Gap Year Volunteering Abroad

Done with University, I had to ask myself WHAT NOW? 

Selfies, Facebook Likes, or a local girlfriend are quite tempting reasons to volunteer abroad. If any of these are your reasons for volunteering abroad, then I advise you to stay in your home country and have a cookie. A little harsh? Maybe! But I am quite the blunt guy.

Volunteering is working with people who have less than you do (in my case) without reward, the greatest reward being personal growth and knowing you have invested in the future. Volunteering may have deep and positive effects to both the community and the volunteer if the intentions of the project are good and noble.

Through travelling with my family around the world and recently on my own, I began thinking deeply about the way I traveled and wanted to add a bit more so that I could be a responsible traveler, making my small contribution to the communities, environment and wildlife.

I realised that volunteering abroad instead of the cliché tourist visit, can promote cultural exchange through interacting with locals, eating traditional food and drink, witnessing customs and creating lifelong friendships! I wanted to experience something new through my travels after graduating from the University of York, and I wanted to broaden my horizon, and gain a new perspective on life. In retrospect, volunteering in Zimbabwe was a turning point in my life and I’m sure it was as well for the people I met, including my host family.

After all, working with people and the environment generated good feelings and happiness for myself, as well as to the people I interacted with, I hope!!! You could argue there are many other ways to achieve the same goal, like donations. But I can guarantee you, nothing is better and more effective than actually making a direct and physical impact on people with your help.

“Volunteering in Zimbabwe was a turning point in my life”

After choosing to volunteer abroad, the next question was ‘But Where?’ – Zimbabwe.

The friendliness and the hospitality of Zimbabweans means I did not live to regret that decision. Doing the Tiritose online application and Wesley communicating with me throughout the process and chatting to me via Skype settled all my concerns and I felt prepared. Zimbabweans are always welcoming and smiling.

You will experience the hospitality at a homestay family dinner or when you attend the Boma dinner in Victoria Falls, a feast like a no other.  The host plays drums and collaborates with the diners, filling the atmosphere with dancing. In the city of Harare, you will feel like you exist in a wonderland, particularly in summer. Standing at the Avenues (area with apartments in the City Center) while two rows of blooming Jacaranda looking at you on the left and right. The purple guardians bring beauty and strength at the same time. Next to calmness, there is business.

Harare is a city centre that is full of people doing different sort of trading, including the kombi community, shouting, arguing and laughing. Driving for their own will, though accidents rarely happen. Order within chaos, it’s the best way to describe the Harare city centre. If you are hungry, you can always go to an “Inn”. Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn, Bakers Inn or Creamy Inn, anything you like.

On top of those, Zimbabwe is a country full of beautiful landscape and wildlife. Not to be missed is the Seventh Wonder of the world, the Victoria Falls and the adrenaline activities you can do around the falls. For mountain lovers and explorers, there is the Eastern Highlands with Mount Inyangani (the highest mountain in Zimbabwe) and the territory of Mozambique can be seen from here. The Chinhoyi Caves (Chirorodziva Shona for Sleeping Pool), rightly named the Pool of the Fallen, where diving is possible. If you are on the lookout of the big five or pristine wildlife, you have the Hwange National Park and the Mana Pools National Park which is a UNESCO Heritage site among other private game parks.

My Worksite – Mukuvisi Woodlands

I was interested in gaining more knowledge about conservation work in a third world country, but I also wanted to remain in a City setting. Tiritose organised my placement at Mukuvisi Woodlands, a nature reserve located just 7km from the City Centre. By volunteering at the nature reserve, I brought no cost to the organisation, which freed up their budget and could employ more Zimbabwean interns who received a stipend, whilst fulfilling their academic credit.

Together with the team, we educated children or youngsters who visited the woodland through lectures and information about the flora and fauna within the woodland and environmental knowledge in general such as pollution and climate change. In practice, my colleagues and I were involved in the organising of COP – 21 climate change quiz and treasure hunt – which was then showcased at the National Gallery.

We also helped improve the garden, planted some vegetables close to the office so there would be food for the people who work at the nature reserve. I, personally started to make household cleaning liquid and essential oils by using fruit peels such as orange peels. At the same time, recycle and reuse the bottles at our trash place by making the liquid in the bottles. To promote the idea of sustainability; which can be very simple and waste can be a part of the product life cycle.

“By volunteering at the nature reserve, I brought no cost to the organisation, which freed up their budget and could employ more Zimbabwean interns who received a stipend, whilst fulfilling their academic credit”

I loved the “open” woodland the most, it was always a pleasure to stroll around, walk close to the animals and observe the nature where you can learn something you didn’t expect to learn. A funny moment is when I arrived to volunteer in Zimbabwe, I wanted to live (camp) in the open woodland and live with the animals, which shocked and surprised everyone!  I enjoyed a lot working at Mukuvisi, the colleagues are my source of happiness and they were very supportive and lovely!

Zimbabwe needs a variety of skills and expertise from all over the world including and in particular its own country to boost its progress. One way is to let foreign nationals volunteer in the country to help build capacity, and experience its current societal influences, cultural uniqueness and the authentic Zimbabwean people. Let one person spread the news to other people, which makes it true and effective. Zimbabwe needs us, and we need Zimbabwe!

Gavin Lau

About the author: Gavin is a recent graduate from University of York in England. He graduated with a bachelor’s in Environment, Economics and Ecology. Gavin spent three months in Zimbabwe volunteering at Mukuvisi Woodlands and then spent a month travelling in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries like South Africa and Namibia.


There are a lot of people who do a lot of what seems to be “normal” activities but have an adverse effect on the environment.