International Volunteer HeadQuarters
When researching volunteer abroad programs, I found IVHQ to be the best. Of course you can volunteer in countries at a lower cost, but I wanted to go through an organization to feel more safe traveling on my own, meet and live with other volunteers, and have the convenience of mostly everything being planned out for me. IVHQ is committed to providing amazing volunteer abroad programs so you can travel overseas with confidence. If you’re searching for meaningful volunteer work and the opportunity to experience a life-changing volunteer vacation, gap year or alternative break, you can trust IVHQ to make it happen. They offer a range of projects in over 40 destinations around the world. IVHQ Website
I chose to volunteer in Zambia because I knew I wanted to volunteer in Africa. When looking at the various African country options on the IVHQ website, I compared the prices, projects, and traveling opportunities. I also looked at the facebook pages for a couple different countries and also watched videos on youtube of people who have volunteered before. I decided that Zambia had everything that I was looking for. One of the big draws for me was the fact that Livingstone is so close to Victoria Falls and Chobe Desert. I knew that I would enjoy all the activities on the weekends. If you are wanting to do the teaching, kindergarten, or construction project, then you will love your placement. I will mention that volunteers placed in medical and elderly programs did not seem totally satisfied.
After you have decided that you want to volunteer in Zambia, you will need to submit an application. The application is free and you can apply for multiple countries at one time if you aren’t totally sure yet. On the application you will select when you would like to start and what project you are interested in doing. You will hear back within 48 hours of whether or not you have been approved. You can also set up an account on the IVHQ website in order to track the status of your application. You will use this account to complete all the necessary steps before you arrive. Your acceptance email will tell you who your program manager will be. You can e-mail him/her at anytime with any questions. Currently, Will McBride is the Program Manager for Zambia. He was very fast and detailed at clearing up some of my confusion. After being approved, your next step is to pay the registration fee in order to secure your spot. If you use my invitation code (F294F) you will get a 10% discount. Once you have paid the registration fee, you will be given access to a checklist on your account of which you will need to complete before you go. This includes paying your program fee (can hold off on paying up to 30 days before your start date), completing the online training (walks you through country information, safety precautions, and volunteer requirements), as well as submitting a background check, flight details, emergency contact details,and insurance details. You will also be contacted by the in-country coordinator after you have registered. Rebecca Mukumbo is currently the Zambia coordinator and will be able to answer all of your questions beforehand, as well as when you arrive. She is the main person that gives orientation. She will notify you of your placement the week before you arrive. You can email her if you have any special requests.
Before You Go
To help cover the costs, I decided to create a fundraiser page on Fund and Seek. This website is actually better than GoFundMe because a smaller percentage of funds are taken out. I also mailed letters to close family to gain support. Here is a link to my page: https://www.fundandseek.com/mandyvolunteersinzambia
When I knew which dates I wanted to fly in and out on, I compared prices on Skyscanner, Google Flights, CheapFlights, and STA Travel. I ended up booking through STA Travel. They will Price Match other companies. You just need to call them or email them to tell them the details of the cheaper flight and they will match it. I went through them because I have booked with them before and they have good customer service. I flew out of London Heathrow (LHR) on British Airways and had a layover in Nairobi, Kenya before getting on my Kenya Airways flight to Livingstone (LVI). You should know that some airlines have a humanitarian baggage allowance. Most airlines only let you check one bag for free, but British Airways and some other airlines allow a second bag for free on volunteer trips. I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org letting them know that I was going on a humanitarian trip and they responded to let me know that my second bag fee would be waived. However, Kenya Airways did not have this clause so I had to request at the Nairobi Airport that they not charge me for my second bag. After some convincing, I was able to manage getting both bags through to Livingstone for free. This usually only applies on the way there so I just brought an old suitcase that I left with the school I taught at. They ended up using it as a supply trunk.
Zambia does not require any vaccinations. However, there are definitely recommended immunizations for the country. The three most common immunizations are Hepatitis A, Malaria, and Typhoid. I got these just as a precaution. However, the malaria pills made me feel nauseous so I stopped taking them after a few days in Zambia. There were few mosquitos when I was in Zambia so I did not think it was super necessary. It is best to ask your doctor before you go. You can get more information on this website: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/zambia
IVHQ requires you to get travel insurance. I purchased mine through USAA Travel Insured International. My benefits included trip cancellation, travel delays, missed connections, accident and sickness medical expenses, baggage effects and delays, and more.
