Max Interview: Community Teaching & Lions

If you combined with Lion Conservation, what was the best part about combining community teaching and lions?

I’d say the intertwining of conservation and communities is the best part of this particular project. When you consider the importance of tourism to Zimbabwe, contributing 7.2% to GDP in 2018, much of this comes from ecotourism and wealthy foreigners who wish to visit game parks.

It brings vast sums of money into the country. Therefore, educating local communities on the importance of wildlife conservation, particularly younger generations whose futures are on the line, is an important step towards preserving this wildlife for future tourism revenue.

It’s vital these children believe in the importance of conservation. Working hands-on both in the Lion enclosures and the communities brings this to life and provides interesting material to share with the children; I am lucky to be part of both sides of the conservation/community equation.

Of course, life is about the opportunity which many of these children do not have. Hopefully, having fun, sharing stories, spending time with them and being a figure in their development is something that will make a difference. Every child has a right to education and the community projects allow me to fulfil my belief in this to an extent. They are also wonderful to spend time with.

If you were to do your trip again, what would you do differently?

Contrary to what I mentioned previously, I’d probably go all out Community if I were to do the trip again. Lion conservation is vital for a number of reasons but I feel, as a Western volunteer, I can make more of a difference in Community work for the limited period I am out here. It’s about working effectively and I feel working 100% in the Community is a more effective use of my limited time in Zim.

Similarly, children deprived of an education and sustainable access to food whilst living in dire conditions is, personally, more of a priority for me.

The Lion project is important but I feel more needs to be done in Zim, and indeed Africa as a continent, to tackle the issues I mentioned. I may not be able to change it single-handedly but it’s something I would like to commit more of my time too.

What has volunteering with the community done for you? How has your perspective changed as a result?

Nothing can be taken away from foreign aid and donating to the charities that make you feel uneasy when you watch television on a Sunday evening but getting off the sofa and travelling across the world can go much further. I’ve realised that change CAN happen with the right implementation strategy.

I see the new classroom at one of the schools we have been working as an example. Volunteers have made the bricks, built the school, and moved nearly 75 children out of a crumbling farmhouse that has housed black mambas previously. That doesn’t take a charitable donation; it takes believing in something and being proactive. If you want to make a difference, go and make it.

I’ll be sharing that ideology with people back home.

What was the highlight of the trip?

I think this is multifaceted. Places and projects in any walk of life are only ever as good as their people. Thus far, I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with the fantastic AP family and learning from them. It’s wrong to bring Western culture over to Africa and try to impose it; we’ve seen from the history books why that doesn’t work so it’s been great to learn and to behave in a different way out here when approaching the notion of positive change.

I’ve also had fun with these people, from Spotify playlists of the music they love to eating and drinking in a local custom (albeit lots!). This is also the case with learning the local playground games the children play and getting to know them individually. I remember being at prep school and enjoying the games we used to play, so it’s been great to observe and partake in these.

If, however, I had to choose one highlight so far, it would be turning the movement of several hundred bricks (made by volunteers) into a rugby drill with Simon, one of the AP team. He, like me, enjoys playing rugby so it was cool to witness this cultural crossover. I’m hoping to play with him and his friends for Gweru Sports Club before I leave although I suspect they’re in better shape than myself…

What is the most important thing you have learnt from working within the local community?

I think, in short, it’s about opportunity again. A lot of these children come from places that the world seemed to forget yet they are intellectually considerably more advanced than Western counterparts I come into contact with back home.

I was having a conversation with an ambitious young girl just this week about her plans to study medicine and move to Europe one day. She was 13… It’s a shame that leaving her home in Zimbabwe seems to be an ambition but we would be lucky in Europe to have some of these children.

It’s wrong that, in general, many of them have been forgotten. I think important lessons in positivity during times of hardship can also be learnt from these communities. I’ve had it very easy for 22 years so there’s really no excuse.

What is the most special thing you have gained from your volunteering experience?

I think if we’re talking about personal development it’s the friendships and the perspectives that have been gained both with staff members and with other volunteers.

To be so happy in a country that is basically on its knees is admirable and I think lessons in perseverance and resilience can definitely be taken away. Regarding the other volunteers, it’s been nice to mix with people from all walks of life, internationally, who still share the same underline beliefs in working to change the world.

I’ll remember the people and the experiences for long to come.

What is a typical day in the life for a community volunteer?

Beers and early starts.

I’ll rise around 6:15, have a shower and then sit down for a cooked breakfast which, being English, is always much appreciated. We’ll aim to head onto the project at 8 am, so anywhere from 8:30 am Africa Time.

I’ll then spend the day working on various community projects, ranging from making bricks for the construction of new classrooms to playing football during break times. You have to remain flexible though as you never know what you may end up doing each day. There are lots of projects to work on so we need to make ensure we divide out time fairly despite having favourites.

Fast forward, we’ll come back and have a much-needed shower, have a volunteer meeting at 6:15 pm where we get a chance to get together, and then head for supper.

It’s custom to then prop up the Zimbabwean GDP with a few Zambezis (the local beer) in the bar before heading to bed.

What was your favourite part of the project?

I’d say it’s been working at Takunda Primary School so far. As I mentioned previously, it’s great to be working with children that want to learn and have ambition despite their circumstances. It’s admirable. I’ve been teaching children who are technically on summer break but are still coming to school three days a week.

It’s great to work with children who realise the power of education and have such an ambition to learn. I’ve very much enjoyed facilitating this and have also learnt a lot myself which is also somewhat important.

What extra activities/ excursions did you get involved with as part of your volunteer adventure?

I travelled to Matobo National Park to see the highly endangered White Rhinos. I can highly recommend this as although rhino sitings are difficult and sometimes underwhelming, the scenery is awesome and well worth a visit.

There are also some interesting cave paintings to get your head around. I also visited Free To Be Wild, technically a primate sanctuary that does a bit more on the side.

Walking with monkeys and feeding bush babies whilst enjoying welcoming hospitality made it well worth it.

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