Zimbabwe is a landlocked country of about 14 million people in southern Africa. Like many countries in the region, Zimbabwe has seen a long and tumultuous history which most recently manifested in full independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. President Robert Mugabe has held power ever since independence, and while a champion of the revolutionary movement, he has also faced much controversy throughout his tenure for human rights abuses. Today, volunteers from around the world are welcomed to join volunteer programs in Zimbabwe and lend a helping hand with anything from community building to wildlife conservation.
Zimbabwe is somewhat divided between the southern regions, where this is a lot of wildlife and forestation, and the northern regions, which are more industrialized. The capital and largest city of Zimbabwe is Harare, with nearly two million residents. Harare is the the country’s center of culture, politics, and finance, and is also an important trade hub of the region. The country’s main institution of higher education, the University of Zimbabwe, is also located in Harare.
Other cities where you may find volunteer programs in Zimbabwe include Bulawayo and Chitungwiza, the country’s second and third largest metropolitan areas.
Volunteers can also find opportunities for volunteering in Zimbabwe’s rural areas working within small villages and communities which often lack the resources of the larger cities. There are also many organizations which spearhead wildlife preservation efforts and allow volunteers to complete volunteer work in environmental habitat conservation areas.
Some sights worth seeing in your free time while volunteering in Zimbabwe are the Victoria Falls, which share a border with Zambia, Mana Pools National Park, and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a fascinating glimpse into the thriving Shona civilizations which date back nearly a millennium.
Healthcare and community building is an area which can benefit greatly from volunteer programs which can aid development in Zimbabwe. The country has quite a low life expectancy rate and a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Many of these health issues are due to lack of education and preventative effort – which means healthcare volunteering is an area where volunteers can make a real difference. Leading workshops in small communities, teaching, or working at a health clinic are examples of volunteer work in Zimbabwe that individuals can commit to on a daily basis.
Wildlife preservation is also a popular focus for volunteer programs in Zimbabwe. The country’s tourist industry, formerly one of its main sources of income, has suffered greatly in recent years because of massive deforestation and poaching problems which have led to a severely dwindling wildlife population. Volunteering in Zimbabwe with an organization which works in the areas of environmental and wildlife conservation can not only aid the protection of Zimbabwe’s large and diverse population of indigenous animals, but can help the human population through economic development as well. You will also get to work with some of Africa’s “Big 5” animals - lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceri - if join a wildlife conservation volunteer program in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has had significant problems with inflation in the past, including one period of hyperinflation which saw the Zimbabwe dollar soar to such a level where $100 trillion banknotes were not altogether uncommon. Today Zimbabwe uses a mixture of currencies, ranging from the South African Rand to the Indian Rupee to the U.S. Dollar. Corruption and political turmoil continue to raise issues for the local economy, the result being that Zimbabwe is naturally an inexpensive place to volunteer abroad. Most of your expenses as a volunteer in Zimbabwe will come through the upfront program fees.
Your accommodations will differ depending on where you decide to volunteer in Zimbabwe, but it is safe to say that you should not expect to be living in a five star hotel. Zimbabwe is a developing country and in the rural areas especially you should not expect such commodities as air conditioning, internet, or running water. The upside is that you will be taken care of – small villages take in volunteers as part of the community and are extremely appreciative of volunteer organizations and programs. You will also discover through volunteering abroad in Zimbabwe how much Western accommodations are really just luxury, and how living simply can be extremely refreshing.
If you are planning to volunteer abroad in Zimbabwe for less than three months than it is possible to obtain a visa upon arrival that will cover your stay. If your volunteer program in Zimbabwe exceeds this amount of time then consult your program because you may need to apply for a special visa.
Volunteering abroad in Zimbabwe is the unique opportunity to contribute your services to a population which is underserved while also gaining invaluable life experience living abroad in a developing country with a rich history and culture. The country has undergone significant political and economic turmoil in recent decades and also faces the continued threat of environmental damage stemming from human activity. For those who are up to the challenge, volunteering in Zimbabwe can be a great service to local communities and a truly enriching developmental experience.