community Peace Project in April of 2010.

Soon after creating a website and advertising our t traveling internship program, we received numerous requests from individuals who only wanted to participate in the Cape Town segment of the trip. Meanwhile, we realized that it would not be viable to run a traveling internship program because there were a minimum number of participants required and it was hard to find a set of trip dates that would satisfy everyone’s travel schedules. Therefore, demand reshaped our offering and we decided to focus on providing internships in Cape Town that would be coupled with a series of weekly program activities. Because interns would be volunteering their time during their internships and would be participating in many local adventures during their stay in the program, we decided to keep our name the same.

Around the same time that we shifted the focus of our program offering, a representative from IE3 Global Internships contacted us to learn more about our service and support structure in Cape Town. After a site visit by the Africa Regional Director in late 2006, IE3 and Volunteer Adventure Corps reached an agreement and forged our very first academic partnership. By the end of 2008, we had hosted 150+ interns and added several new academic partners. As of 2009, our brand was firmly established online and it was too late to change our name, given that quite a few participants were finding us through word-of-mouth referrals.

VACorps program participants pictured at Rhodes Memorial circa 2008.

VACorps program participants pictured at Rhodes Memorial in October of 2008. Amber van der Slik, pictured second-from right, is the older sister of current VACorps intern, Yorran van der Slik. Many brothers and sisters have followed in the footsteps of their siblings (6 years later in Yorran’s case)!

In 2013, we made the conscious decision to present ourselves as VACorps rather than Volunteer Adventure Corps to reduce emphasis on the world “volunteer”. Yes, members of our program participate in unpaid internships and technically volunteer their time but of greater concern is how organizations approach the hosting of an intern versus a volunteer. In South Africa, volunteering is synonymous with casual and part-time work that is conducted over a short period of time. Think painting a new house in the townships or spending an afternoon working at a soup kitchen. Conversely, interns are viewed as full-time members of their host organization who are assigned responsibility and are expected to conduct themselves like established industry professionals.

We have also decided to de-emphasize the world “volunteer” on our website so that individuals who stumble across our website online understand that we are an internship program that focuses on providing participants with professionally relevant professional internships in Cape Town, South Africa.

While we have modified the presentation of our program name, the reasons that you should choose VACorps remain the same!