Staring out of my thatched hut I could not only hear the rippling current of the Zambezi, I could even see the large expanse of water drifting by before me. Mine was one of many wooden and reed huts strung out across the water’s edge on Bova Island - its proximity to nature bringing the barefoot paradise to life. With nothing between us and the neighbouring wildlife apart from a dangling mosquito net this was quintessential “wild camping”: monkeys, birds and the occasional hippo dropping by to share our island haven.
The lure of a five star resort can be less appealing in the midst of a recession, and with my finances somewhat stretched I’d decided to opt for a more basic camping itinerary in Africa. Seeing the wildlife is still the main draw for travellers, however, this was not simply an opportunity to get closer to natural world, as my journey would start with a voluntour experience – the new buzzword for responsible travellers.
Eco by name and by nature – the campsite has strong links to the community. Each of the thatched fisherman huts is built and maintained by the villagers so there’s an immediate sense that you are contributing to the welfare of the local population.
We spent the following two days assisting the community on a much more practical level by helping to construct a school. Currently, the closest option lies at least 4kms from the village – an arduous trek that the native children make on a daily basis. As we made the same journey we were buckling under the sweltering heat, the temperature pushing 40 degrees; however, the beaming smiles from the kids at the Nandavu Community School were worth all our efforts.
Over 60 children congregate for their morning lessons in the mud-thatch church building and it’s not hard to see why the assistance of volunteers is a top priority. Desks are nowhere to be seen, storage space for books and stationery is limited, and there are few resources available apart from chalk and a blackboard. Put simply, funding is at a premium.
In Zambia, community schools are financed and run by the local residents - all the costs from construction to educational materials, borne by the villagers themselves. Knowing that the Government only intervenes when a community school is established gave a heightened sense of importance to our presence there.
The Nandavu Community School project began in 2008, headmen and local people from a group of neighbouring villages in Zambia's Southern Province, working together with a local NGO to recruit volunteers from overseas.
A case of all hands on deck, being involved in the project is really about making yourself useful. Working side by side with members of the local community, you might find yourself out collecting materials, making bricks or even painting and plastering. Unlike other more self-indulgent holidays, there’s a real sense of achievement when the work is complete – a moroko sunset cruise and optional adrenaline activities in Livingstone available at the end of the volunteer experience.
6-day Community Schools Voluntour £655pp + local payment from £40pp (two sharing) including all highlights, transport, services of a driver/guide and qualified project staff, accommodation, airport transfers, some meals. Excludes visas, travel insurance, flights, departure taxes, tips, drinks, optional activities and items of a personal nature. Maximum Group size 8. Accommodation: thatched twin share hut with shared facilities (three-nights), twin share en-suite rooms in chalets. Departures: March to October, Sundays. Contact Acacia Adventure Holidays; 020 7706 4700; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.acacia-africa.com. ATOL No. 6499 and ABTA No. W4093 PROTECTED.
Next week hit the sands in Namibia with Zhan Su. He’ll be giving you the low down on overlanding Tuesday 04 August