Marissa Sutera - 2013 Program Participant

Volunteer excursion in Zambia
A Visit to Victoria Falls.

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad? Why Zambia?

Ever since I studied abroad I knew I wanted to go abroad again, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make that possible. I have always been drawn into the poverty issues that Africa faces, so when I discovered that I could volunteer AND do it in another country, I was thrilled! Zambia drew me in because of the teaching program that was offered there and the opportunity to work with kids in this country that I knew very little about. It was intriguing for me to go to this unfamiliar place to volunteer, rather than the more common destinations that many others may choose.

What were your housing arrangements like? 

The volunteers all stay in a volunteer house with shared rooms and bathrooms, although this was not your average volunteer hostel. There was a pool, a bar right next to the pool, a climbing wall, and a whole lot of places to sit back and relax. 

What was a normal day like as a volunteer teacher in Zambia?

Every weekday, we started off the morning teaching in the schools at 8am. At noon, we returned back for lunch. In the afternoons we would spend a few hours volunteering at various projects in the community, such as teaching kids at the after school reading clubs, spending time at the old people’s home, or teaching at the adult literacy club. Then we had the rest of the day off, which typically meant walking around the town, doing some grocery shopping, or just relaxing.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while abroad?

Teaching in general was by far the biggest challenge I faced, and it really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I had no experience teaching at all, and it was quite nerve-wracking to hear on my first day that we would be going all in and teaching right away. Walking in to a classroom full of 50-80 kids of all different ages was quite intimidating! Thankfully, there are other experienced volunteers that help the new volunteers to get comfortable with leading the class, so I was able to catch on fairly quickly!

How has your experience volunteering abroad impacted your life?

I have changed in countless ways after spending time with the people of Zambia amidst the deep poverty they face every day. Most importantly, I learned about happiness. What it really comes down to is a matter of attitude. Despite the conditions they live in, Zambians will give you the warmest welcome into their country and are truly joyful people. They have showed me how to appreciate all that I have and that no matter the circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for. 

Would you recommend the program to others? 

Yes, of course! To start with, the staff was fantastic and did a great job covering the basics that would be necessary when volunteering in Zambia. I also would particularly like to recommend the Christmas teaching program, rather than just going at any time of the year. Being able to give back this past holiday season was so much more meaningful than receiving gifts. I really felt like I was making a difference when I was teaching at Holiday Club.

This is a program offered while the schools are on holiday that allows any of the local children to come to school and learn from the volunteers, play games, and make various crafts. It was so important to be there at that time because without the volunteers there would be no schooling during holidays for these kids that are so eager to learn. 

If you could change one thing about your program abroad, what would it be?

I would have stayed longer! It’s tough to leave because you always get really attached to the kids, and they don’t want you to leave either. The kids love to draw and on my last day teaching, a lot of them drew me pictures or wrote farewell letters to me. One girl even got me a small gift, which was so touching. This all made it really difficult to say goodbye, but I hope to return again someday in the future!

What important tips can you give to future participants of the program?

Don’t quit once you come home! Just because you are no longer on your volunteer program does not mean you are done volunteering. Think about ways that you can get involved once you return home. This could be raising money or spreading awareness about one of the issues you witnessed while you were abroad. You could even do something as simple as sharing your experiences by writing an article, participating in an interview (like this one!), or speaking to classrooms. Be creative, and find a way to continue your volunteerism no matter where in the world you are!