Name: Debbie Tyler
Age: 55 years
Dates of stay: 2-29 June 2015
Your background: Retired police officer
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I wanted to help at the sanctuary and also get involved in community matters. I have a passion for animals and for travel/culture, and this placement appeared to tick all the boxes. Having worked in frontline policing for many years, I wanted a complete change – to work with animals in need and to experience something completely different. I wanted to help conserve Africa’s beautiful wildlife, and to nurture the rescued animals at the centre.
Why did you choose Lilongwe Wildlife Centre over other projects?
I did my research very diligently, and chose Lilongwe due to the work ethic of the centre, the reviews, and the Born Free Foundation accreditation.
What kind of work did you get involved in? What did you enjoy the most/the least?
My main duties at the centre were feeding baby monkeys in quarantine, preparing meals for the serval kitten, working in Orphan Care and the Animal Care kitchens, observing medical procedures on lions, and community outreach projects. My favourite task was the feeding of the baby monkeys, I could have spent hours with them! I also really enjoyed working with the local villagers making briquettes. If I had to select tasks that I liked the least, they would probably be washing towels and collecting browse, but I know that these are necessary jobs and I just got stuck in !
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day for me was to get up at 6am, and start feeding monkeys at 7am after my breakfast. I would then remain in OC, assisting with daily tasks and feeding the animals on my list at the allotted feed times. After lunch, I would generally help the animal care workers with preparing food and cleaning enclosures, as well as continuing to feed the baby monkeys on my list. I would generally finish at 5 or 6pm, shower, have dinner, chat with the other volunteers, then go to bed about 10pm.
What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the charity work we do?
I think that the centre is very effective in the charity work that they carry out. The animals are very well cared for, visitors to the centre are encouraged and duly educated in welfare & conservation, and outreach work is reasonably effective in the communities. However, having experienced a couple of outreach sessions in a school and a youth centre, I do believe that the teaching could be much more effective, impactive and far-reaching. I would love to have had the opportunity to take on that challenge.
If you have volunteered at other projects, how do we compare in terms of volunteer experience/welfare etc?
I have volunteered on an English teaching project in China, which was a fabulous experience but I found Lilongwe to be a much more personal and educational placement. I just wish that there had been more volunteers in my age group, as I felt very old amongst all the youngsters!
What are the staff like?
The staff at the centre are extremely passionate about their roles, they are very approachable and nothing seems to be too much trouble. As a volunteer with no animal-related experience (other than being a Police dog handler and a dog owner all my life), I felt very much welcomed by the staff and I was able to learn a great deal from them during my 4-week stay.
What have you taken away from your experience at LWC?
I have found this experience pretty life-changing. It has fuelled my passion for wildlife, and made me want to return to the centre to try and make even more of a difference by working in the busy orphan season. Indeed, within three days of returning to the UK, we have booked to return in January 2016! I would like to work with the Education team again at some point, perhaps taking a more active role in the delivery of teaching packages.
What could be improved?
I only have a couple of suggestions for improvement at the centre. Any social gatherings / drinking games in the evening should take place either off site or at the Koko Bean. If they are held at the lunch table, they can disturb those of us who don’t want to party into the early hours! Without wanting to sound like an old granny, I like to go to bed early and get up early to do a good day’s work ! The other suggestion is that a “team” work ethic should be reinforced to all volunteers on arrival. I found that some volunteers worked much harder than others, often there was still work to be done when some were sitting and relaxing. This can only lead to problems in my experience.
Who would you recommend this project to in future?
I am already recommending this project to friends and family of all ages. Many have enjoyed my updates on Facebook and are considering having a go themselves. My advice would be to immerse yourself in the culture, work hard, learn loads and thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Out of 10, how would you rate:
Your overall personal experience 9/10
Vol facilities e.g. accommodation, food etc: 8/10
Staff and management (professionalism, approachability etc) 9/10
The effectiveness of the project in helping Malawi’s wildlife (welfare, conservation etc) 8/10