Savannah de Mare: group photo

Conservation Volunteering With ACE - A Parent's Perspective

As an experienced organisation in our second decade of sending young students out on conservation projects in southern Africa, we know how daunting it can be to support your son or daughter when participating in a project, and some of the questions that may already be going through your mind!

Safety in Africa

Safety of your Son or Daughter on their conservation placement is our highest priority, and knowing the countries we work with enables us to adhere to a strong code of conduct in terms of safety, while still supporting our responsible travel policy. Your Son or Daughter will be met at Johannesburg Airport as soon as they arrive and given an introduction by our Operations Manager in South Africa, ensuring they are reminded of when to take their malaria tablets, cultural differences they may face and how to prepare for this, and of course to keep hydrated and use sunscreen! Please read about our safety in Africa further and the regulations we adhere to. They are given a very strong support structure throughout their placement with ACE staff available 24 hours should they need to speak to us.

Communication with your child on a placement

As soon as your child arrives in South Africa, we will have given them the option for us to contact you on their arrival, and as long as they have given us an email address for you, we will be in touch as soon as they meet our ACE Representative in South Africa, to let you know they have arrived safely. During the project many students will use the local internet cafes to contact home on a regular basis (weekly depending on project) and at some projects internet facilities are available to the students at the base accommodation. Mobile phone signal is also available at most projects, although it can be intermittent. All volunteers, no matter what age, can take a little while to settle into the new environment they are working in and the group, therefore it is beneficial at this stage to not contact home too much, to allow them to make their own adjustments and settle into their new group and friends. Remember most of our volunteers are in the same position and therefore can all be feeling a little apprehensive at first, but strong bonds are normally formed very quickly. At this point please do not worry if they stop contacting you as much, this often is the case as they find their feet! If you need to contact them urgently at any time during the placement, we always ask you to contact our 24 hour emergency line in the UK immediately who is in contact with the southern African contact at all times. At any time during the placement you can also contact the office staff who will be happy to update you about their placement, what they are currently doing and how they are getting on.

What will my son or daughter gain from this experience?

The skills and experience gained on a conservation placement with our projects will range from an increased independence and skills developed for team work to gaining practical knowledge essential for a career in the animal care fields, conservation, veterinary science or wildlife research. Many of our volunteers now work in their dream careers, with some now working in South Africa alongside the projects! The experience gained on a project can stretch a young student and be demanding while giving them an experience of a lifetime and passion and drive which they take home with them.

Hear from ACE's past parents

Gill Portsmouth, Mother of James Portsmouth, 4 weeks at Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience: My son James travelled to South Africa with ACE on the Shimongwe veterinary project for one month this year. We had booked the trip a good year in advance and from day one I felt confident that ACE was a good choice of company to be looking after my son on such an adventurous trip. ACE deal solely with trips of this nature and are therefore very experienced in every aspect of sending volunteers to work on their projects. Having booked the trip we were sent a comprehensive pack of information to help and advise us with fundraising, a kit list and general details of what to expect in terms of travel arrangements and accommodation. The two lovely ladies in the office here in the UK, were always at the end of the phone if additional information was required. They were always there to answer questions and were a constant source of support during the month that James was away. They are in regular contact with the project managers abroad and were well informed as to the daily “happenings” within the field. They kept me informed of the sorts of things that a mum wants to know i.e. that your child is well and happy and having a great time! The trip was so well organised at both ends. James was even able to view a picture of the project manager in South Africa who would be meeting him at the airport so that he knew who to look for. The family that James stayed with, a local vet, his wife and two young sons couldn’t have done more to help the group feel “at home” whilst they were there. They provided them with comfortable accommodation within the grounds of their home, fed them, watered them and entertained them. They remain in touch by email now that James is home and I believe that they will be life long friends. The experience that he gained working with the capture team was invaluable to his chosen career in veterinary science. He worked on 4 out of the big 5 and certainly had some amazing tales to tell on his return, not to mention the photo collection which has been viewed enviously by us all. I would recommend ACE to anyone sending one of their loved ones on a trip like this. You can rest assured that they will be well cared for and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!

Debbie Gratton, Mother of Jonathan Collier, 5 weeks at Moholoholo and Game Capture: Thank you so much for your email and for all your help and support to Jonathan over the past few months. Bristol Zoo contacted yesterday and are very interested in having Jon as a volunteer there in the Autumn. All thanks to the experience that he will gain in Africa.

Mrs Davies, Mother of Abigail Davies, 4 weeks with our rehabilitation projects, South Africa: During the months of preparation for Abigail’s trip, I felt I built a good rapport with the staff from the African Conservation Experience organisation which in turn enabled me to feel reassured that my daughter’s welfare and safety would be considered a top priority. The staff at the organisation were always very friendly and offered helpful advice and answering every query no matter how trivial it seemed. When it was time for Abigail’s departure, I was confident she was going on a well organised trip and was reassured by the staff as a representative would meet her at Heathrow airport and similarly she would be met at Johannesburg airport and would be escorted safely to her project. Abigail has verified that all this happened and that she felt safe, secure and welcomed in her new environment. During her time at the reserve she grew in confidence socially and gained plenty of hands on experience with larger exotic animals. Initially contact through phone messages was frequent but due to technical difficulties this soon tailed off leaving us with no direct contact from her. My next point of enquiry regarding her welfare was via the ACE office staff who had regular contact with the students in Africa. They reassured me that all was very well. They continued to be supportive throughout her placement; I appreciated their kindness and efficiency in this respect. The success of the trip was reflected in that she was not at all homesick and did not want to come home!