Tucked into the heat of southern Israel is the expansive Desert Wildlife Program reserve. Its hidden treasures take form in the shape of all kinds of different animals, there for either rehabilitation, injury care, or general safekeeping. I arrived at Hai Bar on a sticky Tuesday afternoon, where we were picked up from the bus station by one of the center managers Isaac, who led us through the nature reserve.
The wildlife reserve has two major areas where animals inhabit, some are kept caged and others are enclosed in a massive safari. Volunteering at the wildlife center was something I never imagined I would do, and I loved being amongst the animals and others who care so deeply for their well-being and protection, which built a profoundly compassionate vibe surrounding our interactions with each other and the animals. The volunteer accommodations were at the far end of the safari, creating an even more immersive experience for myself and the other volunteers to feel fully engaged with the animals and our immediate surroundings.
On our first night, I was taken to the volunteer house with the other volunteers where we spent time getting to know one another over a meal of couscous, and gazed at the stars. It was a beautiful and relaxing evening on the eve of my first day of work. I would not have traded it for the world!
Our first day of work began around 7:30am, and the rangers came to pick us up to bring us to the wildlife center. There we made coffee with the rangers and other volunteers before a long day’s work ahead. This part of the morning was incredibly enjoyable, as it was a moment of calm before the surge of work washed everyone to their positions. Eventually, myself and another volunteer began cutting vegetables to feed the turtles and other non-meat eating animals! Working at the wildlife center has the perfect balance of being active and relaxing, and even many of the volunteer tasks have a very noticeable rhythm and method. It was so easy for me to adapt for this reason, and my volunteer hours gave me so much time to reflect on my experiences while simultaneously helping a small ecosystem.
In the morning, our tasks involved preparing food for the animals, cleaning out the cages and replacing the water. This part of the morning was so engaging as we were able to experience each animal in their habitat and feel connected to them! On this morning, I worked with turtles, mice, brazilian birds, gazelles, baby ostriches, cats, jackals, a leopard, and wolves. I was simply astounded the entire morning at how close I was to wild animals I never imagined to be in the same vicinity of. That was one of my favorite aspects of this volunteer experience: striking a closeness with animals in a much more meaningful way than being at a zoo. Rather than simply observing their lifestyles, we were helping to improve them. Because of this I felt a closer link to my surrounding ecosystem and the people I volunteered with.
After our morning with the caged animals, Yan, GoEco’s awesome Israel field coordinator, took two volunteers and me to the Coral Reef Conservation program in Eilat for an afternoon of snorkeling! I will not forget this afternoon for as long as I live, as it was my first official time snorkeling. I have always felt a certain connection with the ocean and snorkeling definitely reinforced that feeling. Yan, myself, and two other volunteers descended to the bridge that led us to the coral reef, and once we reached this point we strapped on our gear and hopped in the water! This was a fantastic bonding experience and I would not have wanted to snorkel with anyone else, the entire time we continued to check up on one another to make sure we were all safe and having a good time. The snorkeling experience itself was something hard to attach words to. Mystifying, mesmerizing, and tantalizing are just a few that characterized my snorkeling experience. The waters were a luminescent blue filled with exotic fish to examine. The coral reef itself was ablaze with life and color, an obvious home for diverse organisms. Swimming in the crystal waters of Eilat truly reminded me why I am in Israel this summer and that everything happens for a reason.
In the future, I absolutely plan on taking more trips with GoEco to explore the other possibilities the volunteer tourism world has to offer.