I wanted to volunteer for a long time now, but I didn’t know what options were out there. When I started researching and found GoEco, I couldn’t have been happier. I was so inspired and excited to start my journey to make this happen. I originally wanted to do a program working with kids, but then when I found all the different animal options I just fell in love with the lions. I chose volunteering in Zimbabwe at the Lion Conservation in Victoria Falls project specifically because it had opportunities to volunteer with the local kids as well, so it had the best of both worlds. After the endless fundraising to go towards my trip, I was finally on my way to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
I was VERY nervous because I have never even been out of the country, let alone a two day and four plane ride trip to Africa. Plus, I had a lot of negative feedback from people about my trip. Even though there were A LOT of positive people surrounding me with support, there were also people called me crazy for wanting to go to Africa. First off, all of the negative stereotypes I heard about Africa were not only false, but pretty much the exact opposite. It was BEAUTIFUL and the people were even more so. I miss it every day.
As soon as I arrived in the tiny Vic Falls airport, and was greeted by singing and dancing, I took a deep breath and truly realized what I had known in the back of my mind this whole time – this was going to be the experience that would change my life forever.
The project’s goal was to release their lions’ future cubs into the wild someday. The future cubs will have no interaction with humans at all. It is a long process, but very worth it in the end since the lion population has dropped 80-90% in the last 50 years.
I was the only American volunteering at the project (there was one other, from NY, working in the marketing program; she came to volunteer with us sometimes. We both shared habits such as hardly using our knives at dinner, which is apparently super rude in the other girls’ countries…haha). There were about 10 of us at the project; all the others were from Sweden, Belgium, Holland, and Denmark.Friendships were made instantly, and I hope to stay in contact with them. I loved getting to spend time with people who were just as passionate about the program as I was.This includes, of course, the employees at the project.Everyone treated me like family, and always greeted me with a smile. I miss all of them very much.
A typical day went like this:
7am-9am lion walk (with either Savannah and Shingy, who were 10 months old; or with Wadewa and Washie who were 16 months old). Lion walks were either with clients or just volunteers.
10-12 Another walk, or usually another activity such as training, language lessons, learning about the local trees, meat prep (I actually didn’t want to do this, it freaked me out, and they didn’t mind at all haha), cleaning out the enclosures, carving our own stick (you always had to have a stick walking with the lions, for distraction and dominance purposes), learning about tracks and signs, making toys for the lions (enrichment)… etc.
12-3 lunch break! After eating we would go back to the lodge to relax (there was literally ALWAYS amazing food.) I was nervous about this, but there were super sweet chefs that also treated us like family.
We were picked up around 3:20.
4-6pm another lion walk or activity.
One day we also had a village tour where we learned about local traditions and how they live. Everyone was always so welcoming and happy.
Saturdays we had an early day and went to the orphanage for a few hours after our day at our own project. We would play with the kids, or do whatever was needed of us. The kids were oh-so-smart, super fun, and just loved the volunteers. As soon as you arrived, you had 3 kids on your arms and when you sat down there was always one on your lap. I miss them a lot. The kids owned little, but were always so happy every time we saw them.
Another day, we tagged along with the research program and completed a game count in Zambezi National Park. We saw SO MANY animals.I also took off one morning to go to the Falls. This waterfall was magnificent!! It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it is easy to see why. So beautiful. It took us a little over two hours to walk down the path to see all the different viewpoints.Sundays we had off, I used that day to complete my extra activities. Some extra activities I did were: a day trip to Botswana (probably my favorite experience if I had to choose, and the best experience of my life)…a horseback ride safari and zip line off of the Victoria Falls gorge!Oh, and I went cage diving with crocs too!
They tell you not to go into this trip with certain expectations and to have an open mind. It was great advice because it is very much a culture shock, but at the same time everything about this trip was beyond amazing and better than I ever could have imagined. I’ll never forget the people, the lions, and the beautiful African landscape.
I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. If you are even THINKING about doing one of these projects, you just simply need to do it. “Without risk there is no reward.”