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Adventures in Africa 2016

Lewis Wright shares his experiences of volunteering as a Sports Coach, PE Teacher, Event Manager and everything in-between for six weeks in Southern Africa

Where were you based in Zambia?

I was based at four schools and worked with eight football teams who learned/practiced in Kalingalinga, Lusaka. Luckily for me that was also where our house was located, so it was only a 5-10 minute walk to ‘work’ each day. Such placement also made me feel a real part of the community, by spending so much time there and with the people who have long called it home.

What did your average day look like and which sports/workshops were you teaching?

Well an average day simply did not exist. One day (or at one moment!) I could be both taking part in, and leading, tactical or fitness sessions with a 40-strong squad of 18-24 year-old footballers who were pushing to make it into the national team at youth or first-team level, whereas the next my focus could be on teaching PE to a class of seven year-olds. If ever there was a typical day, it probably consisted of getting to the pitch at about 07:40 to prepare for a 08:00 training session with the aforementioned footballers until 10:00, before spending the rest of the morning with the u12 boys’ team. For lunch, I would either head back to the house and catch up on some football/Paralympic Games highlights from the weekend/day before, or visit someone’s house with my Peer Leader, Gracious (more on him later).

The afternoon sessions would usually start at 14:00, and I would be coaching the u10s for an hour, before working with the Kalingalinga on the Ball girls and/or women’s squad. Following those sessions it would be back to training with the older guys, where I would finish the day by working with a local men’s side until around 18:00.

Away from football I was often teaching PE to classes aged anywhere between five and twenty, which varied massively in size, from just a few kids, to around one hundred. Oh, and I also did some DJing and music mixing with Gracious and his mate when we found time!

What was the best and the worst thing?

The best thing? The friendship I developed with Gracious. Never have I met a more humble, caring and genuinely wonderful man in my life. On placement our relationship was built on working as co-managers and PE teachers of the football teams and schools we worked with, while away from the pitch we would often kick a ball around together, look after his incredible then five-year-old son, Gracious Jr, and just be general good mates who always had each other’s backs.

Along with Gracious, the friendships I made with the children and young people, as well as with my fellow placement students and the staff members were massive highlights. Seeing the kids don a beaming smile as a result of the football equipment and coaching you are providing, as well as going through this life-changing experience with others in the same position as you are just two aspects of my time in Zambia that I could never be grateful enough for. Regarding the latter, I became really good friends with all of the drama students who joined us in Lusaka for two weeks, and still regularly meet up with one of them, who is now one of my closest friends.

Worst thing? That was being ushered into President Edgar Lungu’s inauguration at the National Heroes Stadium ahead of what must have been a good 200,000 adoring Zambians, of whom had travelled far and wide to be there, and would have their lives genuinely influenced by this election result. We had no right and/or will to find a way in like that, and were not given the opportunity to make that clear to the security personnel who pushed us through the crowds.

Would you recommend the programme, and, if so, why?

No question. Of course I would.

If you are the kind of person who is open to new challenges, wants to better themselves, become more culturally aware, and enhance the lives of several hundreds of young people, then this is the programme for you. The Volunteer Zambia project is challenging, never let anyone tell you anything different. However, I feel nothing but humble joy looking back on the time I had there, the memories I now have and will never lose, and the friendships I developed that will, I am sure, last a lifetime.

Any funny stories/experiences that will stay with you for life?

Something I am sure will resonate with anyone who has experienced the Volunteer Zambia project, it is going to have to be the bus trips! As I mentioned, I fortunately did not have nearly as many of these as most students and staff members who head out to Lusaka, but my goodness they were something you could never forget. Up to 20 people on what can only be described as a (usually) orange and (always) rusty Volkswagen camper van which should seat no more than about 12, and which health and safety would not look twice at here in the UK.

Oh, and there was also the time when I decided to go for a quick walk around the hotel grounds that we were visiting when in Livingstone, and came face to face with about ten giraffe and zebra; the latter of which were preparing to fight…someone could have told me it was mating season!

I will be forever grateful to the people I met in Zambia, who made me a more religiously and cultural aware individual, as well as to those who made this opportunity possible for me.

Lewis Wright,
Zambia Alumnus, 2016 Cohort