While you are in Zambia, you will use both USD and Zambian Kwacha. The local stores, taxis, and some excursions only accept Kwacha. However, most excursions and the tourist market will take USD. You will also need to pay for your visa in USD. The current exchange rate is 1USD=11.95Kwacha. I usually just took off the final number to estimate in my head quickly. Ex. if someone asked for 120 Kwacha, I would round it to $12 but knew it would actually be a little less ($10.05).
What To Pack
- Filtered water bottle- The volunteer house has a water tank but they just boil the water. It doesn’t taste that great so some volunteers still decided to purchase water bottles from the store. I drank from it the entire time though. Definitely don’t drink water straight from the tap!
- Travel towel- You are not given linens so you will need a shower towel and beach towel if you plan on going swimming. Travel towels are light and quick drying.
- Mosquito net- If you can’t get one, you will most likely find one at the volunteer house that someone left. I went in July/August and there were barely any mosquitos so I didn’t even use the one I brought. There are a ton of flies though!
- Bug spray- This is a must but if you forgot like me, then someone will have it to borrow.
- Portable charger- This will come in handy on the weekend safari camping trip.
- Travel adapter- Zambia plugs are type G (same as UK). Make sure if you are coming from the U.S., all your electronics are dual voltage since Zambia is 220V. Your hair straightener and curling irons will break if they aren’t dual voltage.
- Luggage lock- Most rooms in the volunteer house have a lock box that you share with the other volunteers. However, it does not come with a lock. Some volunteers were ok with sharing it and others preferred to lock their things in their suitcase separately.
Visa & Arrival
You will get your visa at the airport on arrival. There is NO need to apply online beforehand. Some volunteers did this and it wasn’t done properly so they had to pay again to get a new one at the airport. You are asked to bring two passport photos, although I did not need these. I was, however, asked to show my acceptance letter that I received from IVHQ that stated where I was volunteering.
There are different types of visas that you will need to consider. If you do not plan on leaving the country, the single-entry visa is $50. If you would like to go to Botswana (Chobe Desert Safari) or Zimbabwe (Visit other side of Victoria Falls) then you will need to get the multi-entry visa for $80. Make sure you tell them that you want multi-entry and not double entry. It is the same sticker as the double entry but they will just write “Multi-Entry” on it. You are only allowed to be on these types of visas for 30 days. If you are volunteering for more than 30 days, you will need to obtain a temporary work permit/business visa for around $275.
I got the multi-entry visa and volunteered in Zambia for 4 weeks. I then wanted to stay a few extra days after I was done teaching so that I could travel. Because I was no longer volunteering, I was able to get the Kaza Univisa for $50, which allowed me to travel back and forth between Zambia and Zimbabwe as much as I wanted (good for another 30 days). I stayed at Victoria Falls Backpackers in Zimbabwe for one week and came to Zambia a couple times to visit friends and do some extra excursions that I hadn’t done yet. I had no problem crossing between the two with my new visa.
For more information go to the Zambia Immigration Website.
After you get your visa at the airport, you will collect your bags and head outside where a representative from Dream Livingstone (in-country organization) will be waiting. Look for your name written on a piece of paper. You may have to wait for a few other volunteers to arrive. You will then be transferred to the volunteer house where a host will show you your room and around the volunteer house. I was greeted by several of the other volunteers staying at the house.
The aim of the Teaching project is to provide assistance to local schools in Zambia who are in need of volunteer support. Due to Zambia’s rapidly growing population and shortage of government funding and teachers, local communities have developed ‘community schools’ to serve the need for education. A number of these schools offer reduced fees or free admission to students in need, many of whom are orphaned or living with elderly family members, who cannot afford school fees. Some community schools eventually become ‘government schools’ which receive some limited government funding, however these schools continue to struggle, as student numbers increase annually. As these schools depend heavily on the involvement of local volunteers, the ratio of students to teachers can be as high as 60 students to 1 teacher.
Most volunteers work alongside local teachers, peer teach with other volunteers or serve as tutors for slow or struggling learners. The project is heavily focused on teaching English, however there are also opportunities to teach a range of other subjects, such as Math and Science.
Teaching volunteers in Zambia also have the option to request a unique cultural experience and teach at a rural community school which is located approximately 1 hour from Livingstone. If you wish to work at this rural placement, you can arrange this with the local team once you have registered for the Zambia program. I do not know anyone who did this.
As you will be volunteering with the support of IVHQ’s local team and placement staff, you do not need to be a qualified or experienced teacher to participate. However, they do encourage you to complete the Online TEFL course page get a TEFL certification at a discounted rate. I do not think this is necessary but it is an option.
