Alyse Umbinetti - 2013 Program Participant

What African Impact program did you participate in?

I was on two different projects with African Impact. I spent four weeks in Livingstone, Zambia. I was on the education project for one week, and the special education program for three weeks. Then I went to St. Lucia, South Africa, and spent nine weeks on the community project. 

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad?

When I was nine years old, I was watching a television program about HIV/AIDS in Africa with my Mom. After the program and a short, simplified talk with my mom about what HIV/AIDS is, I told her that I was going to go to Africa someday. So it was just bound to happen! After years of searching for an organization and program that fit, I found African Impact, and knew it was right for me. 

Why did you choose African Impact?

Like I said, it just felt right! I spent years searching for an organization whose mission and ideals meshed well with my own. When I found African Impact, the first thing to really catch my attention was their focus on sustainability. They make sure the communities they work in have ownership within and a need for the projects. With African Impact, it’s not only people going in to help a community; it’s a partnership focused on growth for everyone involved. 

What makes the programs you participated in so interesting?

I experienced something new every day. In just one day on the community project in South Africa, I could be teaching a lesson on fire safety to a group of kids in the morning, and then cleaning in a pen with a crocodile in it in the afternoon. Then the next day something completely different, like building beds in the morning and singing and doing yoga with support group in the afternoon! Even if you go to the same project multiple times, it’s a new experience every time. 

What is the best thing about African Impact programs that future participants need to know?

When you volunteer with African Impact, they prepare you so well for what is to come for you while you’re in Africa. They are great about getting back to your emails, answering any questions you may have, and sending pamphlets full of useful information. As a young girl that had never internationally traveled alone before, having an organization so focused on making your experience the best it can be, I was so comfortable partnering with them.

What was your favorite part about the programs?

Am I allowed to say every part was my favorite? Every project within the programs taught me something new, and pushed me to learn something new about myself and my abilities. If I had to choose a favorite though, I would probably choose support groups in South Africa. At the time, there were three different support groups: one mother’s support group and two HIV/AIDS support groups. We would go to each support group once a week with a lesson plan on something the women wanted to learn about. The lessons were on anything from the solar system to ear infections to breast cancer and breast self-examinations to domestic violence. We also gardened, talked about our weeks, and talked about how we were doing every week. It was amazing to see the love and community within each group grow every week.

What's one thing you would have done differently?

I had the most amazing time in both of the locations, but I went straight from Zambia to South Africa. Each program is so different, that I spent my first few weeks in South Africa comparing everything I was doing to the project in Zambia. It was hard to immerse myself fully into the projects when my head and my heart were still in Livingstone. I am so happy I had both experiences, but if I was to do it differently, I would have taken some time between each project. 

Describe a day in the life of an African Impact Volunteer.

Every morning you wake up in a room with a few other volunteers and you all hustle and bustle around the house to get ready and eat breakfast. Around 8:30 a.m., you pack up all of the supplies you need for the day and head off to project. Depending on your project and the day, you may be going to support group, gardening, bed building, crèche, or one of the healthcare patients’ houses to clean.

Then around noon, you go back to the house for lunch and a short break before afternoon project. After you pack up your supplies for afternoon projects, you get back in the cars for after school clubs, the crocodile center, reading club, girls’ club, or garbage pickup. Afternoon projects go from about 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

After projects, many volunteers decide to go into town to the local internet café to wind down, have a coffee, and chat with their families back home. Everyone comes back together for dinner and recapping of the day around 6:30 p.m. After dinner, you’re on your own for the rest of the night to stay in and relax or go out to one of the local hang out spots. 

Did you experience culture shock?

I don’t know if it was African Impact’s diligence in trying to prepare all of their future volunteers, or the fact that I went in with a completely open mind not expecting anything, but the culture shock wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was more of an amazement that I was actually there. About once a week, I would just look out the window, or wake up in the middle of the night, or pick up a crying child at crèche and just freeze at the realization that I was actually in Africa. It was more of an amazed kind of shock, rather than a fear based shock.

Now that you're home, how has your time with African Impact altered your life?

I don’t think a day has gone by in the 11 months that I’ve been back home that I haven’t thought about my time in Africa. I realized that the little things that I would fret over before have little importance in the long run, and I am so much more grateful for what I have. When you volunteer abroad, you have this unique, amazing experience with so many other people. You all experience the day to day things in different ways, but because you all have this overall life changing experience together, you have such deep bonds with these people forever. I still have such good friendships with so many people I met in both Zambia and South Africa that I wouldn’t trade for anything.