The below post was written by British volunteer, Vanessa, who volunteered with her son Bailey (9) in February 2020, on our Rhino & Elephant Conservation family programme in Zimbabwe.
“We have had the most amazing experience at the Imire Conservancy with Conservation Travel Africa. From the moment our booking enquiry was received, through to our post trip follow up, we have been given unrivalled, kind, personal and attentive care. Whether it was through the email communication or face to face connections, we felt as though we were in good hands for the whole journey. I cannot recommend this experience enough to families who are open to learning through hands on teaching.
As a mother and child who haven’t taken on a volunteer experience or been to Zimbabwe before, we were certainly on new and exciting territory. Being in a very small group of seven other family volunteers, meant all staff quickly learnt our names and were able to get to know us personally, which made for a very special and memorable life experience.
On Morgan’s advice, we visited Victoria Falls before our volunteer experience started, and especially enjoyed the canopy zip wire which was pitched beautifully for families. Starting at the Lookout Cafe, we couldn’t have hoped for a more exhilarating introduction to Zimbabwe.
On the project:
The whole family volunteering is maybe in need of a rename, as it is more a ‘hands on education’ rather than just volunteering. With an expert guide who stayed with us all day every day, planning and executing varied and challenging activities, ensuring our safety when with the animals, and driving us through the conservancy, we were immersed in an education literally from dawn to dusk.
There wasn’t a thing our passionate and patient educator, Trymore couldn’t tell us; we did test him with endless questions. A true master of his practical and theoretical environment, he was able to pitch his explanations to the varying different audiences of educated adults and young people, varying in age from 9 to 16. It was good to hear the staff talking in their native language and thoughtful of them to always relay the development of the conversation, so we always felt included.
While we were taught about symbiosis, while planting onions with the children in the school garden, it was evident to see that conservation of endangered animals is also symbiotic. We learned that conservation is more than protecting animals in isolation and that involving the community is such a positive step towards educating both the volunteers and the Shona communities and including everyone in this journey.
On the animals:
Being up close to the animals was a really thrilling experience for both myself and my nine year old son. We were able to feed and engage with both black rhino and elephant while knowing that we were not invading their lives or exploiting their wellbeing as wild animals. The whole experience is very conscious of environmental impact and keeps a good balance between exposure and distance from the animals, which was of great importance to me as a tourist.
On the people:
Huge respect goes to all these groups of people, as well as the heartfelt passion radiating from all the people working with the animals which we travelled thousands of miles to come to see. It was hard not to feel the same and feel connected by the heart.
We have fond memories of practical learning about Shona life; from the exuberant, proud villagers, the happy, engaging students in the school and the energetic, powerfully driven ladies in the women’s group putting all their energies into getting and keeping young people in education.
On the work:
We enjoyed putting in fence posts, walking with elephant and cleaning them out, collecting buffalo manure for compost, working in the garden and digging holes for trees. While the work was fulfilling and we felt we were contributing in a small, purposeful way, it was by no means exhausting for adults or young people with a ‘can do’ attitude. The sense of involvement connected us to the place and its goals.
Where we stayed:
Our tented accommodation was a welcome base for our days at Imire. Having a permanent, private bathroom, warm shower and permanent beds was more glamping than camping and was simply wonderful being surrounded by the sounds of nature in the bush which we became more and more familiar with. The modern, thatched, shared living space for eating and resting was beautifully spacious and had the most wonderful view looking over the bushland. It included some special visitors which we didn’t anticipate, an ostrich and a beautiful serval. The chef cooked traditional Zimbabwean food which was healthy, nutritious, flavoursome without being spicy and was appreciated by an increasingly critical child diner. He made some super vegetarian dishes which we loved so much we ended up taking recipes away with us.
My son went away much more appreciative and aware of nature, as well as the struggles and successes of Zimbabwean children his age, while noticing that everything they did was with positive spirit.
We left Imire feeling we have a greater feeling of understanding of the running of the conservancy. We have a huge respect for all that is being done for the rhino and other animals, and we are hungry for further learning about the natural world. We feel blessed to have been a part of the Imire story and can’t help sharing our stories with the people we meet.
We would return in a heartbeat given half a chance. Thank you to you all for your compassion and hard work.
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