Author: Hannah, mother of a volunteer

I can honestly say I have never been prouder of him. It is hard to put in to words how thrilled and in awe he sounded of the things he was seeing and experiencing. This was not a holiday, but so much more than that. It blew him and us away.

Liam was 16 and in a rut. Teenage apathy, indecision, irritability! He’d also been through a difficult time that wasn’t his fault: this had all added to a loss of confidence and motivation.

When he started to talk about a holiday, we were quick to tell him that we weren’t going to be paying for him to go to Tenerife to sit on a beach with his mates. But he started to talk about how he wished he could do something useful and interesting and learn more about the world. He looked up volunteering and said he’d love to do it one day.

Our ears pricked up: was this him showing signs of motivation and ambition? Liam used to talk about travelling and wanting to see the world, but over recent years this had dwindled off.

We decided it was something we would allow him to explore and see if there was anything suitable. We dreaded the thought of him sitting around for another summer holiday being edgy and bored.

volunteer-watching-sunset

When we told him he could look into it seriously he was surprised and delighted. We left him to research and come up with some ideas – that was part of the project for him. From that moment on, our disorganised and chaotic son suddenly sorted out exactly what he wanted and made plans and lists.

There were some moods and anxiety, but also a lot of enthusiasm and commitment to the idea. He settled on a 4-week photography course in Kruger with African Impact, which looked like great fun, educational, and well organised.

Waving Liam off at Heathrow was a mass of emotions, for him and us.

Had we done the right thing? How would he cope being the other end of the world? Was this a mistake!?

snarling-leopard-africa

At the same time, I was desperately proud and in awe of what he was going to do at age 16.

But off he went, and the rest is history! He somehow managed to get himself halfway across the world, board two flights, and meet the right group! For Liam, this was nothing short of a miracle, given his previous seeming inability to respond to simple requests from us.

As for Liam’s time in Kruger, it was truly the best thing he has done, for so many reasons.

The staff let us know he was safe as soon as he arrived and let it be known that we could stay in touch with them, to see how he was getting on, as and when we wished. We wanted to get the balance right between making contact, whilst trusting somehow it would be okay (easier said than done!).

We had, along with Liam, decided that he would contact us when he wanted and we would not initiate it, to give him a chance to adapt. We knew homesickness might be an issue, so we wanted him to take responsibility for any contact he needed as and when it was right for him, not us.

volunteers-photographing-spider

As the days went by, Liam did make some contact and he did feel homesick, particularly at night. Despite this, he was absolutely blown away by what he was seeing and the experiences he was having. He gave us regular updates on the animals he’d seen, the trips he’d been on, and the interesting people he’d met.

Sometimes he’d go through a few days without making contact, which was entirely appropriate, as he was busy and having fun, and actually working hard. When he called us a few times and then said he needed to go, as he had homework to do for his photography projects, we were amazed.

Was this the same person who argued to the bitter end about any form of homework?

volunteer-editing-photographs

Over the next few weeks we heard from him maybe every 3 days. Again, he was always full of what adventures he’d had, but was also a little homesick occasionally. This wasn’t a big problem at all – it was to be expected – and certainly didn’t stop his enjoyment and experience.

I was also in contact occasionally with the staff who were incredibly helpful. They always got back to me straight away, were on top of everything, and couldn’t have been more reassuring.

We had a small blip in the middle of his stay, when I think a dip in his confidence, a bit of homesickness, and tiredness kicked in. He got into a couple of minor bits of trouble and got upset and wound up. We feared things were going wrong, but the staff were incredible at managing this, normalising it with us, and working with Liam to get him back on track, which they did.

That actually made us prouder of him.

His time there was incredible: the staff, the project, and the communication all added up to a fabulous experience for him and peace of mind for us. We could not have been happier and more reassured, as parents, that he was safe and supported. It was harder work than he had imagined, but he thrived on it, and it built up his confidence a lot.

volunteer-photographing-frog

I can honestly say I have never been prouder of him. It is hard to put in to words how thrilled and in awe he sounded of the things he was seeing and experiencing. This was not a holiday, but so much more than that. It blew him and us away.

When Liam came home, he was tired, a little grumpy, and restless. But as the days went by, he was revelling in it, so proud and full of his next ideas to travel, which included a sudden urge to look for a job! Several weeks on, and with a little help, he got an apprenticeship!

I can honestly say that this trip did change him markedly, in several ways. His self-belief, his motivation, and his desire to make something more of his life. Also, the appreciation for what he has in his life and how different other parts of the world can be.

He hasn’t suddenly turned into an angel, and he can still be a challenging teenager, but it has turned many things around, and made him more appreciative and grateful to us. We would not hesitate in doing this again.

Thank you, African Impact!

Also see: Information for Parents