Roxana spent six weeks earlier this year volunteering on our Research and Conservation project in the picturesque Zambezi National Park, where she helped with park maintenance, data collection, conservation education in schools and much more! Hear about what it was like to volunteer in research and conservation, and how African Impact works with local communities to ensure environmental sustainability. I worked as volunteer in Zimbabwe for six weeks in the Zambezi National Park, near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, based in a very pitoresque natural environment, in the national park, on the banks of the Zambezi River, yet not very far from town.
The working days (Monday to Friday) started at 6:30 AM, and activities on the project included identifying animals in the park and their GPS positions, observing the migratory patterns of the park's animals, and much more! As volunteers, we also monitoring predator tracks and sightings for animals such as lion, leopard, hyenas and the smaller African cats. The data will help to estimate the predator populations and the potential for releasing new animals (e.g. for when the time is right for releasing the lions from the Lion Conservation Project) into the park. Other research tasks included entomology, for biodiversity measurements and environmental health as well as park cleanup and road maintenance. We also taught environmental education to local school children, where we prepared lessons about topics like insect conservation (and I did, of course, the honey bees!), water and tree conservation. We also visited the orphanage, where we would to do lessons and play with orphaned children, which was particularly touching an emotional. We also were able to immerse ourselves in the culture and customs of the local area. We had educative activities from the project team: we learned about Zimbabwean trees and their traditional uses (ethnobotany); Zimbabwean history and culture, we had training in Shona language (they also speak Ndebele but we stuck with the former). Weekly, we contributed to the Lion Conservation and the Community Projects (e.g. walking the lions and doing an activity budget for them; and planting a vegetables garden for Old People's Home, or cleaning and re-painting the walls of their houses). Besides these, I tried to corrupt everyone to do bird watching as often as possible, and we have been literally spoiled from this aspect. From our backyard in the national park alone we could identify up to 40 bird species daily! The evenings were relaxed, talkative, fun, and filled with playing chess or cards, watching movies and setting up the infrared cameras to capture the animals visiting us during the night.
My volunteering experience went by without a hitch, with no major illness, and no major incidents, as Zimbabwe is quite safe for cautious foreigners like me. Would I do this again? Absolutely! Why? Well, it is not only a rich experience in so many aspects, and by this I am not referring to doing safari, but it mainly gives a good feeling, as we are able to give something back either to those less fortunate than us and to the ecosystems of Zimbabwe. It's hard to describe correctly this feeling, when talking about conservation and protection of nature. It was difficult to teach the local people not to hunt and forage in the park, when often their income and food supply is reliant on animals and precious trees like the baobab. However, it was an interesting opportunity to honestly re-evaluate the local cultural beliefs and find ways to make them work alongside environmental and wildlife conservation. I do not think we could reasonably achieve good results in nature conservation projects when focusing exclusively on protection of species and ignoring the tribulations of the people living next to the protected national parks. So, we must be wiser in this regard, and this project certainly helped through the local education and support programs.
It can be difficult to work in conservation efforts, but there is still hope, and there are many nice people I have met, and they do want to do a good job, even if they start at a small scale, with small steps. I have learned a lot from them and I am very grateful for having the chance to work alongside them. For this effort and for this beautiful country I would be glad to spend my free time and financial effort again, to try to do something good, and lasting. There are many staff and volunteers, passionately involved in such activities at African Impact, and I would be proud to become, every now and then, one of them. You can view more of Roxana's pictures and information about her trip here, and if you'd like to experience our Victoria Falls Research and Conservation project, or perhaps the Photography and Conservation project at this location, the opportunity awaits!