Family Volunteer Vacation: Our Experience | African Impact Blog

Author: Alice D, Mum from the UK

My husband, two teenage girls and I arrived at African Impact’s program base in Livingstone, Zambia, on July 28th 2018 for a week’s family volunteer vacation on their ‘Girl Impact‘ program. It was to be a week of wonderful experiences that affected us all…

Why a Family Volunteer Vacation?

Family volunteering in Livingstone, Zambia, with African Impact

Our family enjoying moments with the community of Livingstone, Zambia

My (now) husband and I had already spent some months doing volunteer work in Mozambique and Zimbabwe when we were younger, and had already fallen in love with the sights, sounds and smells (not to mention the people) of Southern Africa. Now, 20 years on, we wanted to recapture some of what we had experienced then; partly to celebrate 20 years of marriage and partly to introduce our two daughters to the Africa we loved so much.

We chose African Impact as they provided the best and most flexible options for family volunteering. With two teenagers accompanying us, we needed a family volunteering opportunity that would be willing to accept under 18s (not all do) and one that could accommodate us with the short amount of time we had to offer (our student years are long in the past and we are now tied to jobs and school holidays!). After finding African Impact, we worked with one of their Destination Managers to find the best choice of location for our family, and were enticed by the flexible and fun sounding nature of the Girl Impact program in Zambia. This allowed each of us to use our individual gifts and to mix and match our activities.

African Impact’s Accommodation for Families

When we arrived, we were shown immediately to our room within the Livingstone Backpackers, where African Impact’s project is based from in the town of Livingstone, Zambia.  It was nice that as a family volunteering we were provided with our own private room facing onto the pretty courtyard outside. It was very clean, near the shower blocks, and even came equipped with individual mosquito nets – though there were no mosquitoes when we were there in the month of August.

We had many friendly introductions and ice breakers to meet all the new and more long-standing volunteers and were also given the chance to choose and reserve weekend activities for our free time (all easily bookable on site via Livingstone Backpackers).

Two daughters experiencing Victoria Falls as part of a family volunteer vacation

My two daughters enjoying Victoria Falls during our free time

With my girls being quite fussy-eaters, one of my big concerns was what we might be offered to eat each day, the meal plan being all inclusive. We didn’t need to worry one bit. The very friendly and hardworking kitchen staff seemed to come up with family favorites that were relatively healthy every meal time (home-made chicken nuggets, BBQs, salads, sandwiches, hot breakfasts, etc.). It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Why we chose to volunteer on the Girl Impact Program

At African Impact you choose from a diverse range of ‘main’ projects to be involved in, but you also get the opportunity to volunteer with any of the other activities on an almost daily basis. Some of our co-volunteers had opted for the ‘Ultimate Volunteer Project‘ where you do a bit of everything. Together my family and I decided on the ‘Girl Impact’ project and in so doing my husband became the first male ‘Girl Impact’ volunteer!

Why the Girl Impact? Well, mostly for the obvious reason that in our case we outnumber boys 3-1 in our family! Also, with two teenage girls we felt that they would be able to identify with what they were doing and have something to offer in terms of building girls’ confidence and skills training.

Family volunteering participants on the Girl Impact Program in Zambia

My daughter helping other volunteers with a girl’s empowerment workshop as part of our family volunteer vacation in Zambia

After the first afternoon settling in (also having a film night by the outdoor pool) and getting to know the other volunteers and staff, on day two we got stuck straight into the activities. Being only there for a week it was also imperative that we made good use of our time. We all found it very easy to slot into the program of work/volunteer activities and quickly were able to contribute.

What I hadn’t really counted on when we visited the Girl Impact program on the first morning, was that the program also focuses on educating boys. My husband and I and elder daughter chose to teach the boys, whilst our younger daughter joined with a few other volunteers to teach the girls. We found ourselves a space in the shade in the outdoor courtyard of the school and embarked on teaching the human lifecycle to these children (all information and materials had been provided during lesson prep time). It was a really fascinating experience and provoked some interesting discussion. We were able to take as much or as little lead of the activities as we wanted to. As my job at home is working in schools, I was used to approaching these tasks, but for others who were much shyer, there was no pressure to be the one leading. Over time, confidence grows…

Daily Life on a Family Volunteer Vacation in Zambia

Our day started around 7am with breakfast in the main eating area and after chatting with the staff team and fellow volunteers, it was then time for lesson preparation – often outside on the verandah. The bell then rung to go to the location of the day in minibuses with very friendly drivers. Part of the experience itself was certainly driving round various parts of Livingstone to homesteads, schools, farms, hospitals and communities with large numbers of whiteboards, footballs, spades – you name it – in the back!).

At around 11.30-12 we were collected from the community to come back for another very good lunch, refill those water bottles, and do some more preparation for the afternoon activities. The afternoon activities were more ‘a la carte’ which was perfect for our family. Some of our highlights include my daughter (aged 15) going to help with the after-school club. She said that she loved playing games with the children and having them endlessly ask to repeat the game in-hand. She said it felt like there were 100 children to look after (not all by herself!).

We got involved in everything from teaching to building work while family volunteering in Zambia

We got involved in everything from teaching to building work while family volunteering in Zambia

Meanwhile, there was a large need for adult literacy teachers, so this being something I had done before, I got stuck in with that. I quickly built bonds with a few of the ladies I was teaching and one in particular that I was very sad to leave. The adults appreciate any effort you can give.

My husband and other daughter, when given a free choice, spent a couple of sessions educating about plastic and the need for recycling. This is a huge issue in Zambia and something African Impact is very passionate about tackling. Everyone was very interested and talked excitedly about what they had learnt afterwards. One of the project tasks is to make ‘Eco-Bricks’, which involves filling plastic bottles as densely as possible with plastic lying around and subsequently using these to build walls for a new classroom! The school children are also given small gifts by the project for making as many eco-bricks as they can each week. It was great fun handing out prizes to the long queue of excited children.

During our short time on our family volunteer vacation we were involved in many different activities, not just teaching, but farming, building, village excursions and charity fundraising to name a few. Life was never dull.

Give Family Volunteering a Go!

As a family experiencing our first taste of voluntary work together, we could not recommend African Impact enough. The friendships that we formed with other volunteers and staff, the way we were welcomed by the team and locals, and the contributions and impact that we felt able to make (not to mention the fun that we had) will make this a time to really remember. We also hope that it is a building block to continue doing more family volunteer vacations!