Amherst grad to volunteer in Africa

Szpakowski raising money to go to Malawi

Darrell Cole
Published on June 23, 2014
Amherst’s Rachel Szpakowski is raising funds to travel to Malawi in late August where she will be volunteering at a wildlife and monkey sanctuary in that country’s capital, Lilongwe. Anyone willing to help can contact her at at or 694-6020.
Darrell Cole -

An Amherst teen is raising money volunteer in Malawi starting in late August.

AMHERST – At a time when most high school graduates are thinking of college or university, Amherst’s Rachel Szpakowski is getting ready to go to the other side of the world to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary.

Szpakowski successfully applied several months ago to join African Impact, which will sent her to the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in the capital of Malawi. The centre is the country’s only wildlife and monkey sanctuary and one of Africa’s last truly urban wildernesses.

The centre performs wild animal rescue, rehabilitation and acts as an education facility with extensive community outreach.

“Jenna Ackles went on a trip with African Impact to Zimbabwe. We I started talking about going on Facebook, she messaged me from Zimbabwe and told me I should apply,” Szpakowksi said. “When I heard I was going to Malawi I was so excited because it’s going to be a life-changing experience.”

Szpakowski leaves in late August and could be back in October. She’s applying for an internship that could keep here there until February.

In preparation, she is getting her vaccinations up to date and reading as much as she can on the program and the country she’s going. Malawi, located in southeastern Africa, is among the world’s poorest nations. Its economy is based on agriculture, mostly in tobacco, sugar and tea.

“I’d never heard of the country until I found out I was going there. I’ve been doing a lot of research about it since,” she said.

Although a poor nation, she said, the friendliness of its people have given it the nickname as the Warm Heart of Africa.

She’s also trying to raise the $5,000 it’s going to cost to go. To date she has had some support from the Amherst Lions Club and she is reaching out to other groups, organizations and individuals for help.

Created in 2004, African Impact first worked on a lion rehabilitation project in Zimbabwe and has grown from a small family-run organization to a multi-award winning social enterprise in 11 African nations including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Madagascar and Uganda.

The goal of the organization is to maximize the power of volunteering both for the volunteers and the communities and conservation efforts. The group’s webpage says it’s not just about hands-on help and skills that volunteers bring, but it’s also about what an amazing continent, its people and its wildlife can give volunteers in return.

Anyone willing to help her can contact her at or 694-6020. One of the things she is doing to raise money is collecting bottles. Anyone with bottles to donate can contact her.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell