Fiona Hopper shares her thoughts on the Bulawayo June 2023 project

I have been asked to do a write up about the two weeks I have recently spent in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe with Operation Florian. I am not sure how I will be able to put this experience into words.

The time was challenging, rewarding, humbling, amazing, and most of all, unforgettable. I left home and travelled to the airport where I met my fellow team members for the first time. There was a nervous excitement throughout the whole group as we set off on our trip.

Operation Florian has been visiting Bulawayo for a number of years, so the set up was in place at their headquarters, Famona Fire Station. We spent the first day familiarising ourselves with the training environment and the equipment we had to work with and talking through the classes we had planned for the weeks ahead.

Monday morning arrived and we set off on a visit to the Town Hall to meet the council dignitaries. Sat in the council offices listening to what this means to the community really hit home and made me appreciate the importance of the work Operation Florian does in Zimbabwe and other countries all over the world. The undertaking which goes on behind the scenes to enable these successful projects to take place is phenomenal.

So down to the teaching. Between the 10 of us we were delivering RTC, BA, incident command and fire investigation training to firefighters from brigades across the country. The team consisted of members who had been on numerous trips with Operation Florian around the world and three of us for which this was our first overseas trip. The experience and support that these fellow team members brought to the group was priceless and very much appreciated.

I was part of the BA cohort and worked alongside a returnee instructor training the students on equipment and operational techniques. The firefighters themselves were enthusiastic and keen to learn. The days were busy and long but spending time in the company of students willing to ask questions and wanting to soak up every bit of information was an absolute pleasure. We assessed the students throughout the week and a final written test was completed on the Friday.

We spent the weekend exploring some of the nearby countryside accompanied by the council members which included a walking safari to see rhinos in the famous Matopos National park.

The time passed far too quickly and after two weeks of teaching the final day came and we were given front row seats to the handing over parade which consisted of some impressive marching, an RTC display and the celebratory singing and dancing.

I am writing this a week on and reflecting on my time away. I learnt a lot about the charity and the brilliant work it does. I learnt a lot about the beautiful country of Zimbabwe. Most importantly for me, I learnt a lot about the daily difficulties firefighters face in other countries and I will remember that these firefighters do this with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. I hope this feeling stays with me for many years to come.

This may have been my first trip with Operation Florian but I sincerely hope it won’t be my last.