My African Adventure
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Africa many times to visit family and my father who has lived there since I was a teenager. I was always excited for our adventures exploring parts of the stunning South African coastline or heading off to Kruger National Park to spot wild animals. But deep down there was something inside of me that didn’t feel quite right. South Africa faces a complicated social, economical and political history and I struggled with this feeling of being the more fortunate in a country experiencing great poverty. In 2015 31.6 million South Africans (two thirds of the population) reported to be living below the poverty line.
Where does one even start when it comes to providing aid to a foreign country? Well it’s simple really. Rather than sitting on the sidelines discussing how difficult the problem is you get off your butt and just start somewhere. Anywhere!
So when I heard my best mate was heading to Zimbabwe with her step mum to volunteer at Imire Rhino and Wildlife Park I could not contain my wave of excitement. It wasn’t South Africa but my heart was calling me to dive right in.
Imire Wildlife Park, Zimbabwe
A little bit about Imire.
Imire means ‘local meeting place’ in the local Shona language. Imire made a name for itself in the 1970’s by bringing significant numbers of game animals back to what was formerly under-used farmland. By the mid-1980s, during a period of Zimbabwe’s worst rhino poaching, seven orphaned baby black rhino were translocated to Imire for their safe upbringing and the Imire Black Rhino Breeding Programme began. During the last 30 years there have been 14 black rhino born on Imire, with 11 returned to National Parks across Zimbabwe.
Kate my bestie, her step Mama Wendy and myself signed up to volunteer for 2 weeks in June 2018. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not a big researcher or like to just go with the flow. We were given a list to things to bring including working gloves, warm clothes, sunscreen, old shoes and clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty. We were also to share a house with 10 other volunteers.
Each day included 3 activities – morning, noon, and afternoon. Our morning shift consisted of cleaning out the rhino + elephant enclosures and feeding these wonderful creatures before they set off to roam freely throughout their day. Our midday activities would often include work with the local communities – helping to teach reading to primary school kids or assisting with communal gardening projects. I really loved interacting with the local Shona people who are just so warm and inviting. This is overwhelming given the struggles the local population has endured under the Mugabe government including a collapse in commercial farming, hyperinflation and extreme food shortages. One day I asked a Shona women who taught at the local high school how she managed to remain so happy and positive in the face of such adversity. She looked at me and with a smile and quietly responded ‘Pip, if I focused on only my struggles I am afraid I would not be able to stop crying, therefore I focus only on what God has given me and I am grateful for that’.
Reading with local school children.
Collecting hay for elephant bedding.
The women really are the backbone to this African culture. They work physically hard, look after their households and families which extends to the entire community and they give their time to many community activities. One activity that blew me away was the Local Women’s Support Group. They meet weekly to sew reusable sanitary underwear for teenage girls. Majority of girls will take a week off every month when experiencing their menstrual cycle to avoid any embarrassment or accidents that may occur. Some drop out of school entirely. This work by the Local Women’s Support Group is invaluable.
Local Womens Support Group Member
Our afternoon activities ranged from chopping wood, walking the rhino and elephants back to their enclosures and feeding the parks only lion. Unfortunately I was little help when it came to butchering the antelope that would make up the Lion’s dinner – I’m newly vegetarian and the smell alone had me spinning!
The people behind the Imire Vision and who are dedicating their lives to fighting what is considered a poaching epidemic are truly inspiring. Every 8 hours there is a poaching attempt across Africa – the demand for horns are high particularly in Asia where it is seen as a wealth and status symbol. Imire’s long term vision is to see their rhinos released and integrated back into the wild. I was reminded to keep my own heart set on my dreams and desires because no dream is too big.
As mentioned earlier I used to feel overwhelmed on my trips to South Africa and as though my small individual contribution could make little difference and impact. However the biggest lesson I took from these two short weeks was not to doubt a positive exchange with a stranger who already considers you a friend, an embrace with a small child who you’ve made smile or the caress you’ve given to one of earths most majestic creatures. And the best thing is we can extend this lesson to our own local community!
If you’d like to donate to this incredible cause, if you have any questions about this volunteering experience or visiting Africa please send me a message.