My time at the Malawi Wildlife Rescue Center can only be described as the very clichéd “once in a lifetime” experience, only I hope that it does not happen only once in my lifetime, as I would love to go back sometime as soon as possible. I got the idea to volunteer in Africa from an animal shelter where I volunteer at home; someone mentioned it in passing and the idea stuck with me. So when I had to opportunity to take some time off from work and school to celebrate my 30th birthday, I decided to do some research, and became immediately overwhelmed with the choices. A friend emailed me a list from a non-profit site ranking volunteer programs on volunteer experiences, treatment of animals, ties to hunting, etc., and this program was listed as highly recommended. After all of the research and some email exchanges, this seemed like the best fit for the experience I was looking for.
The volunteers and staff were immediately welcoming – right from Robert, who picked us up from the airport and endured 100 questions on the drive to the centre, to Mandy, the volunteer coordinator who was there waiting for us as we arrived (with presents!). After settling in, we were immediately thrown into work, which was intimidating, yet exciting, because I was only there for a short time, so I wanted to be involved as much as possible. I was responsible for feeding/sitting with a new orphaned monkey who arrived shortly before I did as well as a new baby duiker, who was possibly my favourite because I fed her almost every day that I was there five times a day, so we got to bond a little.
Another of my favourite activities was observing the vervets who would be released a few weeks after my departure – by the end of my volunteer experience, I knew all of their names and individual personalities. Aside from getting to work with animals all day (vastly differently than the job I do at home), I also really enjoyed getting to know the volunteers and staff, who went out of their way to ensure we had a great Christmas even though we were so far from our family and friends (and even got me a birthday cake!). I am so lucky to have been a part of all the great things going on at this program, if only for a short time. I will definitely be back!