My whole love for Africa started by a week-long trip in Uganda with my secondary school in 2013. A week just wasn't long enough but when I came back from the school trip I was told there would be... Olivia Johnson
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"It's not a goodbye, it's a see you later.."
Submitted by Olivia Johnson - South Yorkshire Doncaster College | September 08, 2014
My whole love for Africa started by a week-long trip in Uganda with my secondary school in 2013. A week just wasn't long enough but when I came back from the school trip I was told there would be another trip running the following year, and that the school would be willing to take me again. After chasing and chasing, I was finally let down in January 2014 that there wasn't going to be a trip going.
Leaving me a short space of time to find a project, apply, book and fundraise. The very same night I was straight onto Google searching for a suitable project. Being only 16, it was a struggle finding an organisation to take me on – this was a huge let down for me seeing you have to be 18, or 17 on suitable projects. Having looked into many websites, flicking through brochures and spending hours on the phone, I finally found one to suit me.
I came across Kaya Responsible Travel’s website and was ecstatic when I found the ‘Teaching and Community Assistance Project in Victoria Falls’ which takes on 17 year olds. It meant for me that I had to wait until July, so that I could turn 17 to go. Of course, as soon as I found it, I showed it to my parents and wanted to apply for it right away – but my mum being a typical mum wanted to contact Kaya first and find out all the ins and outs before I jumped in and booked something I was going to regret.
So the next day mum contacted Kaya and was quite happy with the information she was given and finally gave me the green light to apply. I spent the whole afternoon making sure I filled the application form in with as much detail as possible, making myself sound amazing to ensure there would be no reason I wasn’t allowed on the project.
The following morning, not even 24 hours after my application was submitted, I received an email to say I had been accepted onto the project for 6 weeks and there would be information to follow. As you can imagine, I was so excited I just wanted to get it booked so I knew it was set in stone. I was on my placement when the email came through so I had to sneak into another room to call my mum and tell her to login to my emails, read it in more detail than I could at work and get some flights booked.
The emails were full of details of the project, my login to my personal Kaya blog and my placement administrator, introducing herself to me. The very same morning my flights were booked and I knew I was definitely going. Now all I needed to do was raise enough money to cover the costs through fundraising and then I would be on my way. It was starting to feel real, and so exciting!
Having booked the project and my flights on the 16th January 2014, and my departure date being the 20th January 2014, I wasn’t leaving myself much time to raise some money. So the very same night I was sat with my parents brainstorming possible fundraising events. By the following evening, I had got 3 events planned, publicised on Facebook and advertisements sent to the local papers and magazines.
My events took an awful lot of organising and planning but so worth it in the long run. My events were:
• Partylite home party where the commission goes to me which raised £30
• Phoenix Cards home party where the commission goes to me which raised £20
• Coffee morning in the local church barn which raised £500
• Charity night with a band organised which raised £850
• Bollywood night which raised £500
Alongside these events family, friends, local organisations and others pledged donations to me making my project possible. Having raised all the money I needed to cover the trip, visas, flights and 2 extra items of luggage enabling me to take donations I soon found myself in the 7 day countdown.
My final week I spent running around collecting the last donations of clothes, toys and resources. Spent a day or two packing, un-packing and re-packing my three suitcases (one for me and two full of clothes, nappies, toys, paper, crayons, dominoes, flash cards, ect to leave on project).
It soon came around to 20th July 2014 where I found myself in London Heathrow Airport in the departures gate waiting to board my 11 hour plane to Johannesburg, then on to Victoria Falls. It was finally starting to feel real, and my dream was starting to come true. The flights were long but worth every second.
I finally arrived in Victoria Falls airport where I was met by Katie, a representative and other volunteers who had arrived on the same day as me. We got into the mini bus, got an ice cold bottle of water and had a quick briefing of what was going to happen in our first day, but the induction carried on once we had reached Adventure Lodge – our accommodation. We got shown round where we stay, had a brief tour of town and then had time to settle in before we met the volunteers already on project and get some rest before a full day of inductions the following day.
The accommodation was perfect for what we needed. Very basic of course but very suitable. I had a twin room, which I had three different roommates during my 6 weeks, we had an en-suite bathroom, shower sink and toilet, a full wardrobe, a cupboard with five shelves and three extra cupboards which we didn’t use. In the room there was two single beds, a bedside table and a shelf. There was a swimming pool which was quite cold but very refreshing, a bar area where we ate all of our meals and could buy drinks (or open a tab like I did!), and a shared kitchen area purely for volunteers.
The food was one hundred times better than I expected. Breakfast was alternate days of toast and cereal, and a cooked breakfast. Lunch was usually something lighter pasta, French toast, pies with salad ect. Finally dinner was a variety, from meatballs with mash, to rice and beef stew, always served with squash and broccoli. We had access to unlimited juice and water all day every day and were always fed right up. (Don’t expect to go and lose weight – it doesn’t happen!!)
The first day we were there seemed like the longest day ever due to the amount of information we were given. We began at the Lion Rehabilitation Programme where we got our safety introduction to working with the lions, then onto the full details of the actual rehabilitation side of the project and then onto the community induction in the afternoon. We were given a full welcome pack, terms and conditions and a travel information form to complete.
It’s safe to say that our days were always full and very busy, but worth every single moment.
