Blake Powel - 2018 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I love to travel and, specifically traveling abroad, as a way to broaden my cultural awareness. As I am usually traveling with friends or family, I was looking for a location that would make a good, first solo trip and opportunity to challenge myself socially, as well.

Why did you choose to volunteer with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)?

Giraffe eating from a tree

After spending weeks reviewing different programs around the world, I decided I really wanted to go to the African continent. With a love of exotic animals, I couldn't go to Africa without seeing the wildlife; therefore, volunteering with wildlife and conservation became the obvious project of choice. To narrow down which program, I used reviews, price, accommodation, and daily activities. Nakavango, through IVHQ, seemed like the most suitable to what I was looking for.

What was your favorite part Zimbabwe?

I loved the wildlife, the friendliness of the locals, and the excellent proximity to various other touristy cities of adjacent countries, such as Zambia and Botswana. There were so many activities available for participation in Victoria Falls. I participated in the zip lining, horseback safari, and the Botswana Chobe Day trip.

What made your experience volunteering abroad unique?

This was my first time combining travel with volunteerism. It was more than I was expecting and has become my new addiction because I ended up having a much better quality experience. This was also my first solo trip, and I was really nervous from a social aspect, but it turned out to be easy to get to know most of the other volunteers. Nakavango is also the only place in the area with Black Rhinos!

Group of kids with adult circled over camera
The school kids

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

You are with them all day and they are always willing to answer any questions you may have.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have not flown back home until Monday instead of Saturday that way I would have had the weekend to participate in some other activities in the area. I only ended up with one weekend for exploring.

Mother elephant with baby

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

There were two shifts (morning and afternoon) that were three to four hours long each. You would either do roadwork, remove invasive species of plants, volunteer at the local school, and/or go on game drives. Regardless of what the activity is, you are basically on a game drive to and from each location anyway.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During down time at lunch, I enjoyed sitting on the back porch socializing, or running into town. On my weekend off, I did the zip lining tour and horseback safari tour in Victoria Falls and the Chobe Day safari trip in Botswana.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?

The accommodation was better than I expected. You are in a gated area of the reserve with security. The rooms are a one person dorm and includes a comfy single bed, nightstand, ceiling fan, desk, and wooden shelf/closet. There is no air conditioning, and as someone that cannot sleep if I’m too hot, I was concerned but that was never an issue. The ceiling fan was surprising efficient at cooling down the room.

The bathroom, which is shared between four rooms, is private and contains a single shower/toilet that everyone takes turns using. Overall, the accommodation was great and looked much better than the other programs.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Rhino in dirt road
Black Rhino

The most common questions/concerns that I received when I told someone I was going to Zimbabwe involved safety. At no point did I feel concerned for my safety by either animals or people. As long as you use some common sense, the bigger animals will be more scared of you than you of them.

And the locals are friendly even though you will only be around them if you go outside the reserve on your free time. In other words, don't let safety be a factor in keeping you from going. Also, on roadwork and invasive species removal days, it can be physically challenging; therefore, understand they rely on your cooperation as part of the program, so don't use the program as a source for a safari vacation.

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

The idea of volunteer traveling has become my new addiction as it provides a better quality vacation and gives you the opportunity to give back at the same time.

Would you recommend Nakavango? Why?

I would definitely recommend Nakavango with IVHQ. It’s a very laid back program that gives you the opportunity to ask questions, choose the work that suits you best, and the accommodation and food cannot be beat!