Starting dates and Orientation
The program orientation begins on the first and third Monday of each month, and volunteers need to arrive in Livingstone on the Sunday before orientation. The orientation starts around 8AM. The local team member will discuss the history of the Dream Livingstone organization and discuss the projects with you in depth. This is quite a long orientation. You will then have lunch and after you will go to town where you will get a tour of the town center. This is when you can get cash out at the ATM and also purchase a local SIM card (make sure you come with your phone unlocked). On the first day of your placement, you will be escorted. Make sure you pay attention because you will need to get home on your own. Transportation to/from placement is not included so you should expect to walk up to one hour. Some placements are as close as a 5 minute walk but most are around 30 minutes. You have the option to take a taxi but that will add up quick. It is safe to walk. You will usually be walking with at least one other volunteer.
I was placed at Joy Daycare in the Ngwenya compound with one other person. Because I am a full-time teacher, I was placed there due to the fact that they do not have a 3rd Grade teacher. The other volunteer that was placed there worked in the “Baby” class for half a day alongside a local teacher. Most other volunteers were placed at schools where they assisted the head teacher with lessons and activities. Most of them only worked a half day but I worked a full day since I was the only teacher for the day. I did not mind this since it gave me the opportunity to get to know the kids very well. I only had 5 students in my class but most classes have around 20-30 students.
I taught math, English, science, history, and home economics. They are also tested on the Tonga language, but obviously I couldn’t teach that.
Come to Zambia prepared for a different school experience. My school had no water. They would borrow water from neighbors and the kids would wash their hands in a bucket. They also only had one western toilet, which did not flush. I had to bring toilet paper from the volunteer house with me. Also know that a lot of the teacher hit the students. I thankfully did not witness this but mostly everyone did at some point when a student got an answer incorrect or was behaving in a poor manner. My school had nearly no supplies. The only thing in the classroom was a chalkboard, chalk, and four desks. However, some other school had whiteboards so it all just depends on where you are placed.
Here was my normal schedule:
- 7AM-Eat Breakfast
- 8AM-Walk to placement (45 minute walk) – I walked with one other volunteer who was placed with me
- 9AM-Math Lesson
- 10AM-Snack Break
- 10:30 AM-Science, Social Studies, and Home Economics Lessons
- 1PM-Lunch (This is when other volunteers who were only doing a half day would head back to the volunteer house for lunch. IVHQ advertised that the volunteer house would provide me with a bag lunch but they didn’t. I would have to take fruit and make a sandwich in the morning or buy food from the store. The school did provide me lunch but I was not a big fan. They either ate Nshima (yuck!) or rice. I didn’t mind the rice but it was not great to have every day.
- 1:30 PM-Play time (recess)
- 2 PM-English
- 4PM-Walk back to volunteer house – I walked home alone since the other volunteer only worked half day
- 5PM-Free time (good time to plan lessons for the following day)
- 7PM-Dinner at the volunteer house
Most schools follow the following schedule but some community schools have different break schedules:
- Term 1 Break: April 23 – May 11
- Term 2 Break: Aug 13 – Sept 7
- Term 3 Break: Dec 10 – Jan 11
Schools will also have the day off for National Holidays. While I was there, I had two days off due to holidays. On these days, you can do whatever you’d like.
The schools are definitely in need of supplies. Bring whatever you can with you! You can also purchase supplies in the local stores. I recommend the following:
- Pencil Sharpeners
- Erasers (or as they call it-rubbers)
- Recess toys (balls and jump ropes)
- Maps or other educational posters to hang on the walls
Overall, I felt very safe in Zambia. As I mentioned, I had to walk home from my placement by myself because I stayed full day and the other volunteer only stayed half day. The hour walk home was not bad but everyone tries to talk to you. My placement was in the Ngwenya compound, which is considered to be one of the sketchier areas of Livingstone. At first, I was a little nervous but I got used to it.
Sometimes you may have someone following you and talking your ear off. They may just want to have a conversation or they may be trying to sell you something. I just kept walking. If anyone asks you where you are staying, do not tell them. They will continue to ask so sometimes I just made up a place.
The only times I felt unsafe walking there was when the “Mask Man” was out and about. The Mask Man is a part of their culture. It is a guy with a full headdress-like mask on. You will know when he is around because all of the kids (and I mean hundreds of kids) will be following him. The Mask Man takes boys into the “bush” for three months to be circumcised and taught to be men. Another man walks with him with a machete. Avoid them as best as you can and don’t take photos or they may take your phone. There is also a Mask Man by homework club and Maramba market.
Another thing to be cautious about is taking a taxi late at night after having drinks at Cafe Zambezi or Fez Bar. A lot of the taxi drivers will be drunk and will still offer to take you home.
