How would you describe/rate your experience working with the ABV staff in the USA?: I was pleasantly surprised by how efficient, responsive and helpful ABV was in the pre-departure planning and preparation. I felt like I had (and asked) a thousand questions, and each time Sarah would respond within just a few short hours, no matter the day of the week or time of day. When I initially started “shopping” for an organization to volunteer through, ABV’s consistent helpfulness and availability was what ultimately made my decision clear-cut to go through them.
How was the local ABV Director and the support provided in-country? Josphat and Olivia were really great, both professionally in regards to the work I was assigned to, and as my host-family. While they never held my hand and was given a lot of independence, they were always available to talk or for guidance when I had a question on anything. They were really supportive and encouraging of the work I was doing during the day, and while they always made me feel welcome in their home, they were comfortable with me doing my own thing at night and on the weekends too. I learned so much from both of them, and within just a short time, they truly felt like family.
What was your favorite memory of this trip? I don’t think I have just one. I truly loved everything about my time in Zambia, including the chaos and unpredictability that frequently filled my days. The memories I probably cherish most are of my time forging friendships with the children and teachers and learning and working alongside them. But I also loved the adventure of traveling through Zambia and neighboring countries with friends, and making Lusaka home.
What was the most difficult thing you experienced? Truly, there were very little difficulties, and the only ones I had were quite minor… immigration corruption/visa issues, bronchitis and the initial first days of navigating the crazy bus system in Lusaka. But I’m struggling to remember anything difficult that tainted my time even a little bit.
What was the one thing you wished you were better prepared for? Just a little more preparation on the exact work I would be doing, only so I would have been better prepared for what clothes to bring. I ended up having to buy a new business-casual wardrobe there because I didn’t know I would be doing work that required dressing up.
Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations, sightseeing etc)
-For clothes: Definitely do research on the season and temperatures of when you’re there and take it seriously. I underestimated how cold their winters really got, and am so glad I brought jackets and sweaters as it got very cold at night (high 40’s during the morning and night!). Depending on what you want to do in your free time, bring a variety of clothes—I wore pretty much what I would wear every day here in Chicago, including business-casual clothes for work, running clothes to go for nightly jogs and hanging out around the house, and dresses/tights/jeans/tanks for going out at night.
-In regards to personal items, you can buy all toiletries, groceries, etc. in Lusaka—the malls, grocery stories and shops are very comparable to what you would find in any large city in the U.S., so it’s much better to save space and weight on luggage and buy everything upon arrival.
-Travel, travel, travel if your budget and comfort-ability allow for it. While the work needs to be kept first, there were a lot of holidays and long weekends that I used to travel to Livingstone a few times and neighboring countries. Take risks, meet new people (and travel companions), be alert but enjoy the newness of other Zambian towns and African countries. I took a few days off of work at the end of my time to travel via train to Tanzania/Zanzibar with new friends from Lusaka, and it was one of the highlights from my whole time in Africa.
-Keep an open mind and be as social as possible. I met friends from all over the world who became the best travel companions and people who will likely be friends for life. The Zambian and expat community in Lusaka is so inviting and friendly, and as long as you remain open and friendly to them, you will meet friends that will make you feel instantly at home there.
Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial): I embarked on the 8 weeks in Zambia alone and with very few expectations, but was almost instantly marveled at the friendly, joyous and welcoming culture and people in Lusaka. It could not be more different than my world and city at home, but I felt at home almost immediately. Almost nothing ran on time or as planned, but it came down to a matter of personal attitude and a maintaining a good sense of humor, the two necessities that I think every volunteer should plan on coming equipped with. Rather than finding it frustrating, I kind of became addicted to the unpredictability of each day and enjoyed being unsure of how each day would turn out. Flexibility and an open-mind were key to loving my time and work in Zambia. The program and life in Zambia is what you make of it—if you open the doors, you will find you have opportunities available that you would never have fathomed. I did everything from cooking nshima in the school, to bartending in Lusaka one night, to being stuck on a derailed train in rural Tanzania, to swimming through rapids in the Zambezi River. The hardest part of the whole trip was definitely leaving… and I think a piece of my heart will always be at the school I taught in and in Zambia. I would (and hope to) return to Lusaka in a heart beat, and would highly recommend ABV as the initial program and starting point to living and working in such a wonderful place and with such a great program.
Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers? Absolutely.
Sarah Volunteer Abroad in Lusaka, Zambia