Can you believe 2014 is already coming to an end?! This year really flew by. One year ago I was preparing to depart for my volunteer program in Livingstone, Zambia. December 2013 marked my first Christmas away from home, making it an extra special holiday season!
Something about doing the same thing every Christmas really struck me. Sure, it’s important to spend time with family and friends, but there’s also the gifts and the exorbitant amount of food. It was time to take a step back. What better way to give back during the holiday season than by volunteering! And of course, I took that even further by traveling half way across the world to volunteer in Zambia, where more than 70% of Zambians live in poverty according to National Geographic.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving in Livingstone. I knew I would be pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, but I was confident it was going to be worth it, despite those that were not thrilled with my decision. Having staff and other volunteers from African Impact, the organization I volunteered with, right there with me on site was certainly helpful in getting comfortable in this foreign land.
The program was focused on teaching the local children and helping out with community development. The day after I arrived, I jumped right in to join a few other volunteers teaching at “Holiday Club,” which provides the children with the opportunity to still attend school while the teachers are off work. Managing a class of around 75 students on average, aged anywhere from babies to 14-year-olds, was quite the challenge! Especially since I had no prior teaching experience!
With the help of the other volunteers, we managed to have fun with the kids and feed their hunger for knowledge and learning. Although it was wonderful to teach the students, it was impossible to overlook the harsh conditions in which they live. Class was held every day in an old, run down building that had some rusty bars for windows and bare walls with chipped paint. Many of the children wore the same thing to school every day, and some would even come with their pajamas still on.
While there is nothing that would immediately solve the poverty issue in the country, I was able to spread a little extra Christmas cheer and play a role in providing a special Christmas surprise for the kids. Santa came to visit Holiday Club! The students were beyond excited to meet Santa. Seeing the joy on their faces from this simple gesture is when I knew I made the right decision in giving back to the community of Zambia during Christmas.
Even though I am going to be back home in Chicago this Christmas, there was one important lesson I learned that stood out among the rest. Sometimes, seemingly insignificant gifts to one person may be treasures to another. It reminded me of the charm of the spirt of Christmas that tends to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. This year, I’ll be taking an extra moment to appreciate the abundance of food I’ll get to enjoy in the company of close family and friends. I will cherish the memories of giving to the Zambian community and will forever be grateful for all they gave to back to me.
Never forget to appreciate the little things.
Have you ever spent a Christmas away from home?
Would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!