Zambia, a small landlocked country in Southern Africa, offers mad adventure and incredible wildlife viewing well off the beaten path. With access to majestic national parks, a natural world wonder, and rich cultural heritage, this country is often underestimated and well worth a long stay.
About the size of Texas, three wide and strong rivers form the lifeblood of the nation. Zambia offers some of the best safari experiences in the world and zebras and giraffe still roam freely in some areas.
With very little infrastructure, Zambia is still very much considered a developing nation. Independent travel can be a challenge as road and public transport are difficult, however, there are many trustworthy program providers that can help any gapper take advantage of the minimal tourist crowds.
Zambia offers a glimpse into the “real Africa” from generations past – there is no reason why volunteers shouldn’t go out of their way to discover its natural energy.
Photo & Guide Credit: Lauren Locke
Zambia is in a unique position – with both a real need for volunteers and undiscovered raw beauty, programs have the magic combination of both adventure and purpose. Make sure to do you research and identify a program that allows you to connect with the Zambian people and utilize your skills.
When many people think of Africa they see photos of travelers with young African children. Of course Zambia has a large number of children who are displaced and put into orphanages. Many of these children had their parents die from HIV/AIDS and/or have the disease themselves.
There are many opportunities to get involved – however, make sure as a volunteer you think deeply about your opinion on orphanage volunteering. Oftentimes there is a deep psychological impact on children from short-term visitors. Make sure to research your host organization well if this is the type of volunteering that appeals to you. If you’re untrained, your skills may be better put to use in another area.
12% of the population in Zambia has HIV/AIDS. The rates of infection are continually decreasing but there are still organizations that will take volunteers. If you have medical expertise you can work at an HIV clinic or if you are unqualified you can join teams and participate in community education initiatives.
There are plenty of options to teach English or work with school age children throughout the country. You can even use this experience to boost your resume! Depending on your interest -- you can help in a nursery school, give nutrition consultations, assist with women’s empowerment initiatives or join public health trainings.
You will likely have to cover your base expenses depending on the project -- however, don’t underestimate how much you will gain from this experience. If you are willing to give in both time and money the depth of your impact will be far greater.
How much does it cost to do a gap year in Zambia?
The cost of living is fairly low from a western perspective. However, most comfort items are imported – so bear in mind that your typical toiletries and favorite foods will be expensive.
Victoria Falls is without the largest tourist attraction in the area (for good reason, it’s INCREDIBLE) but activities in Livingstone are expensive.
There's a lot to see and do as a traveler in Southern Africa – make sure to budget appropriately so that you don’t miss out on an adventure!
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Zambia
Be sure to talk to your personal physician about the appropriate vaccinations approximately six months before you leave. You also need to have travel insurance during your stay – this needs to include emergency repatriation back to your home country.
If traveling through South Africa, you'll have to have proof of a yellow fever vaccine.
In general, you won’t have any issues finding a private clinic to address most of your health needs while in Zambia. Tap water is usually fine for brushing teeth and cleaning veggies. Just be aware of your surroundings and drink potable or bottled water.
Many of program providers will be based in the capital city of Lusaka. While this is a great option for many volunteers (as it is close to major facilities), there are options throughout the country that will provide you a variety of community-based experiences. Livingstone is also a common place for volunteers as it is a major tourist hub.
Realistically though, while volunteering in Zambia, there’s a good chance you’ll be in a much smaller village outside the major cities.