Published: 04 November 2017
Zambia 2015- Sarah Mc Cormack
I first heard about Friends of Africa when I attended Dromantine when I was younger, hearing the stories and experiences of other people made me eager to get involved as soon as I was old enough! I was keen to get my form in as soon as I heard applications were open, and after going through the interview process I was absolutely over the moon to find out id be heading to Africa the following summer! We began our training days to help us find out a bit more about what lay in store. The training days were a great chance to meet some of the other volunteers and definitely put any worries or unanswered ques-tions to rest and they were also a great opportunity to discuss fundraising ideas. Little did I know when I was filling out that form just how amazing a journey I had instore for me! I can genuinely say that I had six of the best weeks of my life and it was an experience that goes far beyond anything you could ever imagine, the people we met and the places we visited were amazing, and made such an impact on the lives of those around them.
Narrowing the six weeks down to one single highlight is something that seems almost im-possible to me, but instead it was the joys in everyday that I will always remember, seeing frowning faces and tears turn to smiles, helping one of the kids crack a sentence they were struggling with or a sum that was proving difficult, just having the opportunity to help wherever we could and spending time together. When we were at the shelter we got the opportunity to accompany the social worker and some of the boys on home tracing. This involved travelling to where the boy was from and meeting their families, this is done to try and find out what the problem is at home and to see if anything can be done to return the child home to their family. I found this to be a truly amazing experience, giving us a real in-sight into the lives of the boys who we spent every day with for six weeks, and finding out what might have brought them to a life on the street, this was something that really high-lighted the true extent of the hardship that many of these kids have been through at such a young age and it was a humble reminder about why we were there and just how much the work of FOA impacts the lives of those it reaches out to in Zambia.
The part of the trip that I found most challenging was also one of my favourite things about the trip, and that was street outreach. We got the opportunity to go out in the streets of Kitwe at night, accompanied by the social workers from the shelter, to meet the street kids and see how they live. This was a massive eye opener and I found it hard to digest how children so young were alone, fending for themselves and their lives on the street. I found this experience to be very motivational, it encouraged us all to do everything we could for the boys in the shelter and to try to help in whatever way we could.
It’s been two years since my summer in Zambia and I find myself talking about it almost every day and forever find myself scrolling through my photos and thinking about all the fantastic times we had. It is so difficult to put such an experience into words as I feel words are just inadequate when it comes to such a fantastic experience!
I would recommend this experience to absolutely anybody, it takes a range of different personalities and characters to make a team and everyone has something different and special to bring to the table. I would advise anyone who thought they might want to go to put themselves out there and apply, it is something they will never ever regret, experienc-ing such a different culture and making friends for life. They will meet some of the most in-fluential people and have the most amazing time they could ever imagine!
South Africa 2015- Noreen Graham
My brother went a few years before me and after the stories he told I had to experience it for myself. I really enjoyed spending time with the different children we met over the 6 weeks. They didn’t want material things from us, they were so happy just having different people to play with. An eye opening moment for me was realising what the children in the orphanage we visited had experienced at such a young age. They had been abandoned by their parents after getting HIV/AIDS from their parents. Although the people we visited had very little, they made the most of everything they had and were always so happy and welcoming towards us I truly appreciated their attitude to life. I really miss the group I was with, they were all a great bunch and we all got on so well. I have recommended this experience to everyone. People think 6 weeks is a long time but when you are there it’s over before you know it and you will have made such a big difference in such a short space of time.
Tanzania 2015- Emma Collins
I attended Dromintine summer camp since around the age of 11 until I was 18, and during every camp we would have someone who had attended Africa that year to come and talk to us about their experience. I guess as a young girl at camp this is what you aim to grow up to do? It was always one of the highlights of my time at camp and I knew it was something I had aspired to do. When I turned 19 I seen the girls who I had attended camp with start going out to Africa so I knew it was just my time to apply! There are so many highlights but on our very last day of the project we had the nicest day. We gave the kids football jerseys and holy medals, attended our final mass, sang, played games and just said our goodbyes. It was this day we all realised what we had accomplished as a group and the differences we made to these people’s lives. I think when you leave Africa it can sometimes be difficult to settle back in at home. Someone may make a comment unknowingly racist or be complaining about something stupid and in your head you can’t help but think about the time you’ve spent in Africa. You don’t mean to make others feel guilty or anything, it just takes some time. Sometimes you have a guilt that you can just go home and settle back into your life which you realise to be luxurious. You could be complaining about something and then it kicks in how lucky you are. But friends of Africa is about small steps together and you must remember that you really have helped people, even if it is just one person. I can’t pinpoint one specific time when I felt rewarded. Every day is made up of times where you know you’ve made a difference with even the smallest gesture, even making someone laugh or helping them with one question in English class. Even now I have contact with the people still working on the projects and hear of all these new changes and improvement being made. Our project recently received funding for the vocational centre and I still feel proud to have been part of that. When you’re in Africa you forget the silly things that would have bothered you at home, something like a parking ticket. Nothing matters to these people but their family, friends, education and taking life each day as it comes. So to put it into words I miss the simplicity. Would you recommend this experience to others/if others wish to apply but haven’t yet what advice would you give them? I believe that everyone must experience something like this; it’s life changing. So what better time to do it than now?