Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Through the eyes of a volunteer

zaA volunteers story by Helen Davies.

I volunteered with the Book Bus in 2009. The project was in its early stages then but it is now in it’s 4th year running and Kelly, the leader is in her third year and has really helped the project to move forward, establishing lots of links within the community.

On a day to day basis you visit schools and occasionally orphanages. When there we would read books with the children and do activities around the books ie; if we read a book about a butterfly we might make butterflies, that kind of thing.

The project brings a lot of joy to the people of Livingstone. You will never get tired of seeing the smiling faces of the children, waving and shouting hello as you make the trip along the dirt tracks to school. It is the most wonderful feeling when you step off the bus on your first day and the children swarm you!!! I smiled so much, my face hurt!!! The children are so grateful for your attention and time. They are often jam packed into a classroom so receive very little one on one time from the teacher. Working with the Book Bus really helps the children to build their confidence, allows them to be creative and gives them access to books that are fun and engaging. I've done quite a bit of teaching and youth work over the years and from my experience, children learn much better when learning is 'fun'!

The children have such a thirst for knowledge. When I was there, the teachers went on strike for a couple of weeks. However, us and the children still went to school and they waited for their turn with the Book Bus. I was walking past one of the classrooms, when one of our little girls, Monde, called me over and said 'Helen, teach us, we want to learn'. I've never forgotten that. I don’t know if you’ve done any volunteering before, but I think that you learn as much from the children as they do from you!

I made some fantastic friends when I was there who I still keep in touch with and we have regular reunions. The ages ranged from 9 (there was a family with 2 young children in our group) up to ladies in their late 50’s/early 60’s. Then there was a whole mix in between - 18, 23, 29 (me), 37, 45! We all got on really well and had a fabulous time!

Daily life follows the same pattern usually in the week – get up around 6.30 am, breakfast at 7am, leave at 8am. School – usually teach 4 lessons per day, with a break for lunch. Then it’s back to camp around 3pm. Then the afternoons are free to do some of the tourist activities, or catch up on your emails at one of the internet cafes in town, or just relax by the pool or on the veranda with a cool Redds (cider), Stoney (ginger beer) or Mosi (real beer)!! Dinner is usually prepared by a few members of the group (unless you go out to dinner) and you rotate chores – so some days you will be cooking, some days washing up and some days keeping the bus tidy! Everyone pitches in!

You stay at a campsite called Grubby’s Grotto and you stay in a tent. A good roll mat is always good!!! The temperature can drop at night so a good sleeping bag is always good! Staying in a tent is great as you don’t really get mosquitoes or bugs in a tent, like you would in a dorm or room! I miss my tent! The showers are usually hot and they have western toilets! Bringing toilet roll is always useful! Bring a fleece. When I was there in May the temperature dropped quite a lot after dark, however I think it’s warmer in July but a fleece is always useful (even if you just use it as a pillow)! A wrap or scarf is always good too! 

There's also plenty to do in Livingstone when you're not working. There's seeing the mighty Victoria Falls (water levels will be lower at this time of year but you will still be able to get a good view), white-water rafting, elephant trekking, lion walks, microlight flights over the falls, bungee jumping, afternoon tea at the Royal Livingstone, pasties and milkshakes at Wonderbake!!! Livingstone is a really great town. As with most places, be safe, don’t walk alone after dark (I would say that in any place though – not just Africa). I felt really safe and at home there. Try out the local restaurants, there’s some great ones serving both Zambian and western food.

Then further afield, but still within easy reach -  there’s Chobe National Park in Botswana which is close enough to visit for the weekend. Chobe is famous for the great abundance of elephants that live there. Or there’s South Luangwa in eastern Zambia which was one my favourite African National Parks and either a short flight, or a day’s drive away. Then only a few miles away, just across the ZimZam bridge is Zimbabwe. I haven’t been but I hear Vic Falls town is lots of fun! The great thing about volunteering there, is that you will see a different side to the country than the average tourist who will just see the fancy hotels and national parks!

In terms of do’s and don’ts here’s what I can think of:

·         Do check with the Book Bus before you take books or equipment out. Some books the children just won’t understand as certain things just aren’t part of their culture.
·         Do take glitter, the kids love it.
·         Do take lots of sun cream, a hat and mosquito repellant!
·         Always carry toilet roll!
·         Do take a head torch. A head torch is the single most useful piece of kit you can take!!!!
·         Do try nshima (the local staple food).
·         Don’t take too many clothes. You’ll wear your Book Bus t-shirts Mon – Fri and you get grubby so you will end up wearing the same things. But do bring a couple of nicer outfits for dinner out and the Royal Livingstone.
·         Don’t go expecting to change the world. You can’t, but you can make a difference to the Livingstone community by giving your time. You will also make a difference to yourself which is important too!
·         Don’t carry loads of cash and valuables around!
·         Take a camera!
·         Most importantly – HAVE FUN!