How community volunteering has touched my life
December 9 2013

At Antelope Park, we encourage lion volunteers to participate in our community work too to help them gain a greater understanding of our projects.  Part of ALERT’s work is to provide education and health programs for local communities living alongside Africa’s wildlife to enable them to understand the benefits of on-going conservation management.  

One recent lion volunteer, Shawn Hallett from the USA, spent a day at the Drop-in Centre, the community kitchen run by staff from Midlands Children's Hope Centre to provide a daily meal for Gweru's street children and disadvantaged homeless adults.    

Here is what she had to say about her experience:

‘Today, we went to the Drop-in Centre.  This is not an orphanage, although it is affiliated with Midlands Children's Hope Centre.  Rather, it is a place where the street children can come have lunch, hang out, play games and receive some affection.  But, unfortunately, it is only open Monday through Friday.  Evenings and weekends, the kids are on their own.  

At the moment, the Director of the Centre has identified approximately 60 to 70 children living on the streets of Gweru.  He walked us around town, showing us where they ‘live’.  Some of them sleep on sidewalks outside of stores, but most create little communities with impromptu shelters.  These shelters are composed of cardboard, plastic bags, old rusted out car doors and pieces of fabric.  It's hard to imagine children living there, surviving by their own strength and ingenuity, but they do.

Our day started by walking to the market to shop for groceries, where we bought meat, tomatoes, flour, sugar, cooking oil, rice, apples, and vanilla biscuits (cookies).  Once we hauled it all back to the Centre, some of us got to work cooking, while others played with the kids.  We had about 25 show up today, so it was a little chaotic, but a lot of fun.  

We stared by making bracelets.  These kids are amazing!  They made bracelets for all of us, while we watched and tried to learn.  It was fun talking to them and learning about their lives while they made their creations.  Some of them have incredible stories to tell.

One boy in particular stole my heart.  His name is Munashe.  He is 15 years old and has been living on the streets for only three days.  He never knew his father (that line is blank on his birth certificate) and his mother died of AIDS when he was six.  He had a generous uncle who raised Munashe and his brother, giving them a home and paying their school fees for the last eight years.  Sadly, though, his uncle died six months ago.  With (probable) good intentions, Munashe's older brother left to find work in South Africa, promising to send for him within a few weeks.  But unfortunately, Munashe has never heard from him again.  Left to his own devices, he survived until three days ago, when he started living on the streets.  This kid is incredible.  He drew two pictures for me and they were brilliant.  Such a talented artist!  Also, he grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote the four steps of photosynthesis, with scarily accurate diagrams accompanying each step.  He is clearly a very intelligent and educated young man, but without intervention, his mind will be wasted on the streets of Zimbabwe.  I'm having a really hard time comprehending that - he was so gentle, kind, polite and intelligent.  He absolutely took a piece of my heart when I left today.  This is the sad underbelly of poverty in Africa.

However, we ended the day playing a game of soccer, and these kids are good!  I'm pretty sure I would have been clobbered by a ball or a foot, because they moved a lot faster than I ever could, so I sat in the shade and watched. There was a lot of great competition and laughter.  It was fun to see them just being KIDS.  An eight year-old, living alone on the streets, probably doesn't have many opportunities to do that.  I'm so happy we were able to give them that one small gift.

A quick shout out to one of my fellow volunteers Lotten, who spent a big portion of the day teaching Granny how to make the same bracelets the kids were making.  Granny arrived at the Drop-in Centre many moons ago after her family kicked her out. She sits with the kids every day while it is open, but she like the kids, has no home to go to once it closes.  She's a lovely lady, though and Lotten was amazing with her.

After the soccer game, we came back to Antelope Park.  The ride home was awfully quiet, as we all absorbed what we experienced today.  Honestly, though, I am really looking forward to going again to hang out with those awesome kids.  I am grateful that Antelope Park gives us the opportunity to have such fulfilling experiences at places like the Drop-in Centre.  Thank you!

If, like Shawn, you would like to join us as a volunteer, you can find out how here.


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