Desk Officer Laura Graham visited Project Trust Volunteers in South Africa, Zambia and Swaziland in November. Here are five things she learned:

Project Trust Gap Year Zambia

Zambia

1 – Going on your first staff visit is a strange experience which brings back a lot of memories and emotions. I felt really excited for all the Volunteers, because they’re already having a great time and I know how much more they’ve got to look forward to. I remember how important my Desk Officer visit was to me when I was a Volunteer and how much I enjoyed showing them my project and the work I was doing, so it was lovely to fulfil that role for this year’s Volunteers. I go to visit Mthatha and my old project which was lovely – South Africa will always be a home away from home for me.

2 – The projects in Zambia are very rural and Volunteers there really have to be prepared for basic living conditions. The four Volunteers there this year have bucket showers, have to pump their own water and their electricity supply regularly cuts out. The only form of communication they have is Zambian mobile phones and SIM cards, so they’ve only spoken to their parents a couple of times since they got out there. That’s obviously a real challenge and it was great to see how the Volunteers have risen to it. All four have adopted an attitude of “It would be nice to have more fruit and veg, or wifi, or running water, but it isn’t possible so we’ll just make do with what we have got.” They’ve all been adaptable, embraced the situation and are really enjoying themselves.

Project Trust Gap Year Zambia

Kathryn volunteering as a teacher in Zambia

3 – Both the schools in Zambia have really limited resources and the Volunteers have to adapt and improvise. I saw Kate teach a science lesson about how substances chance state using buckets of water and pasta to demonstrate. Pip has been getting up early and going for runs – one of the other teachers spotted her and thought it was the strangest thing he’d ever seen. She explained what she was doing and a few days later he came back and told her he’d thought about it, decided it was a good idea and wanted to join in, so now they’ve got the beginnings of a running club. The boys are really good – their accommodation isn’t the most luxurious but they’ve got a huge mango tree in their garden and the fruit was just about to ripen when I left so by now they’ll be making the most of that.

4 – The Swaziland Volunteers are having a completely different experience to the Zambia Volunteers. In Swaziland the eight Volunteers all live in Manzini, which is the second biggest city in the country. One consideration of having so many Volunteers in the same location is whether they are going to clique together and not integrate into the community. It was really nice to see that wasn’t the case and that the Volunteers have made a big effort to make friends in Manzini. I spent a whole weekend with them and there was always at least one or two of the Volunteers off doing something else, meeting friends or organising or running something, which takes a lot of confidence and initiative.

5 – The Volunteers took me to the Swaziland vs Nigeria football match, which was great fun. We didn’t have tickets so we went to buy them at the gate. The ‘ticket booth’ was a parked car with its windows rolled down and a guy in passenger seat and a guy in the back seat. You went to the guy in the front and he took your money then he nodded to the guy behind who gave you the ticket. Through the turnstiles there were people selling drinks out of big cooler boxes and pop-up braais all over the place. There weren’t allocated seats and it was packed, so we walked pretty much all the way around the stadium before we could find somewhere to sit. Being nine conspicuously European people we were quite the attraction – lots of people asked who we were supporting then got really excited when we said “Swaziland”. The game wasn’t actually the most entertaining part of the experience – at half time a dog got on the pitch and three security guards chased him up and down for at least 10 minutes. The dog would stop, wag his tail and tease the guards, then one of them would throw themselves at it and the dog would skip away. Needless to say the however many thousand people in the stadium were all cheering like mad for the dog.

Learn more about a gap year in South Africa with Project Trust

Learn more about a gap year in Zambia with Project Trust

Learn more about a gap year in Swaziland with Project Trust