Zangi and Sunbird
During the high season, you will get placed at either Sunbird (long-stay) or Zangi (short-stay). Sunbird is the main volunteer house. I was placed at Zangi. I really enjoyed it. There were about 20 volunteers there and usually 2 staff members. Sunbird usually has about 30 volunteers. They are only a 10 minute walk away from one another, however you won’t really get to know the other people at the other house.
You will share a room with 2-4 other volunteers. Most rooms have 2 sets of bunkbeds but some rooms have 3 twin beds. You can also pay extra if you wish to have a private room. Families will usually automatically get their own room. The rooms are quite small. During my stay, there was no hot water. One or two times, it turned warm for a little bit. The water pressure is also very low. You will probably want to shower in the afternoons when you are hot from your walk home.
You may experience the power going out, although this usually only lasted for about an hour so it wasn’t a big deal.
You will become very close with the other volunteers at the house, especially the ones that came at the same time as you. You will have evenings and weekends to plan activities together. Everyone eats meals together in the dining room and hangs out on the patio.
Breakfast usually consists of fruit, bread, and one main dish. I usually just made peanut butter toast (there is a toaster) and had a piece of fruit.
Lunch and dinner usually consists of a meat, a grain, and a green. Some of the meals were good and some were not so good.
If you are not interested in eating a certain meal, you are always welcome to go to town to one of the restaurants. I wouldn’t get in the habit of doing this too much since the meals are included in your program fee. We did like getting pizza in town for special occasions.
You will probably also want to buy snacks from the local grocery store.
To do your laundry, you will wash your clothes in the designated bathtub. You will need to buy detergent at the store or share with someone who already has some. You will then hang your clothes to dry on the clothes line. You will also need to provide your own clothes pins if there aren’t any already there. I tried to pack enough so that I didn’t have to wash my clothes too much while I was there.
There is no Wi-Fi at the volunteer houses. This is why getting a local SIM card is necessary if you want to stay in contact with family. This will only work in Zambia (not Botswana or Zimbabwe). You could also get a Wi-Fi box instead.
Besides your airport transfer on arrival, you will need to pay for all transportation yourself. A taxi to town is usually 30-70 Kwacha ($2.50) total. It is best to travel in larger groups so you can split this and lower your individual cost. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot, it does add up. You should get WhatsApp numbers from taxi drivers so that you can contact them when you need a ride. Both volunteer houses have regular taxi drivers that give volunteers a good rate.
If you wish to walk to town, it is about an hour walk. I walked a couple times but definitely didn’t want to all the time.
A taxi to Victoria Falls is about 200 Kwacha ($16) so you will definitely want to get as many people as possible to go on longer journeys.
The volunteer house can arrange transportation for special night events, like Rapid 7 Viewpoint or the Lunar Rainbow at the Falls if a lot of people are going since they have a 15-passenger van (you still need to pay). However, most things you will need to book transportation yourself. This is one thing that I wish the local staff was able to help our with more.
I recommend not planning any excursions until you are in the country. You will want to go with other volunteers. The volunteer house will make a list of everyone who is interested in a specific activity and organize it for you. At orientation, you will be given a list of activities and prices. This is a good time to discuss with everyone what they are interested in doing so you can start planning your weekends.
The first weekend I was there I went on the Chobe Overnight Safari in Botswana. I am glad I did it the first weekend since it was a great way to get to know the other volunteers. We became very close. There was about 9 people from Zangi that went and 8 from Sunbird. We all stayed at the same camp but rode in separate jeeps (jeeps hold 9). We left early Saturday morning and got back late Sunday evening. Make sure to bring extra camera batteries! You will not need to bring any sleeping bag since this will be provided in the tent for you. If you are going in cold season, you may want to take your blanket from your bed at the volunteer house with you. We took ours and used it on our laps on the jeep in the mornings. The tents fit about 2-3 people. All meals will be provided.
The next weekend there was a full moon and lunar eclipse. Every time there is a full moon, Victoria Falls will open the park at night so that you can see a lunar rainbow (moonbow). We arranged transportation for this with a local staff member. Before going to the falls, we went on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.
This same weekend I also did the Big Air Experience at the Victoria Falls Bridge. This included the bungee jump, gorge swing, and zip-line. 3 activities is cheaper than the price of 2 so definitely worth doing all 3. I recommend bring your own GoPro if you have it but they will let you use theirs for an extra fee. Pictures and Videos can also be purchased. Even though the bridge connects Zimbabwe to Zambia, you do not need a Zimbabwe visa. You will just need to get a bridge pass (free) since you are not crossing.
