Looking after lion cubs in Zimbabwe

Helen Wilderspin

50

Northampton

Self-employed

Worked with African Impact, Zimbabwe, from 6th October 2005 – 11th February 2006

Had one week off to travel to Cape Town in January 2006

Had originally planned the trip to be three months, but enjoyed it so much had to extend it to four

48 at the time of the trip

Four main reasons why volunteered:

A desire to volunteer first came after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, really wanted to just drop everything and go to help those people caught up in it

Made redundant after 28 years, and given six months garden leave

Split up with boyfriend

Youngest child was off to university in September 2004

Went online and researched, found WorldWide Volunteering and asked where to go, what to do, did lots of research

African Impact became my first choice out of a shortlist of 10/12. I emailed them all and they got back to me within 2 hours with lots of information and that just sold it to me.

My placement was looking after wild lion cubs, it was all about rehabilitation of lions into the wild. Spent two months working out in the bush near Victoria Falls and another two months at a game park in Zimbabwe. The lion cubs were aged 3-18 months and it was real hands on work.

Our role was to spend as much time with them as possible, hunting, walking, grooming. I worked with a team of African Impact employees and the rest of the team was almost entirely volunteers.

We were up and working by 8 AM and often didn’t finish until 7 PM, it was just a huge privilege to be working with such beautiful animals, seeing them grow and feeling like I was making a difference.

It made me feel that the everyday life we lead in this country is a bit mundane; in Zimbabwe you see life in a very different way. African Impact take you on visits to schools and villages so that you get to experience what life is like for an ordinary black Zimbabwean.

When you get back you feel that you know you can live life simply if you want to, I learned to think more positively and decided I can never have a full-time job again. You learn how to make the most out of everyday and that money isn’t everything.

My experience doesn’t come close to what other volunteers around the world are doing and helping those in suffering, terminal illness etc, but it gave me such a thrill.

I am still helping out African Impact, I help them with fundraising and I do interviews to promote them and the opportunities they give to people.

Advice

If people feel they want to do something then my advice is that they should do it, otherwise they will be forever sitting there and wishing they had done it. Research the trip first, it’s really important that you find out as much as you can before you go.

The big difference with using services such as WorldWide Volunteering is that they are non-profit, if you go through the big ‘volunteer travel’ agencies then you are actually lining pockets and very little money goes to the organisation you’re working for. I knew that all my money was going to African Impact.

Make sure you have sufficient insurance policies for your trip. Mine was difficult to arrange because obviously working with wild animals is not something that many insurance companies want to cover you for! But I found a specialist travel insurance company, if you look hard enough you will find it.

The trip cost me £1,200 for the first month and then £800 a month thereafter. I had to pay for my own flights, but I had the experience of a lifetime and I don’t regret a single penny I spent, even though it can seem like a hefty amount to a lot of people, it’s worth it.

Xmas and New Year

It was the first time I’d been away from my family at Christmas and New Year but it was wonderful. Being out there you don’t get all the hype and build-up that you do back home and we still celebrated Christmas and had a big dinner. However, there was one thing that felt like home, the weather! It was terrible. I expected to be having Christmas in the sunshine but the heavens opened and we were freezing.

Friends and family

Everyone thought it was amazing what I was doing and I set up a blog, at first just for friends and family, but while I was out there and blogging regularly I found that people I hadn’t spoken to for 20 years were reading it. Some people thought I was mental at first for what I was doing, but in the end they all supported me and I feel it’s shown me who my real friends are.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Africa, Volunteer interviews, Zimbabwe

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