Laura’s Volunteer Experience in Israel- Expectations Exceeded

Posted by: Laura K.

I am perhaps not what people think of as a typical volunteer. I am neither college-aged nor retired. I have a full family life with school-aged children, complete with a busy and rewarding work life as a professor and administrator. I love the work that I already do, but sometimes I need a break from it! I was looking for a different kind of travel experience that would take me away from my usual day-to-day responsibilities for a little while, and that would get me out in nature. I wanted to travel, engage in meaningful volunteer work in Israel, and be outside with trees, mountains, the sea. I also like to challenge myself and learn new things. Participating in GoEco’s amazing opportunity in the Desert Wildlife Program fulfilled all of my requirements.

My cousin and I met in Jerusalem the night before the GoEco Jerusalem Orientation Tour for all of the volunteers. We were both blown away by the wonderful tour given by Yan, one of GoEco’s tour guides. We had both previously toured Jerusalem separately, but on Yan’s comprehensive and all-day tour, we saw many things we had not seen before and had a great time meeting all of the other volunteers. It was a great segue for the rest of the trip.

Our adventure to the Desert Widlife Program began with a bus trip from Jerusalem to the South to get to the Negev. There were two other volunteers and much to our surprise, our tour guide Yan came all the way with us and stayed an extra day to make sure the four of us were settled in. That extra caring touch meant a lot to us as we adapted to our new environment. If you are looking for a 5-Star hotel experience or are put off by dust or dirt, and don’t like roughing it, this is not the project for you. Instead of having to wear a suit and heels and stressing out from leading a department at a college, my dusty, black work boots covered in desert sand became a symbol of my day’s hard work. I traded piles of papers and folders on my desk for working outside in nature and fresh air.

I was impressed by the pride that the rangers took in their work and in their country. It was magnetic and grounding.The rangers would teach us about the specifics of each animal species and how to approach them when feeding or handling. It was a treat to work on an actual safari and live right on the safari itself overlooking such a beautiful desert landscape. Highlights included cooking our dinner at night under the stars in our outside fire pit and getting to know things about the animals, geographical area, and Israel as a country from the rangers. We were also able to get in close proximity with some of the animals like the parrots, owls, porcupines, eagles, and lizards. The ostriches lived literally right next to the volunteer house and we could hear their calls at night. Because of the remoteness of the preserve and the safari, we counted on the rangers to pick us up or take us to the bus stop which was a 45-minute walk away from the house where the volunteers lived. They took us to work at 6:45 each morning and brought us home in the early afternoon.

Besides all of the interesting things I learned about the wild animals during my time at the Hai Bar, I also loved travelling around the country. Before the volunteering started, I came a few days early and travelled in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. During the two weekends after starting at the project, I went with my cousin to Mitzpe Ramon for a jeeping and hiking tour, and then to Beer Sheva. Another weekend I travelled with one of the other volunteers to Eilat where we relaxed on the beach, shopped at the Eilat Harbor, had some great meals, went to a camel farm, and had a wonderful time swimming with the dolphins at the Coral Reef.

There were so many great take-away experiences from my volunteer time at the project that it is difficult to name just a few. It by far exceeded my expectations. Some highlights for me were the opportunity to live and work in a breathtaking setting, the new friendships I made with people I am still keeping in touch with, and the chance to combine exciting travel with volunteer work. I also enjoyed and treasure the fun friendships formed between the volunteers and the park ranger and challenging myself in new settings and with the physical demands of the day-to-day jobs. I let go of control and learned to go with the flow. I really enjoyed my time, knowing that I was directly helping the environment and animals of Israel, and enjoyed recharging by being a team player in a completely new work environment.