By far the best way to give back to our community and fellow man, volunteering remains an incredibly rewarding experience. This summer I had the privilege to be selected to take part in a pilot programme for Cardiff University, sending us to Namibia to run a 2-week summer school for pupils aged 14-18 years old. This has been one of the greatest and most fulfilling experiences of my lifetime. Let me tell you a little about what I did there in the hope that you get interested in making your own plans to explore this fascinating planet of ours. After months of planning in Cardiff, on the 2nd August we were all ready to embark on our month-long adventure.
After a short pit stop in South Africa, we finally arrived in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. During the first week we were free to discover the city. We went on a rescue game drive to see some wildlife, we ate at Joe’s Bar where we got to try local delicacies like zebra and Oryx and we had city tours to discover how Windhoek was organised. We learnt about the multiple tribes present in Namibia, about Apartheid and about how Namibia was doing now as a relatively new democracy. The insight into the central hub of Namibia was very useful in understanding where we were.
After getting to grips with the capital city, it was time to explore the rest of Namibia. First, we went up to Etosha National Park, in the hope of seeing some of Namibia’s most famous wildlife. We managed to see Elephants, Zebras, Springboks, Oryx and many more wild animals! The safari experience was so unique, it was hard to imagine we were still on earth. It was peaceful yet magnificent. The landscape in addition to the unfamiliar animals gave me the impression of being in a National Geographic documentary. One magical moment led to another as we decided to head south and explore one of the oldest deserts in the world, the Namib Desert. Going from one extreme to another was a big shock. Spotting an abundance of life in one area to absolute nothingness in another required some adjustment. The dunes provided a picturesque view of the surroundings. It was so unreal that, for a second, I thought I was on Mars.
After two weeks of adventure and sightseeing, it was time to start our project in collaboration with the University of Namibia. It consisted of running a public heart health campaign with a group of local secondary school learners from J.A. Nel School. I have never seen such an enthusiastic bunch of teens – they were very motivated to learn, always ready to engage in games and more importantly willing to teach us about their culture and themselves. After a two-day introduction to health care and heart health, we split the groups into three streams: Computer Science, Journalism and Business. I was placed in the computer science group, where we taught the students how to build a website and post information for and about the campaign. One of my fondest memories of this experience was taking the school to Fish River Canyon (the second largest canyon in the world) and the trip back – during the four-hour bus ride they did not stop dancing and singing. It’s funny how in the UK we would pay for a party bus but they just created one for us! We danced and sang with them to the best of our abilities but their skills were way beyond ours. The energy levels were so high, that it was so hard not to want to take part in the songs.
September 3rd, our leaving day, was probably the hardest goodbye I have ever had to endure. After having said our tearful goodbyes to the students, it was time to say goodbye to the country. The flight to back to South Africa was a short one but full of sadness as we flew over Namibia one last time. On top of meeting some of the greatest people I have ever met on this trip, I have learnt so much about the young country of Namibia, whether it be scenic or cultural. The last part was the hardest; spending every waking hour with the team means getting to know people very well and creating strong bonds. We are all from Cardiff University and yet we first started as complete strangers; by the end, however, we became one big family, one that I will miss very much.
This experience has changed me for the better. It has given me a new group of friends, a better understanding of the world we live in and more specifically, Namibia. I got the privilege of meeting a group of Namibian learners with so much love to give that it radiated to us. The only advice I can give you readers is to go out and experience it for yourself. You’ll quickly understand how rewarding it is. If you ever get the opportunity to do this at University don’t hesitate and just say YES! At Cardiff University, Global Opportunities provides funding and assistance with organising such campaigns, spreading over multiple countries, on 5 continents.