During Spring Break 2016, ten incredible LAS students and two teachers embarked on a life-changing, 2 week adventure to Zimbabwe, creating indelible memories and leaving a lasting impact on the people and communities with whom they worked.
This annual trip is organized by the Sethule Orphans Trust which provides financial, educational and emotional support to orphans and communities in rural Zimbabwe. The organization was founded by Mrs. Thabbeth Cotton, one of our very own LAS nurses who was born and raised in Zimbabwe but now lives and works here in Switzerland. She works alongside Ms. LeighAnn Braatz, an LAS nurse and chaperone on this year's trip, who co-led with Mr. Alex Flynn-Padick, an LAS history teacher.
For the service component of the trip, LAS worked primarily in a rural community called Matopos, remodelling a student dormitory and community meeting space, painting the dormitory and schoolhouse, and clearing land to build a new play center. This involved some hard labor, such as demolishing an old concrete floor and moving dirt and stones, mixing concrete, digging roots out of the ground and digging a drainage ditch. You should have seen Annelie R. balancing a bucket of water on her head like the locals! All of this in the hot Zimbabwe sun! Fortunately, they kept their spirits high with positive attitudes, a great music playlist, and the contagious laughter of Ximena H. and Anna L.!
Towards the end of the trip, LAS also worked at another site called Hope Fountain. This is where a lot of work was done by LAS students in the previous year. LAS returned and used their creativity to place tires around the borders of the Center and paint them with original artistic designs, which Elise J. was stellar at doing! They also painted the swing set and see-saw in the playground, as well as the hut that is used for cooking lunches at school.
One of the things that the students enjoyed the most was playing with the children. It was beautiful to see the girls connecting so compassionately with the kids, especially Valeria M. and Amaya G. who were always seen with a little one on their hip! They all spent a day helping to officiate a preschool games competition between three local schools as well as spent a day playing games at a nearby river beach. Some of the activities included face painting, blowing bubbles, and playing volleyball which Carlota V. was teaching some of the girls!
For the safari component of the trip, LAS headed first up to Victoria Falls to see the spectacular grandeur of the waterfalls which form the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The columns of spray from the falls made it as though it were pouring rain and they were all soaking wet at the end of the visit. It was on the Zambezi river where they went white water rafting, which was full of Class IV and V rapids, and was definitely an exciting experience. While in Victoria Falls, they also did a lion encounter where they walked alongside and got to pet two 22-month old lions. They were majestic and surprisingly larger than expected, but they behaved (...and so did the lions)! The team also got to ride and feed the elephants!
After the excitement of Victoria Falls, the group headed into Hwange Game Park for two nights of good, old-fashioned camping in the bush. They had wonderful guides and even a personal chef who cooked them incredible meals. It was quite an experience to see the girls "roughing-it" - dealing with bugs, sleeping on mats, going without showers. Everyone had a great attitude and made the best of it. During their time in the park, they did several game drives in Open Game-Viewing Vehicles and saw loads of animals, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, painted dogs, crocodiles, wildebeest, impala, kudu, and yes, lions!
At the end of the trip, the team spent a day with local students and community members at Hope Fountain Center for a cultural exchange. This was a program where the locals performed traditional Zimbabwean dances and songs, then LAS was able to perform a dance that they had prepared, as choreographed by Andrea A. The LAS students also did a presentation about each of their countries, talking about food, climate, and culture. Laura F., from Puerto Rico, even got up and taught everyone how to Salsa dance!
Some other activities they did included visiting a local art gallery, seeing a theater performance at the Amakhosi Theater in Bulawayo, hiking to see ancient cave drawings in Matopos, and of course, souvenir shopping. Look our for Maria L. and her new Djembe drum!
With two weeks of arduous, rewarding work, and African adventures now behind them, the LAS team headed back to Switzerland to finish out the rest of the school year. Although, they jumped right back into classes, trying to resume a normal routine, they would not soon forget the incredible experience they just shared together. It is one they will remember forever, and only hope that one day others may experience as well.
If your child is interested in participating in next year's Zimbabwe: Service & Safari 2017 Trip, recruiting will begin August/September 2016. Please contact Ms. LeighAnn Braatz if interested: [email protected]