Jenna is a doctor from the UK and an extraordinary African Impact alumni volunteer, having volunteered with us on four separate occasions on three different projects! She has travelled to seven African countries, volunteered in five, and has participated in our education, medical and lion encounter projects. We sat down with her to discuss volunteering and travel in Africa, how it’s changed her life and how it can change yours!
What initially made you want to volunteer?
I think actually for me I remember exactly the time I decided to go to Africa and it was a really random thing but I remember watching on the news this really awful story about AIDS, and obviously doing medicine I find that fascinating anyway and I always had a fascination with HIV/AIDS. From then, I told myself at some point I want to go over there and help if I can and do my bit and see if I can give anything back, and that’s what I did.
What’s it like to have traveled so much in Africa?
It’s a fantastic place to travel – the wonderful thing about the African continent is every single country is different and the people are different, and the landscape is different. My plan is to see every country that I can, I want to see all of them. Every country I’ve been to I’ve absolutely loved.
What keeps bringing you back to African Impact?
I just love it. I couldn’t spend a holiday relaxing on the beach. If you go and volunteer you actually meet the people, see the culture and get involved and you get a lot more from it than if you went on a touristy holiday somewhere. Also, I just love Africa, the people and the wildlife. I’m just addicted to it!
My parents keep saying every time I come back: ‘Have you got it out of your system yet, are you going to stay home now?’ and every time I say: ‘No, I have to go back again.’
What made you do both community and wildlife projects?
I think it was partly that I do medicine at home, and generally I don’t get a lot of time off and if I’m not at work then I have to study or do exams, so it’s quite nice to be able to go and feel like I’m doing something useful, do something active and also something that is different from medicine. When I was little it was always a tossup as to whether I was going to be a doctor or a vet and I’ve always loved animals and it seemed like a sensible thing to try!
What do you love about being a volunteer?
I love meeting all the different people I’ve met, so I have friends from all over the world! I love meeting the people on project and getting to experience the culture, getting to talk to the locals and the staff and find out how they live their life and how it’s different from back home.
I suppose there is a selfish side to volunteering that as much as you are helping people, the feeling that you get is an amazing feeling. Even though the difference you make might only be tiny, the fact that you are helping people is a fantastic thing.
How did volunteering influence your life?
There are lots of things about me that are different. When you go over and see the struggles people have elsewhere, you do appreciate things a lot more. For me, it’s definitely improved my confidence and given me more self-esteem because I have experienced things and I have put myself out there a bit more.
What would your advice be to those wanting to volunteer?
The thing with volunteering is you get out what you put in so if you really challenge yourself and push yourself, you’re really going to get so much out of it and I think you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more. It’s changed my way of thinking and my life.
I think anybody who is anxious about volunteering, they should just jump in and do it because they’ll love it and they’ll learn so much from it.
Want to follow in Jenna’s footsteps? She volunteered on our education and healthcare projects in St Lucia, South Africa and also twice at the hands-on lion rehabilitation project at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe.