It is hard to start a piece of writing about international development volunteering in Africa without using a cliché or two, but so far the experience has been filled with events that belong in an archetypal textbook on the subject. However, running water, cosy beds, not being trapped behind a toilet door for hours and surprisingly adequate food have left us feeling suitably comfortable, actually.
Things like warm water, and a steak and chips remain not much more than a distant memory, of course, but these are easy sacrifices in the light of seeing how losing our sweat has paid off. Though we are now well over half way through our placement, which is surprising enough, our agenda is crammed until what will probably be only minutes before the gate closes…
On the first of August, in the days – hours – leading up to it, we finally felt like everything we believed volunteering might be was becoming a reality. In July, Restoration of Hope asked us as a group to put on an event called the Day of the African Child, which is an inter-school annual football and netball tournament with over 450 locals – far more than expected – in attendance as the woos of the endless supporters echoed around the field surrounding the 250-odd enthusiastic participants.
In the end, our worries were needless because we had nearly double the predicted turnout to the field with around 450 woos echoing around the playing field.
In the commodious grounds of a local primary school, Babembeni, the ultimate objective of the day on the first of August was not only to promote Restoration of Hope itself but to deliver a message about the importance of education in helping young Zimbabweans to achieve their potential despite their circumstances.
Every logistical element of the day came together even after it was supposed to start: the PA system for instance, complete with generator in the back of a pick-up, came rolling with some appropriate original music to lead the walk of drum majorettes and competitors through the Pumula ward just as we set off, like the prom scene in a predictable Hollywood High School chick-flick.
Following a few non-hindering issues regarding fixtures and referees, by the end of the tournament there were clear victors; Malindela Primary School were the football champions, beating the reigning champions Mgoqo Primary School who got away with winning the netball prize this time around. Trophies handed out and certificates collected it was clear that everything had come together to make it a well-rounded and substantially professional-looking event – particularly with a marquee for the VIPs complete with plush decorations.
As the amber-pink sunset cast its long shadows on the ochre dust, we were both relieved it was over and exuberant with pride; it was a day that ended with all the relative smooth running that we are now used to. Despite a couple of minor issues that held up proceedings only slightly, the catering left no one feeling starved, especially because the catering team – comprised of a few of us volunteers along with a number of other expert hands – had been stoking the fires since 7am on the day.
We volunteers careered around the field to ensure the day remained running like a well-oiled machine as our fervent Master of Ceremonies together with Clive Simango, Director of Restoration of Hope, drove comfortably from the front. Ultimately though, it was the passionate and competitive school kids who really made the day worth it. There is a serious commitment to sport in Zimbabwe, and Restoration of Hope aims to exploit this in its promotion of its objectives.