It Takes a Village. . .

Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in Featured, Zambia | 10 comments

Our second volunteer project in Africa would be unlike any of our previous experiences. Although teaching English and working with children throughout Asia and Africa has been an extremely rewarding experience, we were ready for a change of pace with our volunteering. After some google searching and a few online inquiries, we ended up in touch with the United Church of Zambia in a village known as Mwandi. Here, in a place of 8,000 people, we would build huts to help accommodate the shockingly large number of children who have been orphaned due to the ongoing, and seemingly uncontrollable, AIDS epidemic.

Our flight from Ghana brought us to Livingstone, home to the Zambian side of the famous Victoria Falls. We would have a couple days to enjoy this quiet town before heading to Mwandi. I’ll forever have a twisted memory of Livingstone as it will be remembered as the place where I woke up at 4:00am to the devastating cover story on of how the Bruins gave up two goals in 17 seconds to lose Game 6 and the Stanley Cup. On the bright side however, I’ll also have the memory of trekking around Victoria Falls later that day. Compared to Niagara Falls (which I visited with my family roughly fifteen years ago), Victoria Falls is more naturally stunning and impressive.

After relaxing in Livingstone, we were picked up by Paula (the mission coordinator and former Californian) for the two-hour, pothole-filled drive to Mwandi. Our home for the next two weeks would be at Leopard Orchid Camp, a plot of land that was granted to Paula by the local chief for her amazing philanthropic work in the community. It now includes running water, two western toilets, a kitchen and dining area, and big tents to house volunteers. Crazy enough, joining us as volunteers at the time were two women our age from Chicago, Katie and Kerry (Kerry actually lives on our street a couple blocks down). We couldn’t get over how we could meet two new friends from our same city in a small town in Zambia!

While Paula was the coordinator of the mission and communicated with the volunteers, Matt (a British expat who has been working in Mwandi for six years) would be our go-to guy for direction while working. Without Matt, the program and the hut building wouldn’t be what it is today. He and a few other local workers helped us learn the ropes of building a hut from start to finish – from cutting down trees with axes and machetes and digging holes for the framework to “mudding” and smoothing the walls for a finished product. Some of these skills I hadn’t used in years and some were entirely and strangely new (and probably will never be used again).

Our days were spent doing a mix of different tasks. Due to an incoming rush of large student volunteer groups, Matt needed help constructing the frames of numerous huts. He found it most efficient to handle the framework himself and allow the kids to do the mudding. Although we did contribute to one hut all the way through, we ended up working on seven different huts at various stages in preparation for the large groups.

The most unique thing about this volunteer experience was the local involvement. At times, loads of neighborhood kids or family members that we were building for, would help us during the process. It was a special feeling to work alongside those we were ultimately giving our time for. To see firsthand how thankful and appreciative they were made it that much more rewarding.

This interaction with the locals and the ability to become a part of the community really shaped our experience in Mwandi. The village comprised of one paved road which lead into the town and served as the center of a labyrinth of sand roads that wound into different neighborhoods. Being two of a few “makoowahs” (white people) in town, we quickly became the most recognizable people in Mwandi. Ian, the general store owner, became our friend and we frequented his shop daily, buying anything we needed (mostly 40s of Black Label or Castle beer for campfire beverages). Other locals we met at the “bar” (a room next to Ian’s with loud music and a pool table) would shout our names from across the street when we would pass them in the daylight. And we were even welcomed by name into the town’s Catholic church. We enjoyed the authentic and energetic song and dance that accompanied their mass. Without this project, we would never have been able to befriend, drink, and worship with the locals in such a small African community.

Our time in Mwandi was all about becoming part of this community and building and seeing a finished product. At the previous volunteer sites we can only hope that our time spent there made an impact on the kids, the school, or the organization that we worked with. But in Mwandi, we were able to see the results of our time and effort – a house that would shelter anywhere from 3-10 people. We don’t have to wonder what our impact will be – we know exactly what we did and specifically who it helped.


  1. Hi Christina, I saw shots of Janie and Ians wedding on coanegls.let and had to check out your stuff. You are an amazing photographer I am always worried people will not get the creative finishes to pictures but yours are awesome! Just thought I would leave a comment.. inspiring work! makes me wish I lived in Texas just to have some of these placed to shoot at! haha

  2. Another great post. Remember what I always said, “your reward will be in heaven.” So happy you experienced an African mass

  3. So awesome pally. 40s of Black Label?? Well done…can’t wait to have you guys back on American soil for a bit!

  4. So awesome! I’m learning about these areas now but you guys are LIVING them! Can’t wait to see you soon and learn more about your experiences!

    • Чет торможу, как подписаться на ленту? я в этом деле нуп, хочу в опере читать rss. Или посоветуете какие-нибудь более удобные Ñ‘‚илиты-у‡ÃÂ¸Ã‘‚алÐúи?

  5. You guys are doing such amazing things, keep it up bro 🙂

    • Now that’s sulbet! Great to hear from you.

  6. Great post Mike, sounds like this was an amazing experience and a great week of your trip! See you in two weeks.

    • Unico risultato se si mettono le viea.lettroGooglewhgck!Ah, e così l'Unicorno Petomane censura i Testimoni di Geova? Oh no. Non sto impedendo l'accesso ad una concezione religiosa: ne sto solo limitando la fruizione attraverso le mie periferiche.

  7. Incredible!! It’s so amazing what you guys are doing! These experiences are going to change the rest of your life. Love you both.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *