VOLUNTEERING – a journey that gave me a home away from home

Zione Luhanga

Growing up, volunteering was very much part of our family life. My father, a retired Primary School Teacher always got involved in activities aimed at raising the status of our community whilst my mother habitually involved herself in charity events and activities. As a young Catholic boy, I was fond of going to Church, help clean, arrange chairs and serve mass as an altar boy. I was doing this most times and I didn’t even realize its value but it is something I enjoyed quiet a lot. Encouraged and motivated to support causes I believed in, I grew up participating in numerous initiatives and activities through Primary, Secondary Schools and University. Serving as the Volunteers’ leader at the University facilitated my growth and fueled my passion for volunteerism.

Subsequently, being recruited into the 9th Batch of the African Union Volunteer Corps program, a program that nurtures young Africans and those in the diaspora to lender their skills and knowledge, after graduating from college was the beginning to realize my dream of not only serving my country and continent but also becoming an international citizen. The African Union Commission through the AUYVC program really came timely. It is through this experience and interaction that we can move forward driven by the common hunger and passion of building the future we want and the Africa we want that leaves no one behind, especially its youth and women.

My best part of the AUYVC program was when I had the privilege of joining the great young people across Africa and diaspora in Congo Brazzaville to share experiences and commitment towards our continent and the Agenda 2063, ‘The Africa We Want’. We had great time and great instructors during the pre-deployment training. The training allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the fundamental values ​​of the African Union and the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps. It also served as an initiation framework for the concepts of Leadership, the spirit of volunteerism as well as the preparation for the future volunteer life in the organization and the host country, this was the beginning of the journey towards truly engaging and contributing towards Africa’s development agenda.

With so much joy and excitement, I was deployment to work at the Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre of the African Union (AU-PANVAC). AU-PANVAC is the only AU Organization mandated to provide International Independent Quality Control of Veterinary Vaccines either produced or imported into Africa, producing and distributing essential biological reagents for animal disease diagnosis and surveillance, among many others.

When the day of my departure came, my flight was scheduled for 15:45. I left my hotel at around 12:30 and reached Kamuzu International Airport. I proceeded to check-in and got my boarding pass. I said my goodbyes to Caroline Chikuse who came to see me off. After arriving at Bole International airport in Addis Ababa, I could only thank the generosity of my Burkina Faso brother Mr. Souleymane Diallo who arranged Airport Pick – Up Taxi and hosted me at his home. Well, his home still remained my home so long as I stayed in Addis Ababa. More often, I could go to his home anytime I wanted owing to how kind and friendly Diallo is.

During the period of waiting, preparing for the journey and actually finding myself in Addis Ababa, I learnt that everything works for our own good and the glory of God and that it is important to have patience and have faith because God has his own perfect time of working things and has a way of making everything fall into place and work in our favour.

On my first day at work, my colleague Mr. Hussen Belay helped me to find an apartment to stay in Debrezeit, Ethiopia. After a few days of my stay, I felt completely at home. The family I found was filled with so much love and care. They took me in and treated me like their son, gave me food and gave me nearly everything I needed. Sitting at the balcony of their house after work sipping the amazing Ethiopian Coffee or sharing a glass of wine, having dinner together or sometimes going out on the weekend for adventures, defined most of our days in this beautiful home.

At AU-PANVAC, my experience was very enriching and full of learning and fun. This amazing experience will remain memorable forever. Thanks to all the people who accompanied me in this journey. I owe it all to the African Union Commission and the Youth Division of AU for this chance, the Director at AU-PANVAC, Dr. Nick Nwankpa, who was an absolute saint with me and my fellow volunteers at the institution as he usually looked after our welfare and made sure we had the best working environment and was always willing to offer guidance and help. Suffice to say, AU-PANVAC is fortuned with really very incredible staff and I had the pleasure to interact and to learn from the strongest sons and daughters of Africa who are amazingly inspirational.

Ethiopia is such a beautiful and unique country with very rich diversity of cultures and as my host country, it has been very warm welcoming. Some interesting cultures such as family get together which I had the pleasure to join most of the times. I also got to enjoy the wonder foods such as Injera with Shiro, Dorowet, Firfir, Tibes, the local bread Ambasha as well as various drinks. It also pleased me how friendly and welcoming the people of Ethiopia have been to me since the day I arrived and I was privileged to live in a community that believes in the principles of unity and togetherness. The natives appreciated when you attempted to speak to them in Amharic even if you might be bad at it. Personally I have been keen to learn the language and also experience a host of cultural events and religious feasts such as Meskel and Reecha.

Being part of the 9th Batch of the African Union Youth Volunteer Program was an opportunity for me to put my skills at the disposal of the continent but also to gain experience in an international environment. This opportunity helped me gain valuable experience which will be very important in my future endeavors and has also promoted the spirit of self-reliance and self-awareness, while also giving me an opportunity for social contacts and networking with others.

By Zione Luhanga

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