Makayla Vandenberg - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

My main inspiration was just wanting to help out somewhere in the world in any way I could. My Dad also inspired me, as he pushed me to do it.

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad with African Impact?

I chose my specific program after watching a TV series called "Lodging with Lions." After watching many episodes, I knew I wanted to do it, and I would regret not doing so. I chose to volunteer with African Impact as their website appealed to me a lot more than any others and was extremely informative. They offered a numerous amount of programs and their overall reviews were very good.

Tourist petting an elephant in Africa
One of the elephants I worked alongside in Africa

What was your favorite part about Zimbabwe?

My favourite part about Zimbabwe was the people for sure. Although they are going through tough times and are not living in a developed country, happiness was constantly shining out of them and they never failed to have a smile on their face. The African culture was very interesting to learn about, and to be surrounded by a constantly good vibe no matter where I travelled certainly made the whole experience better. The African people always came off as very loving and caring people.

What made your experience abroad unique?

What made my experience unique was that I didn't know anyone who had previously done what I was going to do. I had no inside information and could only go off what I had read online or the information received via email. It was just like leaping into something completely new, and it was not going to be like anything I had ever done.

It was unique because of the beautiful people I met over there, including the Antelope park staff; they made the experience what it was. Although most days were routine, especially once I knew what I would be doing everyday, no two days were ever the same. It was a new country, so anything and everything to do with my whole trip was going to be unique to me.

Volunteer posing with two lion cubs in Zimbabwe
Two of the three cubs I walked with in Africa

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff provided support in any way that they could when necessary. They were all extremely helpful and informative. They could not have done their job any better than what they were doing everyday, and without them, my program wouldn't have been possible. From having everything for every single day organised to having three meals a day prepared for everyone, having the answers to all questions asked, going the extra mile to make the program the best it could be at all times, and all the way down to the little things such as pointing you in the right direction when lost or tying your shoelace, the support was always, always there, no matter what the situation.

I could never thank the staff enough for everything they did for me, and everyone else.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have made my trip a lot longer than two weeks, as two weeks was just not enough time!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Wake up as early as 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., followed by the first activity of the day at 6:25 a.m. Breakfast at 8 a.m. until the second activity of the day commenced at 9:25 a.m., and went until 12:30 p.m. Lunch at 1 p.m. until at 2:05 p.m., which was when the third activity of the day started.

At 4 p.m. was the final activity of the day, finishing any time up until 6 p.m., depending on what activity you were put on. Then there was a meeting every weeknight at 6:15 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., where everyone from every different projects would speak about their day and the next day would be written up on the board.

All of the activities you were to do during all these set times varied depending on what project you were on or what you wanted to do. There were many options from walking with lions, going into the local community or orphanage, cleaning out lion or elephant enclosures, research, working with the horses, the list goes on. No day was ever the same, but a “typical day” was always extraordinary.

There was always extra trips and events being planned within the place I stayed, so the opportunities were endless. Free time was always provided, and a social life over there was also certainly present.

Volunteers with children at an orphanage in Zimbabwe
Children from an orphanage with other African Impact volunteers

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During most of my free time, my Dad and I generally tried to do as much extra work or activities as we could to make the most out of the experience. Apart from that, our free time would be spent by the pool or at a cafe/bar, preparing for the next day or resting up. Free time was also a great way to get to know all the other people from the different programs and make friends for a lifetime.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Accommodation was certainly not 5-star, but it wasn't expected to be either. The accommodation certainly made the whole African experience that much better, as it was so much different to typical accommodation or houses back home. The shower block was in the shape of a hut and had wooden floor boards in the showers, so the more than occasional spider/insect in your shower or room was also just more to add to the experience! The rooms were very little, but also cosy and just perfect in my opinion.

To live for two weeks in a place not so modern compared to home was actually very enjoyable; it was nice to live differently. The best part about the accommodation would have to be just how it all added to the serenity of the place I was staying. From many buildings being made out of materials other than the usual bricks/concrete and most things being so open, it was lovely.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

"Your experience is what YOU make it!" This line was told to me many times during inductions in the first few days and I could not of received any better advice. Do not hold back on anything. Don't say no, just do it! Get out of your shell and jump out of your comfort zone many times, more than once! Don't go into this program with expectations on anything, make the whole time about finding the unexpected.

Every participant should know that they are preparing for an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience, so they should definitely participate in it!

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Visiting a developing country has definitely impacted my life! It made me appreciate things more in life and in the world I live in. It has changed me as a person by making me realise that there are much, much bigger problems in the world, compared to the little ones I experience everyday. It has impacted my life by giving me a sense of hope that there are many good people out there changing the world one day and one step at a time.

Sunset in Zimbabwe
African Sunset

Would you recommend African Impact’s lion conservation project in Antelope Park to others? Why?

I would recommend my program and provider to others a thousand times over. To start off, the program was absolutely amazing and such a good experience! it was something that has certainly impacted my life and it is a great way to do some good in the world in a different way than usual. The program I did is unlike anything else in the world and will give you such great knowledge across many subjects; hands on experience will also be gained!

My provider was very good and helped me through the whole program and process very well. African impact has an amazing set up, from their website to the amazing staff. I would definitely recommend them to others as they always put the extra mile in to make everything that much better.