A month volunteering in Zambia: five moments I’ll never forget
Claire Cunningham, Investment Administrator for Octopus Ventures, recently spent a month working with the Barefeet Theatre charity in Zambia. Now she’s back and ready to share with us her most memorable moments.
Memory #1: Landing with a bump
My very first experience in Zambia was eventful, to say the least. I was excited, nervous and exhausted at the same time. Then, passport control informed me that they’d only allow me in the country for 30 days – when I needed to be there for 32! And then I accidentally managed to pick up someone else’s suitcase from baggage reclaim. I was already concerned about the trip, and feeling really unprepared. These hiccups definitely didn’t help.
Memory #2: A dose of reality
I was lucky enough to spend some time with one of Barefeet’s outreach programmes. It involved visiting and checking in with groups of children living on the streets. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
I went with the team to visit a couple of kids sitting on the railway track. And from the smell to the sights, I couldn’t believe kids were actually living like this. Beaten and exhausted – I quickly learnt that they had been subject to a police raid. All their possessions had been set on fire and they had been locked up with adult prisoners.
Seeing these young children, whose only possessions were the clothes on their backs, really put it into perspective for me. I’ll never forget every one of their weary, little faces. It reminded me how important Barefeet’s work is and how even the smallest contribution can help these kids get off the streets. If even just for one night.
Memory #3: The anti-dancing queen
My time in Zambia wasn’t just filled with heartbreaking moments – I also managed to make a fool of myself dancing in front of the Barefeet team. While watching them perform at the Italian school of Lusaka, after-work drinks ensued and the team were soon chanting my name to get on stage.
I’m blessed with two left feet, so I knew I’d never be able to dance like the group. Or so I thought. A huge crowd of enthusiastic Zambians begging you to dance is hard to say “no” to. So, there I was, attempting to groove to some Zambian song I had never heard before.
Safe to say, once the song was over, I quickly exited stage left and attempted to come to terms with how mortifying that was. In true Claire fashion, I then got myself locked in a toilet.
Memory #4: A moment of reflection
My role in Zambia was to help the Barefeet team finish a comprehensive production plan for their Annual Youth Arts Festival. So, I kicked things off with a quick brainstorm for this year’s event. <
I asked the group to think of words that reminded them of Barefeet, and the children they work with. I was expecting words that described the struggle and hardship the kids face. But instead, I was inundated with sentiments of love, strength and positivity.
The children are heroes to the Barefeet team. Their resilience and bravery inspires them. I finally understood how important this festival is to everyone. And I felt more connected with the team than ever.
Memory #5: Making a difference
For 30 days, I worked to deliver a comprehensive production plan for the Festival, including creative development and coordinating the acts, equipment, volunteer resources and budget. The charity had no records of any sponsors or past attendees. It took a lot of time tracking these things down. I also made a detailed marketing programme, and a project planning template for the team to use when planning future festivals.
The team focused mostly on the present day, rather than the bigger picture. So even getting to grips with how many past events they had hosted was a struggle. I tried to work out who we could approach for funding and who the target audience was, but it wasn’t easy.
Most new employees barely adjust to a company after a month, let alone try to recalibrate an entire production! But I managed to get it done. It was tough, and something I’ll always be proud of.
TIE really shows you how exciting life can be outside your comfort zone – so I’m glad I did it. And hopefully my hard work will help curate an amazing Barefeet Arts Festival for years to come.