Natasha was born in Zimbabwe but emigrated to the UK when she was 5 years old with her family. Tash studied Geography at university and subsequently volunteered in Botswana and Swaziland in her gap year. She's never looked back! With a newly established love for traveling, discovering new cultures and exploring new traditions, she's been a Volunteer Coordinator in Zimbabwe, a Teaching and Project Coordinator in Fiji and most recently a Senior Project Leader for Madventurer in Ghana and Tanzania.
What position do you hold at Madventurer and why do you like working there?
I've just been in Ghana and Tanzania for a year with Madventurer as a Senior Volunteer Project Leader, which was my dream job. As I'm now back in the UK I am continuing to volunteer for the organisation doing its Marketing and Social Media.
What I like most about Madventurer, compared to other similar organisations I have worked for, is that it's small; a lot of attention is paid to each and every project ensuring its managed well with positive outcomes; there are next to no overhead running costs as John Lawler (Founder) runs it from his home; Project Leaders get a lot of autonomies and are encouraged to be the decision makers with regards to how projects are run; and all projects are community-led, meaning we work with communities to improve issues they feel are important to them.
Did you volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Yes, after university I volunteered for 5 months in Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, as a Wildlife research assistant. I've always had a desire to travel, but what drew me to Africa was the fact that I was actually born in Zimbabwe, so I wanted to head back to my home continent and explore what it's best known for, its wildlife! It changed my life and I've never looked back since.
Whilst in Botswana I took the opportunity to visit some family in Zimbabwe. One thing led to another and I was offered a role as a Volunteer Coordinator for a local animal charity which I took up with great enthusiasm... The rest is history!
What is the level of cultural immersion your volunteers receive?
Volunteers are 100% immersed in the culture and traditions of the community they are placed with. Volunteers and Project Leaders live in, eat with and social with the community their project is based in. We eat the same food, bucket wash or bath in rivers, sleep on mattresses on floors under mosquito nets and play local games with the children.
We sometimes live in Homestays, or the community offers a secure house to sleep in. Volunteers are encouraged to live like their community members, instead of staying in plush hotels or hostels. By doing this, we can be sure that the money volunteers raise for their trip goes back into the community, by paying them accommodation and food costs, hiring locals for specialised jobs such as carpenters and masons, and sourcing building materials locally.
As a result, volunteers and their community members become family, friends and lifelong pen pals. Ultimately, the communities we work with appreciate our help, welcome us with open arms and we can create long-term positive partnerships.
How are the volunteers supported when they arrive at their project?
The role of Junior and Senior Project Leaders is to be the 24/7 support for volunteers., so that when they land in-country they have nothing to worry about in terms of operations and logistics and can get stuck into their project from the first day. Project Leaders are there to personally meet and greet volunteers at the airport, they work with them on their projects, they accompany them on weekend trips away and they are there to answer any questions or concerns along the way.
For a lot of volunteers, it is their first time away and its Madventurer's number one priority to ensure volunteers feel safe, supported and that ultimately their time and impact is positive.
What's your one piece of advice for people who want to volunteer abroad?
My number one piece of advice is to keep an open mind. By that I mean have no expectations, immerse yourself into the culture, learn their traditions, learn the language, try the local dishes and be respectful of the differences you may encounter as to the way of living.
The biggest adjustment for me, in all the countries I've been to, was the pace that people lived and worked. 'Fiji time' and 'Ghana time' are well-known phrases if you've ever heard of them? Where we are used to sticking to the clock in our Western worlds more often than not in developing countries they're up when the sun rises and they sleep when the sun goes down. Whatever happens in between is at their pace and that's something you will have to embrace. If you can't beat them, join them!
What is your favorite quote, about volunteer or travel?
“In travelling a companion; in life, compassion” - Haruki Murakami.