The next day, a few of us went to Victoria Falls on the Zambia side for the day. Definitely take the Boiling Point trail down to get close to the river and a good viewpoint of the bridge to watch people bungee jumping. Here is where you will see tons of baboons. You will get soaked by the falls, especially during rainy season. You can get a poncho for free from the vendors right outside of the entrance in exchange for agreeing to come to their staff after you are done.
My third weekend I was not feeling well so decided to relax. Some other volunteers went on a day trip to a village.
My final weekend I did the lion/cheetah/elephant combo package where I got to interact and walk with lions and cheetahs as well as ride and feed an elephant. This was such a cool experience.
This weekend I also took the microlight flight over Victoria Falls. This gave the best view imaginable! Sunset was a perfect time to go.
After my volunteer experience, I stayed in Zimbabwe for a week so that I could do any traveling and activities that I hadn’t been able to do yet. During this week I visited the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, went to a Dinner and Drum Show at the Boma, and went to Angels Pool (Devils Pool wasn’t open yet).
Other tour activities that I didn’t do include: Whitewater Rafting, Helicopter Ride over Victoria Falls, Quad Ride, Rhino Walk, and Horse Riding.
After you are done your placement, you have free time to do as you wish. Keep in mind that dinner is always at 7PM. Here are some things that we did during the week:
- Volunteer at homework club
- Volunteer at soccer club
- Shop at the tourist market for souvenirs or Maramba market if you want items made. For example, I picked out fabric and took it to the tailor at Maramba to have a matching shirt and pant set made. I also had a backpack made. Go to her beforehand and tell her what you want and she will tell you how much fabric to get.
- Go to Rapid 7 to watch the sunset above the Zambezi River. We brought wine and stuff to make s’mores.
- Watch the sunset from the Lookout Treehouse.
- Have a drink and watch the sunset at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. Here you can find zebras roaming around.
- Enjoy live bands playing at Cafe Zambezi while you eat dinner and have a drink. You can also use their pool.
- Dance at Fez Bar. This is a popular place for volunteers to go to on Friday nights, although we sometimes went on a random Monday or Thursday. They have a beerpong table and supply the cups and balls.
- Relax by the pool at Jollyboys Backpackers.
- Registration Fee – $299 (10% discount when you use my code F294F)
- Program Fee – $630 for 4 weeks (includes banking fee)
- Background Check – $19.95
- Multi-Entry Visa – $80
- Flight from U.K. – $1136
- Travel Insurance – $191
- Vaccinations – $0 (free because I have military spouse benefits)
- Sunset Cruise – $40 (Most cost $80 but we got a good price)
- Angels Pool – $140
- Chobe 2 Day Safari – $275
- Microlight Flight (15 minutes) – $180
- Lion/Cheetah/Elephant Combo – $140
- Bungee/Zipline/Swing Combo – $210
- Big 5 Game Drive in Zimbabwe – $60
- Victoria Falls Entrance Fee Zambia Side – $20
- Victoria Falls Entrance Fee Zimbabwe Side -$30
- Average weekly expenses $50 (taxis, restaurants, alcohol, snacks, souvenirs)
I stayed at Victoria Falls Backpackers in Zimbabwe for a week after I was done volunteering. This cost $360 for a private ensuite room. I also paid $50 for the Kaza Univisa.
Prices for excursions that I didn’t do:
- Rafting (half day) – $150
- Chobe Day Trip – $155
- Helicopter (15 minutes) – $185
- Helicopter (30 minutes) – $360
- Microlight Flight (30 minutes) – $340
- Quad Ride (local trail) – $80
- Quad Ride (village trail) – $140
- Rhino Walk – $80
- Elephant Ride – $85
- Lion Walk – $50
- Cheetah Walk/Interaction – $50
- Bungee Jump – $160
- Gorge Swing – $160
- Horse Riding (2 hours) – $80
Note that these prices may change!
Traveling Before or After
Before or after your volunteer experience, you may wish to travel a bit on your own. I chose to stay an extra week in Zimbabwe. If you go over your 30 days of allowed time in Zambia for the volunteer visa, you will need to purchase a Kaza Univisa, which allows you to travel back and forth between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I stayed at Victoria Falls Backpackers, which was an excellent location. This allowed me to do all the excursions that I had not done so far and also left time to relax by the pool for a bit. Other popular options include Shoestrings Backpackers in Zimbabwe or Jollyboys Backpackers in Zambia. I found it easier to leave the country so that I did not run into any problems with my Zambia visa.
If you have any questions that I have not answered, please leave me a comment!