The Republic of Zambia was once known as Northern Rhodesia, and was part of the British Empire before gaining independence in 1964. It is truly one of Africa’s success stories, relatively stable and peaceful and has a government that works much better than most in a part of Africa known for civil violence and corruption. But political stability does not mean it is without problems. Wildlife poaching is rampant, threatening multiple species, only slightly more than half the population has reliable access to clean water, education, especially for women, lags, and the HIV/AIDS infection rate is high. Therefore, there are many social issues which lead to opportunities for volunteering in
Why Volunteer Abroad in Zambia
Due to Zambia’s stability and its progress in reforming its economy and social institutions, and because it is a relatively compact country (about the size of Texas) with a solid urban center, there is a chance for volunteers to witness the real progress they are making as a volunteer in Zambia overtime. Aid organizations that operate in Zambia have the freedom to focus on their mission without fear of government disruption or violence against their workers, the same cannot be said about organizations in all African nations. Zambia is also a good choice for those without extensive language skills. Though there are over 70 languages and dialects spoken in the country, the official language of Zambia is English, and it is used in all schools, businesses, and medical facilities.
Lusaka. A city of about 1.75 million, Lusaka is the capital of Zambia, and is absorbing more people quickly as the country’s economy changes and the city urbanizes. An increasing population combined with the country’s high HIV/AIDS rate and refugees arriving from neighboring countries, there is a concentration of need for social services in Lusaka. The city is home to dozens of orphanages, day care centers, schools, and shelters for children, so if volunteering with children is your main interest, volunteering in Lusaka is a good starting point.
Livingstone. Due its proximity to Victoria Falls and other natural attractions, Livingstone is the closest thing to a tourist town in Zambia. But it is also a center for the country’s emerging wildlife conservation efforts, especially efforts to rehabilitate and restore the wild lion population.
Choma is a business, commercial, and agricultural center of about 400,000 on a direct route between Lusaka to Livingstone, and also home to the Macha Mission Hospital, which provides acute care, HIV/AIDS services, and a community outreach wellness program. There are also several youth outreach programs that concentrate on health, and particularly reproductive, issues. It is an area to consider if your interest is in community health and wellness services, or AIDS prevention.
Volunteering in Zambia
Child Services. Due to the geography of Zambia (it shares a border with eight nations, many of them troubled), its high HIV/AIDS rate, the prevalence of water and foodborne diseases, and the high rate of poverty, Zambia has more than its fair share of orphans and children in distress. Individuals with experience or an interest in all areas of child services, from infant specialists and day care workers to teachers and mental health specialists, will find plenty of opportunities to volunteer in Zambia. Volunteering in Zambia with children may range from a few weeks to years, with teachers generally working for at least a semester worth of time.
Land Management & Agriculture. Poor agricultural techniques, uncertain land ownership regulations, entrenched poverty, and a climate with extreme moisture and temperature swings have historically contributed to damaging environmental practices and big game poaching. Educational programs are underway to change the mindset of farmers and poachers, and provide economically feasible alternatives, such as training poachers as wildlife rangers, organic farmers, beekeepers, carpenters, and other tradesmen. Efforts to provide market outlets for “Snareware,” decorative jewelry made from the snare wire that once was used for poaching, are also developing. Projects focused on tree planting, organic farming, and sustainability are also commom.
Medical & Health Care Services. Doctors and nurses are always needed to volunteer in Zambia, especially where there is an extreme combination of poverty and high rates of HIV infection. But there is also a need for volunteers who are willing, but less highly skilled, to work with traveling medical teams, doing home visits, taking care of non-emergency patients, and helping to educate underserved families and the elderly about nutrition, disease prevention, and basic hygienic practices.
Costs & Affordability
If you’re truly working as a volunteer in Zambia you will obviously not be paid, but your housing and most of your living expenses, such as food and transportation, will be taken care of. You’ll have to budget for extra expenses, like personal items and gift shopping, though. Generally, you negotiate the terms of your service with the group you plan to work with before you leave home, and the organization or trip coordinator will tell you what’s included and what isn’t. Normally, you will pay your own airfare, and the organization you volunteer with provides in-country transportation, housing arrangements, and placement assurance, which sometimes comes at an additional cost.
Accommodations & Visas
Since nearly all of the volunteer work in Zambia is coordinated by aid groups, and because those groups have the blessing of and cooperation of the government, most individuals who volunteer in Zambia will have visa and any certification application paperwork handled by their volunteer organization.
The accommodations available vary widely, depending on which part of the country you are volunteering in Zambia and whether it’s a rural or urban setting. Most often, especially in rural settings, housing is shared in a bunkhouse or community building. In cities some apartments are available for volunteers, but the housing is still generally shared, and included in volunteer program fees.
There are few places in the world that are as perfect a combination of despair and hope as Zambia. One on hand, the country has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS, poverty and an inability to provide all of its people adequate food and clean water. On the other hand, it has not given way to the chaos, corruption and violence of many countries in the same position.
For a volunteer this is a golden opportunity – the rare chance to help a population that is already helping itself, and understands that it needs to preserve its culture, environment, and natural areas as well as transform itself into a modern economy.