Saturday 17 January, 2.00pm: After months of anticipation, excitement and intrigue, I arrived in Zimbabwe with nine other ICS volunteers from the UK. We were greeted at Harare airport by our team leaders and spent a quiet night together in the city to rest from the long journey. The following morning we hit the road early to travel to the city of Mutare for the start of our orientation week. The journey took us through some beautiful rural scenery as we heard more about the country and the culture. Arriving in Mutare was particularly impressive and memorable, a tiny city surrounded by stunning green mountains. I suddenly felt so lucky to be here. This place would be my new home for the next ten weeks.
The team of UK volunteers arrived at St. Joseph’s Training Centre with the sun blasting out some serious heat, quite a contrast to the weather and surroundings we were all used to back home. By late afternoon the national volunteers had all arrived, finally our teams were complete. That night involved many new introductions and various ice-breaking games. We learnt some African songs and introduced the national volunteers to musical chairs!
We spent the following four days doing various learning workshops to help prepare us for our ICS work. This included information on HIV and AIDs, monitoring and evaluation and a group Shona language lesson. The cultural exchange aspect of the programme was also aided with discussions about different traditions, religion and what to expect from daily life living in host homes.
Team meetings provided us with much needed information on the projects we would be involved in and we began to think about our individual roles, responsibilities and the skills we could utilise as a team. The team I would be working with is Simukai, a child protection organisation.
During the training we were also introduced to the traditional Zimbabwe food of Sadza (similar to mash potato). Normally served with meat and green vegetables, we would have it often for lunch and dinner, it certainly would fill you up!
Nerves and excitement surrounded everyone as the day came for us to move into our host homes. We were paired up together with a national volunteer from our teams, had lunch with a member of the host family and suddenly we were off. With all the volunteers staying together as one big group for a week, it was sad saying goodbye to everyone, however equalling exciting to be settling into a new home and getting ready for work.
My host family are lovely, welcoming people. They are a married couple with an adorable two year old daughter. It didn’t take long to feel completely relaxed and part of their family. To get to and from work at the Simukai centre we have to catch a “Combi bus.” These are small people carriers that constantly transport people all over Mutare and the surrounding areas; it is the easiest and quickest way to get around. Using one for the first time is quite an experience!
Our first week working at Simukai has been all about getting to know the organisation and planning for our work ahead. We split ourselves off into pairs to liaise and communicate with Simukai’s different departments and have identified the areas that we as ICS volunteers can assist in. Collating this all together within a team plan has also been vital in identifying what activities we want to do and how they can be measured with ICS’s short term goals. Creative ideas have also been proposed for new activities, workshops and income generating activities.
As my second week in Zimbabwe comes to an end, I am feeling fully prepared for the journey ahead. There is already a strong connection between myself, my host family and team members. It’s almost as if I have known these people all my life. It feels right to be here and all the volunteers are hopeful that we are building a foundation that will truly bring about positive change for the lives of many children in Zimbabwe.
Written by ICS volunteer Tom Greenidge