Leonardo Francesco Rezzonico - 2015 Program Participant
Rainbow at the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwian side.
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I decided to apply for an international program because, at this point of my life, I thought it would have been the right decision. I was looking for a different experience in order to grow as a person and as a student, I wasn't too much satisfied about all the others academic opportunities I had until now. Being a volunteer in a developing country was the main idea I had in my mind and I decided to apply for that, definitely the right decision. I was also attracted by the possibility to travel but not as a tourist but as a volunteer, because you will have a better chance to really live the culture and understand the world in which you're living.
Why did you choose IVHQ? What about your specific placement?
I chose IVHQ as an organization because they offer a lot of different programs, affordable compared to others, and they have a huge number of positive reviews. I chose the medical project because I'm a student of medicine and I was looking for an experience capable of adding something not only as a person but also as a future physician. Anyway, I have to say that I would have liked to work also in other beautiful programs, such as construction, community development, and teaching; it's a huge experience being able to help local communities.
What was your favorite part about Zambia?
I've been in Livingstone, Zambia. This is simply an outstanding place. I chose since the beginning that I would have liked to go in an African country. Livingstone was the perfect place, considering people, safety, type of programs, and things to see. This place should be considered as one of the most beautiful all over the world: the Victoria Falls are amazing, you have some national parks, and you are close to Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana. I enjoyed a safari at the Chobe National Park and some of the other activities present there related to the Falls, unique and wonderful.
Lions at the Chobe National Park, Botswana
What makes the program you participated in special?
I think that in each of those activities the main amazing thing is the possibility to really do a difference, little or big. This is something that really gives to the program its beauty. Mine was different from others, the other volunteers, just because I was the only one in a medical project, but I spent a couple of days also in other programs and it was wonderful. Anyway, if you're interested in working in the medical field this program will give you satisfaction.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Local staff was always available to discuss about any sort of issues. They are very flexible and if you are not satisfied they will be happy to help you, just talking with you or changing placement, or even changing program.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I hadn't had too much practice or background as a medical student, so I took too much time, considering the amount of time I had been there (one month), to start taking responsibilities. It was the right decision to be sure to avoid mistakes, but, on the other hand, some of the local workers didn’t even have my qualification to do diagnosis and giving drugs, so likely I should have started a little bit earlier. Anyway, probably my biggest mistake was the decision of being there just for one month; I would have liked to be there for at least six weeks and why not also starting a different project at the end of the first one.
Sunset on the Zambezi River - near to Victoria Falls
What was a normal day like for you as a volunteer in Zambia?
Typically you wake up between 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., you have breakfast, and you go to placement. Once there you should choose what area like to work in: the lab collecting blood samples, using microscopes, and doing analyses, or otherwise working in the medical office. At the medical office you have to visit patients, alongside the local staff, because local people aren’t able to speak English in most cases.
You have a mix of things to do, sometimes there are a lot of follow ups for HIV-patients, sometimes you have to spend time in the ward for the most problematic cases, or you might work as a general practitioner. You have to be ready to experience a pretty chaotic situation, with a lot of patients compared to time, structure, and staff. I worked usually since 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., sometimes a little bit more but it's up to you.
What did you like doing outside your medical placement?
I loved to visit some other projects, I spent a couple of afternoons and some Sundays in painting at an orphanage and helping them to finish everything to be ready to welcome kids. Apart from that, I have to say that visiting the places around Livingstone was awesome. The Victoria Falls are something unbelievable, and if you like to do bungee jumping, rafting, safari, and all those things you will have no problems in arranging activities. Anyway, the best activity was simply talking with the other volunteers creating new friendships, and learning about other cultures. I knew some awesome people and the worst thing of this experience is that you have to leave all those new amazing friends.
What type of accommodation did you have?
The accommodation was the guest house of the local partner of IVHQ. Everything was fine, I shared my room with a nice guy, but most of the time we were in the living room or in the garden. You have to be ready to cut some usual comforts but nothing not expected; the room had everything needed and was even quite big. The meals were always cooked by local staff and they were pretty good.
Landscape just outside the volunteer accommodation
How has volunteering abroad impacted your life?
This program impacted my life because I understood that you can really enjoy this kind of experience. You can play a role in helping other communities while being happy to be there. I understood also that in the Western culture we are always too much focused on the needs of finishing studies in time, as if that will give you everything you need to have success in your life. That's not true.
These kind of experiences might be difficult to arrange during your studies, but give you a lot and let you grow more that just staying in your home country and studying.
The last thing, though not less important, is related to the African culture. Everyone there is enjoying life, happy to see other people, happy to talk with one another and smile to everyone. We (Italy), as a Western country, have to learn from that.