Those who work with children have commendable careers. They get to nurture and shape the next generation. One such profession is that of an au pair.
An au pair is a young foreign person who looks after children and does domestic chores for a family in exchange for compensation, accommodation and sometimes, even the chance to learn the family’s language.
The title is from the French term ‘’au pair’’, which means “at par’’ or ‘’equal to’’, emphasising that the connection is intended to be one of equals: the au pair is expected to become a temporary member of the family.
Saberah Sayeed, 24, is one such young South African who took a leap of faith into the unknown to fulfil her dreams of travelling and caring for children. But Sayeed did not start out wanting this career path.
Coming from Umzinto in KwaZulu-Natal, she studied a journalism and media studies diploma at Damelin and graduated in 2019. She said she stumbled into au pairing after seeking to take some time out after graduating.
‘’I know the typical answer would be because I love kids, right? Which I do, but personally I wanted to take a gap year and do something out of my comfort zone. I saw an ad on Facebook about au pairing and decided to try it,’’ she said.
The young woman left for the US in early 2020 and had nerves over the prospect of living in not just a different country, but a different continent. Before this, she said that she had never lived two hours away from family.
So, she had safety concerns of being alone in a foreign country.
‘’I saw an ad of one of the biggest au pair agencies in South Africa on Facebook, but because of their expensive fees, I decided to look for an agency that would fit my needs, since I was a broke student. I searched online for other agencies near me and that’s when I found Destiny Au Pairs.’’
Here is how Sayeed said she became an au pair:
- She had to gain more than 200 hours of non-family related childcare experience.
- To achieve this, she had to volunteer at a crèche for about eight months and this was while she was in the final year of college.
- She found an au pair agency and prepared all the necessary documents while gaining experience.
- By the end of October 2019, her profile was online and she began getting interviewed by families.
- It took her three months to finally match with a family.
For her trip to the US, Sayeed saved up and asked for financial help. She headed to a small Pennsylvania town called Phoenixville.
‘’I was very much culture shocked. I never saw or imagined myself ever leaving South Africa or Africa in general, so the first week was surreal,’’ she said.
According to the child-care worker, au pairs can only work 45 hours a week, 10 hours a day and the minimum salary for an au pair is $195.95 (about R3 360) a week.
“The most rewarding aspect of working as an au pair is seeing the children you care for learn about your country or enjoy your food,” she said. “That is what the au pair programme is all about.”
Sayeed has been traversing the US and has seen Miami, South Carolina and New York among other cities.
She advised those wanting to enter this field that it’s not just a job, but a fun experience.
‘’I’d advise them to not only bond with the kids, but also bond with the family, because you spend more time with the family than the kids. And choose your family wisely – remember you going to live one or two years with them.’’