Taking a little break from this month’s emphasis on orangutan projects, our own Natalie is here to give you the lowdown on what it’s like to volunteer at South Africa’s wildlife orphanage! There’s plenty to do on this project – not only will you get to witness some of the world’s most varied and amazing animal species, but you’ll also get to enjoy the unique experience of educating some of South Africa’s youngsters. Ready to discover more? Let Natalie tell you all about life on the project…
Day 1 – Arrival: Saturday marks the beginning of your African adventure, as you touch down and head to the project site. Once here, you’ll have the chance to settle in, unpack your belongings, and unwind before getting to know your fellow volunteers.
Day 2: Allowing you to ease in to your new surrounds, Sunday is a day of leisurely choices. You either have the option of going on an excursion (at an additional cost, which can be split between larger groups); or you can simply opt to stay at camp, enjoying a delicious late breakfast of pancakes, before spending more time getting to know your new campmates (and the wild animals that call the area home!) Later, each volunteer will be expected to attend a social talk, designed to prepare you for the next day’s duties.
Days 3-7 (please note that this is a generic itinerary, so your own time on the project may vary slightly!):
7:00am: Wake up and adjust to the early morning, before heading to the communal area. Share a pot of tea or coffee with your fellow volunteers – a good caffeine kick will come in handy for your first task of the day!
7:10am: The orphanage is home to several dogs which, as to be expected, will need to be walked regularly! Grab a leash and head on out to the bush for a brisk 15-20 minute walk with the children and dogs. If you’re lucky enough, the morning might even offer you a unique chance to spot local wildlife early on…including giraffes!
7:30am: After enjoying an energetic walk, it’s time to sit down for a hearty breakfast. Take your pick of any combination of fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt and toast!
8:00am: It’s now time for your first stabling session. For this task, volunteers are split into small teams, as to cover all enclosures. Jobs will include caring for, monitoring and collecting data for the animals; maintaining and cleaning the enclosures; or helping in the animal kitchen, where you will dice and prepare all food necessary to feed each animal.
9:00am: Here is where you’ll start your teaching programme for the day. The subjects taught will vary throughout the week, with essential topics (such as English and maths) having their place, alongside other such lessons like animal conservation issues (anti-poaching, job opportunities in game reserves etc) and the more generic animal education. Some of the children have never even seen a chicken before, so are understandably eager to learn about all areas of nature! The teaching programme also involves taking a bush walk, where both volunteers and children learn about animal tracks, trees, and wildlife.
12:30pm: Time to take a break for lunch – the menu changes daily, with options such as salad, pizza, pasta, vegetables and rice all on offer. If you wish, there is also the opportunity to use the internet during this free time!
2:00pm: It’s back to work now, which means that lessons resume and you can continue teaching the bright young children at the orphanage!
4:30pm: Another stabling session now, with the group being split up once more and jobs allocated across the team (you will, of course, carry out a different task than the one you did in the morning, offering some variation to your day.)
5:30pm: Take some time to sit down with all of your fellow volunteers, and get involved with social talks – here, you will tackle such topics as drugs, respect, and safe sex. Much of this session will cover issues not widely discussed with the children in their usual school lessons, so gives everybody a great opportunity to open up and talk about issues they’re perhaps not so used to speaking about typically.
6:30pm: At last, it’s time for some food! Dinnertime will consist of delicious options such as chicken, stew, and even steak – so dig in and enjoy! After dinner, all of the volunteers will meet for the daily board meeting, where they will find out which jobs they have been allocated for the next day.
7:30pm: You now have the opportunity to unwind by playing games, watching a film, or even lighting a bonfire to dance around with the children! When I visited the orphanage, all of the volunteers got into groups representing their home country, and each group took it in turns to sing the national anthem…of course we were all out of tune (or worse, didn’t know the words!), but it was a fun a lighthearted activity which we all were able to laugh about.
8:30pm: The little ones now have to go to bed, so volunteers will bid goodnight to the children. Afterwards, you’ll be able to kick back and relax, either playing cards with your new-found friends, or sitting outside to admire the stunning South African stars – listening to the symphony of the animals truly is a magical experience, and is a wonderful way to unwind after a long day on site. Take as long as you want underneath the stars, or with your fellow volunteers, as bedtime is at your own discretion here – just try to be respectful of those who may have gone to bed already!
Extra activities: Time on the project isn’t a matter of all work and no play! Once a week, you’ll have the opportunity to walk to Leopard Rock; a lovely spot to sit, relax and contemplate beneath the beautiful African sunset. If shopping is more your thing, there is an organised trip towards the town every Saturday – get out there and treat yourself to some local goods, as well as getting to know members of the community! Elsewhere, additional excursions can be arranged, such as game drives; trips to the Kruger national park; and trips along the Mpumalanga Panorama Route, where you can witness an out-of-this-world view over the Blyde river canyon. Each of these activities can be arranged on Sundays, as can ziplining trips and bungee swings!
If this sounds like your kind of project, take a look here and volunteer in South Africa!
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