To gain a greater understanding of Antelope Park and ALERT’s wider work in the community, volunteers on the lion rehabilitation project are encouraged to spend some time visiting the Park’s community-focused projects.
One such volunteer, Sarah Wiltshire from the UK, found helping out at the Drop-in Centre, a community kitchen run by the Midlands Children's Hope Centre, a surprisingly memorable experience.
Here Sarah talks about what her time in the community meant to her:
‘If I start by saying that I’m not a big children person, please don’t think badly of me, but hopefully it will put into context how truly amazing it was to spend time with these wonderful children.
We started by walking the streets of Gweru on the outreach program to see where the kids live. They’d made a makeshift sleeping area out of the top half of an old car frame and covered it with material. It was humbling to be allowed to visit and see how they live; we truly take a lot for granted living in a Western country. Next we whizzed around the local market (an experience in itself), the butcher shop and supermarket to buy lunch for the children before returning to the Drop-in Centre to cook.
Once lunch was cooking and under control, we sat with the kids and did some maths, drawing and read stories. We started a game of catch which quickly spread in popularity and ended up as ‘piggy in the middle’. The kids had boundless energy (unlike us in the midday sun!) and were soon intercepting the ball and running after it. We finally got lunch finished and served (after a slight problem with the electricity running out!)
Most of the kids left after lunch, but a few stayed for more games and laughed while we (the vols!) re-lived our youth with some skipping rope games with them; needless to say the kids were much better at it than we were!
I realise that our help that day was just a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed, but to see these kids laugh and play like children are meant to will stay with me forever. I actually enjoyed the day so much that I returned three days later to lots of hugs and high fives from the kids – they melted my heart.
I know that many of you, like me, volunteer at Antelope Park to support the lions, but I would really encourage anyone to spend a day giving these kids back a few hours of their precious childhood, you won’t regret it.’
Another volunteer, Alex from Norway, was equally happy with the time she spent on a combined Medical and Lions project.
Alex said: ‘The medical and lions program is perfect! You get to help out at the different clinics during the week, while the weekends are spent with the lions. All the people I've met have been so friendly and welcoming, which makes it an ever greater pleasure to try and assist where I can.
During my three week stay, I spent time in three different clinics, visited the Red Cross and participated in a night shift at Mkoba Poly Clinic. It has all been very interesting and exciting; I would gladly spend another three weeks here.
The program offers the best of both worlds and I LOVED it!’