Franziska’s impressions of volunteering in Zambia

The May 2019 Team finalized their project work in Zambia. They returned at DRH Lindersvold safely ready to enter the final part of the 10 months programme – the reflection. The intense project unavoidably leaves volunteers with lots of impressions, learned lessons, and thoughts. Taking the time to understand and reflect on them is essential in order to get the best of the experience.

We had the chance to talk with Franziska to get an idea about her perspective and she had some interesting insights to share.

What type of skills did you gain from the programme?

There were a lot of lessons in both practical and theoretical aspects. For a start, there was the part about cooking – I didn’t know much about it when I entered the project but it was one of the areas that I greatly improved. It started during the training period because we had to cook for a lot of people and then when I went to Zambia I also had to do it every day.

At the start, it was mostly Carolina or Pilar (my team) doing it and I was only trying bit by bit but gradually I came to understand it is not that hard and I started enjoying it. Before the project, I was living at home and my mom was always cooking for me so this was something completely new for me. I consider myself a good cook now, I can definitely survive on my own and prepare good meals.

Another interesting skill we learned was sewing. We did it a lot in our spare time – we had access to chitenge material so we brought it to the tailors and they showed us how to use the sewing machines and how to do it by hand as well. We learned how to make bags and t-shirts which I think is a good competence to have.

A great part about this experience is that when you have a teammate with different skills or someone who knows a different language you can also learn from them. I started playing the ukulele thanks to Pilar and she also taught me some Spanish which I think is a great addition to everything else I got out of the programme.

From another viewpoint – I managed to learn quite a lot about working with people. The cultural difference had a big impact on the project, after living in Italy and Germany for so long I was used to a very structured and organized lifestyle but in Zambia the norms are different. I gained a lot of patience due to the specifics there and I also understood how important communication is for the success of any activity.

I also learned a little bit of Kaonde – one of the languages spoken in Zambia. We needed it because when we were working with small children at the project we had to find a way to communicate when problems appeared. They couldn’t speak English and often there were situations where translators weren’t around so our only option was to learn at least enough Kaonde to solve problems – “Don’t fight, don’t push” for example. We also used it to ask them what they want to do as activities during classes.  

Organization and management were also skills we used and improved a lot. We had to organize lessons, create schedules, invent games, and find relevant activities – this takes a lot of consideration as well as time, resources, and energy management.

What project did you work in exactly, what were your responsibilities, and what did you achieve?

I was part of a project called Child Aid located in Mumena, Zambia. This is a project with the goal to improve the lives of children by working with the communities. In Child Aid, we worked together with a lot of different parts of the Mumena community – farmers, parents, younger children, teenagers to ensure the wellbeing and prosperity of children.

When we started the projected we spent some time settling in and observing first. This way we could see how things work and understand how we can be helpful. We eventually found a niche in helping with organizing the school. The problem we identified was that children spent around 1 hour per day at the school and they were coming from very far for that but didn’t always get the maximum.

The kids enjoyed this the time at school but there were different problems circulating around – for example sometimes teachers didn’t show up or classes didn’t start. This was taking away a lot of the potential of the provided education.

We worked together with teachers to organize lessons better and motivate everyone around the school to be more present and give the children what they came for. I think by the end of the project we managed to achieve progress – teachers confirmed they have more ideas for how to conduct classes and the kids were happy with the structure.

My responsibilities were mostly to organize the lessons and create interesting activities for the classes together with my teammates. We worked with the teachers so we can create something of value that will be successfully used in the long term.

We also worked with Children’s Town which is a sanctuary for street children with a similar goal – education and guidance. There, our tasks were similar – organizing activities and contributing with relevant materials. Part of what we did was make songs to raise awareness about important subjects in an interesting way that will make students engage and understand them better.

Did the programme influence your plans for the future?

It did. Before starting the programme I had an interest in working it the social sector especially with people in vulnerable conditions. This project made me clearly understand how much of challenge this type of work is – I enjoyed it and I managed to do a lot but I discovered that work with children is not an easy task and it is an area with lots of responsibilities.

What I figured out is that I enjoyed working with teenagers more because they often become left out. I think they are in a very delicate position because children get a lot of support and adults have learned to manage themselves but the teenage years are the most confusing ones. This is the age where you need to find out what to do with your life and which path to take. It is easy to get lost on the way.

I would like to work in this filed and continue studying social work so I can make it happen. The project helped me understand my desire in more detail and turn in the right direction.

Before the project, I was working with an organization providing support to people in vulnerable conditions back in Italy. The leader I was assigned at the organization got in touch with me recently about a new project they are starting – about education for children in regards to migration and cultural differences. She said she has read my blog talking about my experience with the programme and asked me if I would be interested in being part of this project since I have a very good foundation of knowledge and experience to contribute to it. That is something I will definitely consider – I love giving those types of lessons and seeing children learn and enjoy the process at the same time. The right approach is the key to success, I am convinced now.

What would be the most important moments, achievements, events, or people you met during the programme?

When it comes to people I think every person was very important. From four year-old-children to sixty-years-old teachers – I learned a lot from each and every encounter. Everyone has their own story from which you can learn a lot if you are willing. Children and adults alike have their own perspectives and problems that can teach you different lessons.

This also goes for the people I met during my training period and the different events – everyone has taught me something and I appreciate having the chance to meet those people.

I can confidently say that what we did at the Child Aid and Children’s Town projects was something I consider an achievement. I got the impression children were happy with the activities we made and the way we presented the lessons – they remembered the songs we sang and understood the main points we were trying to make. Seeing them enjoy the process while getting something out of it is amazing.

I learned to appreciate every moment – the days when we didn’t have that much to do and the days when we were preoccupied with tasks. Sometimes the day would start and we would begin our work expecting it to go a certain way but all of a sudden everything changes and it goes in a completely different direction. This is something that taught me a lot of about expectations, adaptability and work processes in general.

Anything you would add?

I’m very happy I did the programme – it was a great experience with lots of valuable lessons. It was a hard one as well – it is not like it went smoothly and everything was great. We had some problems during the preparation period and the project work as well. But challenges are a constant part of the process and they are unavoidable but I think we did well solving them.

FRANZISKA’S blog

In this blog you can read her experiences in Zambia.

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Lindersvold is an international learning center that facilitates courses in community development and certification in non-traditional pedagogy. Our Center provides an opportunity to learn about the big issues of our time while preparing to assist community-driven projects in Zambia, Malawi or Mozambique. We believe in combining hands-on training with theoretical knowledge, alongside community living, gives students the best foundation for working with sustainable development and vulnerable youth.

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