As Rebecca Main sat in a seemingly standard sports studies lecture, her interest peaked at the mention of a volunteering opportunity in Zambia.
Several months later, she found herself flying to Lusaka, the country’s capital, with eleven other British students.
Stirling sent four in total. Silvia Puig Saltor and Danny Cockroft participated in the second exchange, while Cara Steven joined Rebecca on June 1.
Landing in Zambia, the pair queued an hour for visas before finally setting foot into the country they called home for the next six weeks.
It was warm, but not too hot, as the group met their driver, Albert, who helped them load cases onto a bus through its back windows.
Too mesmerised to notice the tight fit, they marvelled at the new world around them. Cars, buses, and bikes interwove in a somehow functional free-for-all, while locals strolled the roadside, stopping at various markets that dotted the landscape.
The bus approached what seemed a fortress. Tall white walls were fastened in the middle by a large, blue, iron gate, that slid open as Rebecca and Cara were introduced to their temporary home.
Inside stood an enormous house and the group were given a tour. White, tiled floors blended with white walls, but mismatched with the random assortment of furniture decorating the living room.
Arriving on Monday, June 3, Rebecca and Cara enjoyed a couple of induction days before jumping into volunteering on Wednesday.
They parted ways in the morning, heading to their separate sites. Rebecca strolled to the road end and took a bus, then a taxi, and then walked further to Tionge Primary School. Here she taught PE classes in dusty squares surrounded by low, stone buildings.
She had to plan and teach every class, each of which contained at least 50 children. It was challenging, “but they were all so enthusiastic,” said Rebecca. “They would all come running up to you and hold your hand to walk you to the school.”
Important social lessons were taught through the PE classes, like teamwork and understanding peer pressure. “We were able to integrate these topics into games and talk about them in a way they understood.”
In the afternoons she walked to Munali High School to boost involvement in volleyball. Rebecca set up regular tournaments, brought in new schools, and so on.
This job wasn’t too time consuming, so she joined in coaching or visited other placement sites as well, which “left me with a more well-rounded experience of Zambia as a whole,” she said.
One she didn’t get to visit though, was Kabwata Playpark where Cara volunteered.
Kabwata features a basketball court, a park, and a sand football pitch sectioned off by concrete-filled tyres. Tall, cinder block walls encase the entire space.
To get here, Cara took a bus at 8AM each morning, and after haggling with the driver, would sit down and enjoy the journey.
It varied each day, as drivers would traverse side-streets until the bus was full. Sometimes it took 30 minutes, sometimes three times that.
“You had to squeeze lots of people onto the bus, and sometimes you’d have children or chickens on your lap,” she said casually.
Once there, Cara taught basketball to groups of 20-30 teenagers, in what became the most rewarding experience of her life.
Before she left for Zambia, the university lacrosse team donated their old kits to Cara. Through teaching basketball at Kabwata, she formed a squad and passed on the kits.
Each week, that small community team in Lusaka dons Stirling colours to play their matches.
“It’s amazing,” said Cara. “They’re still wearing it every week, even after I’ve gone. I keep getting photos; it makes me so proud and emotional.”
She also spent a few hours each week at the Fountain of Hope orphanage, teaching netball, and on Monday’s she visited other placement sites and worked to boost participation. Weekends were free for Rebecca and Cara to explore their beautiful surroundings.
They walked amongst cheetahs at Chaminuka Nature Reserve, relaxed in the man-made lake of Tiffany’s Canyon, and witnessed the incredible Victoria Falls up close.
For Cara, none of these matched a quieter weekend spent with her peer-leader, Agness, who’s from the Kabwata suburb of Lusaka.
Agness took Cara to her community church. The building was more reminiscent of a barn than a chapel, and still in construction, with rows of seats expanding past the entrance. Yet it couldn’t feel more secure.
The community spirit was unlike anything Cara had felt, even as an outsider.
“Everyone was so lovely and made me feel so welcome,” she said.
“It was so emotional, and such an unforgettable experience,” even though Cara had been nervous beforehand.
“Before the project I was quite quiet,” she continued, but “I’ve come back a totally different person.
“I struggle to put into words how much it has done for me.”
Rebecca reiterated this as her confidence also grew exponentially during her time in Zambia, due to everything from their living situation to teaching the children.
The latter is what the entire trip is about though, and the aim of Volunteer Zambia is to not just provide coaching for six weeks, but to establish a foundation for better opportunities going forward.
Cara and Rebecca also taught the Zambian coaches new techniques to implement, to uphold a high standard even after they left.
This extended to the older students as well, Rebecca explained, so they’re able to teach younger children in the future.
Conversation moved to education, health, culture, and so on, as the two parties learned from each other, creating a positive cycle that they hope will continue.
Volunteer Zambia was valuable for everyone involved. “It was hands down the best and most rewarding experience of my life,” said Cara.
“It’s shaped me as a person, and I can’t wait to go back.”