What happens after you volunteer and return home to your way of life? It can be a hard adjustment for many volunteers, who have had their eyes opened to a new culture, a new way of being and the power of giving back. IVHQers John and Joanne Gillette found the perfect way to keep their volunteer work in Zambia going long after they returned home to England. Here’s their story in their own words:
As a lawyer and lecturer in our late 40s, we decided to volunteer abroad for the first time. We chose the teaching program in Zambia because it was an area of Africa that we hadn’t been to before. Having set aside a month for our placements, we set off for Zambia with not the slightest idea that our volunteer journey actually had no end date, and that on our return we would be setting up a charity, The Zambezi Sunrise Trust, to support education in Zambia. Through the support of family and friends, in addition to IVHQ’s local team in Zambia and other IVHQ volunteers, the charity has had a significant impact within the community of Livingstone in just over two years.
Why Volunteer In Zambia?
Zambia is a peaceful, stable and democratic country but it is also a developing country and the work of volunteers is highly valued by local communities. Only one in four children receive a secondary education and many have limited primary education. Through its local partner, IVHQ sends volunteers to support a variety of schools with different levels of resources and conditions. A combination of dedicated staff and eager students means that they achieve great things with what they have, but so much more could be done with greater financial support.
There are 5 volunteer project options in Zambia, so as well as the opportunity to give back on the Teaching project, IVHQ volunteers have the chance to take part in Kindergarten, Elderly Care, Medical and Construction and Renovation projects. Volunteers are soon immersed in local culture and challenged in an infinite number of ways.
Our Experience Volunteering With IVHQ
It was one such challenge that inspired us to do more. At the end of each day at the nutrition center where Joanne was placed, a teacher and social worker would walk for about an hour to the area where they lived. There they had set up an evening ‘homework club’ for local children – for some of whom it was the main source of education that they were receiving. The children sat on the ground outside with no shelter. With temperatures over 30 degrees centigrade and a blazing sun, conditions were not ideal. When it rained, there was no class and no education. With the help of the teachers, for a modest sum, Joanne was able to organize the construction of a rudimentary classroom as well as benches and a blackboard. Now classes can be taught whatever the weather. Something had been done, but there was that ‘If only we’d had more time, we could have done more’ feeling. And that feeling led to the Zambezi Sunrise Trust. Founded in May 2016, the trust has gone from strength to strength and has been recognized by the relevant UK authorities as a ‘Registered Charity’ (number 1169587).
The Zambezi Sunrise Trust In Action
That same homework club that was started when we were volunteers has gone from strength to strength and serves as a valuable source of education for local children, some of whom don’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend school. IVHQ volunteers help out on Tuesday evenings with teaching and have also been involved in a number of successful fundraising activities, holding a sports day to raise funds to improve the facilities and build a new classroom. A preschool has also been established and has grown from 8 to 23 children, using the same facilities as the homework club.
IVHQ volunteers in Zambia have been of huge practical help and support in their spare time, whether it be helping out at homework club, painting, assisting the craft groups, taking part in home visits to extremely vulnerable children, helping distribute donations at the hospital and schools or helping at our public events. Many have gone on to contribute even more after they have gone home. Whether it is a straightforward donation from a former volunteer or their family or the holding of a fundraiser, such support means a lot as it is based on people having actually seen what we do in Zambia.
In collaboration with other not-for-profit organizations set up by former IVHQ volunteers, Zambezi Sunrise Trust has helped further improve the living conditions for children in Livingstone. True Thabo is an American organization focused on providing clean water. This was started by a fellow 2016 IVHQ Volunteer of the Year Scholarship finalist, Marissa Frank, who is also a past volunteer from the IVHQ Zambia program. Together, we’ve jointly donated water purifier systems to Linda Community School and Simoonga Combined Secondary School.
Further achievements of Zambezi Sunrise Trust include embarking on an ambitious building program at Linda Community School, a school for 470 children that are selected by the community on the basis of their vulnerability.
The school is entirely dependent on donor support and is located in temporary, cramped conditions. We have built an ablution block for the school that contains toilets, as well as a shower for the older girls so that they do not lose days at school. IVHQ volunteers in Zambia have been involved in the construction, clearing the land and digging the foundations for the new buildings, as well as painting murals. Our first classroom was built this year, which is currently being extended to a row of five. A kitchen is also being built, thanks to the fundraising efforts of an American IVHQ volunteer who was in Zambia at the same time as us in 2017 and 2018.
The Trust has also been the driving force behind establishing women’s empowerment–focussed craft groups, which IVHQ volunteers are able to support through sharing their crafting and business skills. In addition to purchasing the bags, aprons, rugs, duvet and cushion covers made by the ladies, volunteers have also helped with selling these goods overseas.
These are all examples of how past and present volunteers can combine to have an effect beyond what they would be able to do alone.
Not everyone is in a position to set up a charity, but many will be very familiar with the feeling of wishing you could do more when your placement ends and it is time to return home. Our journey is a heartening reminder that when an IVHQ placement ends, it does not necessarily mean that there has to be an end to the opportunity to help those with whom relationships have been made during a volunteer’s time abroad.