The Primary School is definitely a school which I will always remember. When I first arrived it was still term time, so I spent my first two weeks teaching Grade 0 shapes, colours, numbers and the alphabet. There was 41 children in my class so it was quite a large number to keep under control, but once you gain their respect it was great! Using the materials I had taken with me I was able to make different coloured shapes out of paper, multi-coloured balls and flash cards with numbers on – it’s always good to be able to use visual aids when teaching. I loved my class and I loved teaching them. For my last four weeks it was school holidays so there were only 20 or 30 children in school at any time. The headmistress asked us to concentrate on reading during holiday club so each time I started with a reading book, then went on to do spelling tests and word exercises, then to finish off each week we did a craft activity. Whether we made bracelets, taught songs and dances or just did colouring sheets, all the children and staff always appreciated our time and efforts we put into their lessons every single week.
The old people’s home will always have a place in my heart too. Although most of the residents struggled with English, they also appreciated us just being there. On Tuesdays we mainly concentrated on the upkeep of the gardens there. Watering the plants, weeding the gardens, building the ridges and also constructing a huge cage to protect the plants from baboons! Most people would turn their nose up at the gardening but when the residents appreciate the work you are doing it makes every bucket of water worth it. On Wednesdays we started by finishing off the upkeep of the garden, then at 10am every week we had a lady from a local church come to do a short church service. I really enjoyed the church – we used to start with a prayer, then a couple of songs, then there would be a passage from the bible read and then another song to finish off. Every week it was different. It was lovely because there would be volunteers mixed in with the residents, the two ladies that run it, our project leaders and the lady from the church all sat round enjoying themselves. It was definitely a heart-warming place with some very special people.
The orphanage was my favorite part of the project. I think this is because we spent an awful lot of our time there so the bonds with the children were stronger. I certainly bonded very closely with two little boys who lived at the orphanage and I loved them as if they were my own children. I even took them into town for tea and to an indoor play area one night I was there! Every time we went to the orphanage all the children would chant ‘Makiwa Makiwa’ which is ‘white person,’ not in any offensive way, they were just always so pleased to see us. The time we spent there was precious, whether we were helping to prepare their meals, doing jigsaws, playing with skipping ropes, football or just reading books, the children loved every second. It was heart-breaking to leave but it will definitely be a place I visit again even if it is just during travelling.
An isolated village which look after a huge vegetable garden, the reason it has been isolated is because all the people that live there have HIV or AIDS. Spending time there, whether we were pumping water, filling the well, carrying 20L buckets or water or just mixing with the locals, every second was appreciated by them. It was so tiring, especially as it got to 11am when the temperature was scorching, but I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world. I just kept reminding myself that they have to do it every single day.
The Lion Rehabilitation Programme was something very special. Spending one afternoon and one morning per week working so closely with a pair of 7 month old lion cubs, and a pair of 22 month old lion cubs was something else. Walking them through the bush, playing with them, doing meat preparation for their food and making toys for them was something I will never experience again. It’s a once in a lifetime feeling and I was so lucky to get chance to spend so much time with them. It was surreal being so close to a lion, which at home is an extremely dangerous animal. It was an incredible thing to do and it is something I will always remember.
Sundays being our day off was a nice treat. I filled five out of six of my Sundays doing activities in Victoria Falls. The activities I did were Bungee, Antelope Park, Victoria Falls, White Water Rafting and Sunset Cruise. The bungee was amazing, if you are an adrenaline junkie then I would definitely recommend it. Antelope Park was something I would do again, from Victoria Falls you have to drive around 7 hours to Gweru which is where it is, but it is so worth the drive. I did an elephant interaction, elephant ride, horse-back safari, night encounter, lion feed and the lion breeding programme tour in just two days. The amount of activities you can fit in for such little money and such a short amount of time is impressive. Organisation and safety was outstanding. Victoria Falls is pretty self-explanatory but so beautiful. White Water Rafting was my favourite activity which I did there, three hours on the Zambezi going through the rapids as amazing. Finally the Sunset Cruise, it was a lovely way to spend time with other volunteers, cruising down the Zambezi seeing elephants, crocodiles and hippos as the sunsets – picture perfect.
My whole experience in Victoria Falls was amazing. The staff were always there to answer any questions or give any information, they were all so friendly and supportive. They were always open to new ideas and up for a challenge. Other volunteers were all so nice, you get such a wide range of personalities, cultures and from different countries. I without a doubt have made friends for life. I have only been home one week but am still in touch with my closest four friends. The project itself was so well organised and we were always busy. We got such a big range of activities to do too from gardening, to teaching, to working with the elderly and to the lions.
Kaya were so supportive the whole way along. From booking the project right up until now I am still in contact with Aureen – continuity of the same advisor is always good and she is so helpful. Any questions I had she was there to help. Even while I was away in Victoria Falls she emailed me twice or three times to check everything was going well. I will definitely book through Kaya again. I would definitely recommend the project and the company to anyone who is looking to volunteer in Africa.
I can’t believe when I look back the experience I have had. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was pestering my parents to let me book the project and now I am back home looking at photographs and reminiscing the memories. It was so sad saying goodbye as Victoria Falls really felt like home, but I kept reminding myself it wasn’t a goodbye, it was a see you later…
I hope you enjoyed reading my review. If you are considering volunteering in Africa – just book it – you will not regret it for one minute!