“Climbing a mountain is a bit unusual,” Rowan says shrugging, “[but] people were really interested in what I was doing.”
Fourteen year old Rowan Winstanley-Burridge has brought new meaning to Vanavevhu’s claim that we nurture youth leadership. Beginning in the Spring of 2014 Rowan raised over $1000 to fund his passage to Zimbabwe for a Skills Share trip. Rowan climbed Mount Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales, at an elevation of 1,085 meters above sea level. Rowan is the son of Vanavevhu supporter Sally Winstanley of Jam Pots and Purls. Rowan became interested in visiting Vanavevhu after his mother's first successful trip. While this was his first time being involved with a nonprofit organization, Rowan has enjoyed the experience every step of the way – especially his trip to Zimbabwe in February of this year,where he spent 3 weeks working together with the Vanavevhu youth.
Were you nervous when you arrived in Zimbabwe?
I wasn't nervous as such. I was excited and a bit apprehensive about whether I would be up for the job. I didn't want to be a disappointment.
Did you make any friends? (What did the youth tell you about them/act towards you?)
I got to know some of the young people quite well and connected with them quite quickly. I also joined in the local explorer scout meetings whilst I was there so got to know people outside of Vanavevhu. The youth at Vanavevhu welcomed me warmly. They were really friendly and I was made to feel part of the group. We didn't really share life stories or anything like that but we chatted and laughed, larking together and mucking about together when there was work to be done.
How was the experience?
It was a great experience. Really interesting to see the project first hand and to see all that's going on there. I found it quite challenging because of the heat but it was good to be doing something to support Vanavevhu. People are always saying it's good to give back into life and now I understand what they mean.
What skills did you learn there?
I learned about beekeeping, candle making and how to make lip balm. I was interested to study the irrigation systems they have in place and to see their organic permaculture practice in action.
What skills did you share with the youth?
I taught everyone how to use the Singer sewing machine that we took with us and was part of the workshops mum was running in knitting, preserving and patch work. I also designed a honey extractor so that they will be able to harvest the honey from their bees.
What did you hope to gain from visiting Zimbabwe and how did it differ from the actual experience?
I'm not sure that I hoped to gain anything in particular from visiting Zimbabwe. I suppose a big thing for me was to be working with mum in something she's passionate about. Visiting a country so different from the UK was going to be an incredible experience so I wanted to go with an open mind. After the trip I felt inspired by the youth at Vanavevhu. They are an amazing bunch of people, enthusiastic about everything and skilled in lots of things. I can look at my life from a different perspective now.
Would you like to visit Zimbabwe again or any other African country?
At the moment I don't know if I will return to Zimbabwe. I would certainly love to see everyone again but who knows? It has certainly stretched my horizons.
Rowan lives in Cornwall, UK with his mother, Sally, and his father, Neil.