In late 2015, I volunteered as part of the Big 5 Wildlife Reserve in the Greater Kruger Area project. Many of those volunteering in South Africa were adults, like me, and we came from around the world. We had a busy schedule and worked long hours. I woke up at 4 or 5 in the morning every day and took advantage of resting during break times as much as possible.
Every week, we went on at least five game drives to conduct data collection on wildlife. This experience alone was worth the cost of the program. The Kruger area and surrounding private reserves are incredible. Seeing animals in a zoo is not even close to how amazing it is to see animals in the wild. We had close encounters with elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffes, and countless other animals. I learned so many interesting facts about these animals and now have such a greater understanding of how they behave and the threats they face for survival in the wild.
Part of the week was also spent doing dirty, sweaty work such as chopping down invasive bushes with machetes or weeding gardens at local schools. It is essential that volunteers bring sturdy work gloves and old clothes that can get damaged, as well as bug spray and long sleeve shirts and pants to protect against ticks and other bugs. This experience is full of health and safety concerns, so my advice is to use common sense, ask questions, and be alert.
This was my second time volunteering abroad through GoEco. When participating in any volunteer program, you need to have an open mind and be flexible, proactive, and willing to work hard. Inevitably, challenges will arise and you will be frustrated at times. For example, while we did perform some work at local schools as part of this program, we had minimal interaction with the children. That was disappointing to me since I was given the impression that we would be able to teach or play with them. I did however accomplish my main goals of learning about wildlife data collection and research, as well as being an active participant in conservation efforts. I came back from this trip inspired to learn and do more to protect wildlife and natural habitats.
After this program, I visited Cape Town and the surrounding area for a few days by myself. It was a beautiful and interesting place. I saw wild penguins on a beach, massive cliffs hovering over the ocean, and the unique flowering plants known as Proteas. South Africa has many different landscapes, climates, flora, and fauna to offer, so if you do end up traveling here, explore as much of the country as you can. You will love it!