Who said volunteering was easy? Conservation Lower Zambezi experience

Sara Drawwater
11 October 2013
Shaina Irwin spent a month in September 2013 volunteering at Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ). This is a local Zambian charity committed to the conservation and sustainable use of the local wildlife…

Shaina Irwin spent a month in September 2013 volunteering at Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ). This is a local Zambian charity committed to the conservation and sustainable use of the local wildlife and natural resources of the Lower Zambezi through wildlife protection, and environmental education. Shaina shares her experience with us!

ExpectationsBefore I arrived at Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), I was not quite sure what to expect. As a Zambian citizen, my choice to volunteer at CLZ was based mainly on convenience. I wanted to gain experience working with an NGO involved with both community projects and educational programmes. I felt that this would be invaluable experience when deciding what path to go down after completing my Master’s in Learning for Sustainability, which I will be starting in the next few weeks!

Meeting the CLZ teamFrom the moment I arrived at CLZ Base Camp I was welcomed into the team. As a short-term volunteer — let’s be honest a month is not very long at all — I did not expect to be treated as part of the team, or at least not to the extent that I was.

One of the biggest things that struck me was to see how the team worked alongside each other, supporting each other on a daily basis. From Dominic who works in the garden to Collins in the kitchen to Ian the Chief Executive Officer and everybody else in between, they all support each other and work with the desire to maintain and sustain the work that CLZ is doing.

There appears to be a great understanding of how a team needs every part and every member to be doing their job in order to achieve their goal. However, this does not limit the CLZ members to only work in their department. When needed they assist other departments or overlap in their job responsibilities. This again enhances the team mentality found in this small and very personal organisation operating on the banks of the Lower Zambezi.

My work as a volunteer at CLZWhen I am asked what I did at CLZ as a volunteer, I never seem to have quite enough time to sufficiently answer the question! Being a volunteer at CLZ appears to require a vast array of skills. If you do not have these skills, you soon learn how to acquire them.My roles and responsibilities have included everything from assisting the Teacher Training Workshop held at CLZ Base Camp Environmental Education Centre, taking photos of various CLZ work, including creating adverts from CLZ merchandise and Wakasimba jewelry, to conducting interviews and making them into short video clips for the CLZ Facebook page!

The one skill I definitely did not anticipate needing when signing up to volunteer at CLZ was to be able to carry out a basic eye-test, and in effect being an optician for a day — which turned into several days. This skill was required due to a donation received by CLZ of 200 reading glasses, toothbrushes and medical supplies. Myself, Besa (the environmental educator) and Rabson visited nearby clinics and local staff in the area, conduct simple eye-tests and then distribute the supplies.

This whole experience has taught me that the job of working in an NGO or conservation charity organisation means that you should not be restricted to one set of skills or roles but you must be able to be flexible, adaptable and willing to learn new skills in order to make yourself effective.

Take home lessonsOne of the challenges I have noticed, both in my sustainable education studies and in CLZ’s work in the community, is the lack of understanding around sustainability and conservation work.

Most people view both sustainability and conservation through a very narrow funnel where they see people in these sectors as working primarily for the environment and the animals. There is a commonly held idea that people are either working for the environment and animals or they are working for people, but they cannot simultaneously be working for the benefit of both. This kind of misunderstanding is mainly evident in the Human Wildlife Conflict program of CLZ, where villagers experience a big problem with elephants raiding their crops or with coming across elephants or buffalos when walking. As CLZ and ZAWA do not condone killing elephants in these incidences, villagers view this as CLZ and ZAWA prioritising wildlife over their livelihoods.

This of course is not the case. When working for a sustainable future there is no such thing as only working for wildlife or only working for the environment or only working for people. All these three aspects are interconnected and interdependent on one another. By protecting one, you are ultimately protecting all of them. When destroying one, you are ultimately causing destruction to all.

Final thoughtsOn the walls of CLZ’s environmental education center there is a quote which reads ‘We do not inherit this world from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children’. It might sound cheesy and overused but it is true. We need to look after all three aspects of our ecosystem if we want to see a sustainable and humane future where our children can live in peace.

CLZ fully supports this broad view of sustainability which is reflected in their community projects, their environmental education program and even in their new logo. This illustrates the intricate relationship between man, the environment and the animals.

This month has opened my eyes more to the possibilities of creating sustainable individuals and thus promoting a sustainable future. I believe that CLZ is a part of molding this future through its exceptional work in the Lower Zambezi.

I would like to end by thanking CLZ for a wonderful experience! I did not do any of the tourist activities while in the Lower Zambezi. But I feel I have come away from my own Lower Zambezi experience with a much greater understanding of what makes it tick and I thank CLZ for this.

Find out more about Conservation Lower Zambezi here, like the CLZ Facebook page or follow CLZ on Twitter. Much needed donations accepted here.