Volunteer Expedition to Zambia

My time in Zambia
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Saroja Lily Ratnavel: Report from Zambia

This summer I was selected as one of five Durham University students to travel to Zambia for a 5 week volunteer programme. This project aimed to support and educate underprivileged children and communities through the medium of drama, dance and performing arts.

This is a cause that is incredibly important to me, and I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to take part in this programme and to share my passion for performing arts with those who would otherwise not have such experiences. I am so grateful to the Isle of Man Arts Council for their incredibly generous funding towards this volunteer programme.

Saroja Ratnavel

I needed to raise £2000 to take part in this project and the money was required to fund the equipment, training, flights, accommodation and living expenses needed for the 5 week project. In order to meet this target, I organised a fundraising musical theatre concert called ‘Miscast’ in April at home in the Isle of Man. We produced a sold out performance and raised an incredible £2485 towards my trip. I was so grateful for all the support of my friends and family who helped me put the show together, and was really proud of myself for what I was able to achieve.

Though they had little, the children found so much joy in every day and I became really attached to them.

My departure required lots of prior preparation. I had to have numerous vaccinations and ordered the necessary living equipment for Zambia such as a mosquito net and Malaria tablets.

My 5 weeks in Zambia were split between the capital, Livingston, and the city of Lusaka. After flying into Lusaka, myself and the other four Durham drama students spent the first two weeks in Livingston. Here, our days were jam packed. Each morning was spent in Kwathu Children’s Home, a school and orphanage that cares for underprivileged children in the community. Each of us individually taught a class of approximately 30 children, teaching drama, music and performing arts, as well as assisting the teachers with the teaching of core lessons such as maths, english and science.

At break times, the school offers a feeding programme for their most vulnerable children. We would help the serving of the meals and spend break time talking and playing games with the children. Though they had little, the children found so much joy in every day and I became really attached to them.

It was really special to see these young adults grow in confidence and skills.

Our afternoons were spent at David Livingston High School where we conducted music and drama lessons for teenagers aged 15-20. We worked on choral singing, improvisation and character work and by the end of our two weeks we performed Romeo and Juliet for the members of staff. It was really special to see these young adults grow in confidence and skills.

In the evenings our time was divided between a few different placements. We sang and donated food to an Old People’s Home and rehearsed with two Zambian church choirs: RCZ and DFCC. At the weekend we attended these church services and were lucky to be able to sing with the talented choirs. One of my highlights of the trip was conducting the DFCC Sunday School choir in a performance during the service.

In the rest of our weekend free time we squeezed in as many Livingston adventures as possible thanks to some spending money from my family! These included: a river and game drive safari in Botswana, a trip to Victoria Falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwe sides, micro-lighting over the falls and visiting cultural markets.

It was difficult to hear the responses of many of the students and come to terms with the deeply anti-feminist thinking which has been culturally embedded into their society.

At the end of our two weeks we travelled on an 8 hour bus back to Lusaka. Here we stayed in a student house with the 15 other university students from the Wallace Group part of the sports outreach programme. It was lovely to meet so many different people on the trip and I made some great friends.

In Lusaka we were primarily placed in Fountain of Hope, a community school and orphanage which is supported by the Perfect Day Foundation set up by Peter Warburton of Durham University. During our time at Fountain we directed a production of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, helped organise the school library and worked in the health clinic. At the request of the school principal, myself and Honor, one of my fellow drama students, led health and sanitation talks with the girls and boys dormitory. A challenging but rewarding experience for me was chairing a discussion with the teenage boys and girls on the topic of relationships and sexual assault. It was difficult to hear the responses of many of the students and come to terms with the deeply anti-feminist thinking which has been culturally embedded into their society.

Thanks to the incredibly generous donation from the Arts Council and my fundraising efforts in ‘Miscast’, my charity total was taken over and above the target required for the trip.

At the end of our time at Fountain, Honor and I arranged a collection of money from the student house and with this money we were able to buy essential supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, sanitary supplies and disinfectant from over 25 independent sellers in the Kabwata market to donate to Fountain of Hope. We were thrilled to be able to give enough toothbrushes to every person who lives at the organisation and when we presented the supplies to the staff and children they were incredibly grateful. Other placements in Lusaka included: working with the Children’s Counsel of young activist performers at Barefoot Theatre Company, singing at Lusaka Cathedral, joining a community church, singing with Golden City men’s choir and attending salsa classes.

Although it was hard work and incredibly difficult on occasions, I met some inspiring individuals and made amazing friends.

Thanks to the incredibly generous donation from the Arts Council and my fundraising efforts in ‘Miscast’, my charity total was taken over and above the target required for the trip. My Arts Council funding was able to cover the majority of this payment and as a consequence I was able to use additional monies raised to purchase much needed equipment for the placements which I was involved with. I have enough remaining funds to continue my volunteer support in Zambia though the project as ended. I intend to sponsor the education of one of the children who I worked with at Kwathu Children’s Home in Livingston, and continue to donate food supplies to the local Old People’s Home. I am working on establishing charity links with my Zambia placements through Isle of Man charities and contacting companies to sponsor further donations to the organisations which we worked with.

My time in Zambia was an unforgettable experience. Although it was hard work and incredibly difficult on occasions, I met some inspiring individuals and made amazing friends. I learnt a lot about myself and made memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thanks to support from the Isle of Man Arts Council, I believe that my project in Zambia has and will continue to have a positive impact on the lives of many young children in need.


The Isle of Man Arts Council offers grants, sponsorship and underwriting to a wide variety of individuals, schools, groups and venues across the community. See our funding page here. 


A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government
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