Volunteering with my family

By James Gardiner

Teaching & Big 5 Wildlife Conservation
March 2015

We chose this programme because it allowed us to bring our four children aged 8-12, enabling us to volunteer as a family. We stayed in a beautiful cottage with plenty of space and a lovely garden and the food was great – roast beef and yorkshire pudding was a highlight for me!

On the old maps of Zimbabwe, the area is described as “unfit for human habitation.” It is easy, when looking at the dry and arid landscape, to see why. And yet, with unflagging determination, wit and sheer hard work, the family who own this haven have carved out an oasis of life where it was not meant to be.

Before them, there were no elephants meandering to the water hole to drink as the sun sinks below the horizon, no elegant giraffes galloping away. There were no rhinos sleeping peacefully in the shade of the great baobab tree, protected by their ever-vigilant guards. Lions and leopards didn’t vie for prey and the wild dogs living under the mopane trees did not watch as impala came to drink.

The school for the children, with its beautiful garden, football pitch and netball court, did not exist, there was no spacious accommodation for teachers to teach children who are so eager to learn.

Our children had never before travelled to Africa and it was with some trepidation that we left Harare for the long drive to the Save Valley. But our family of six was welcomed by everyone we met, who generously shared their lives with us for two short weeks. Weeks made short by the quantity and quality of activities that we have been lucky enough to do.

Every day has seen the children’s confidence and knowledge grow. They have taught English in the school, played football and netball, and made friends with children from a very different life. They have made and served porridge to 330 children, helped to plant trees to shade the playground and taken part in the school concert.

In the bush they have learnt about the animals, removed poachers snares and fallen in love with the wilderness. Protected by our passionate and knowledgeable guide, Lymon, they were secure and happy as they fell in love with this wonderful place.

So many people made us feel so welcome, safe and at home that it was hard for us to leave. There is too much to write about here and it is too difficult to describe one highlight from our stay. Early in our trip we were hanging a bait to photograph leopards and our three youngest children saw a lion drinking at the waterhole. There was no fear – just joy and wonder at this oasis of life. Would anyone at home believe what they had seen?

What were your highlights?

The activities were all varied and exciting! The children loved all of it – working in the school, seeing plenty of game, driving tractors and diggers and learning to track animals. It was an absolute priviledge for them and we watched their confidence building every day. Our highlights were seeing the school children dance, tracking rhino with Lymon, meeting so many people and learning all about them.

I can’t recommend this programme enough. We were so well looked after and made to feel completely at home. I have no suggestions for improvement, thank you!