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

The 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 further about our safety in Africa and the regulations we adhere to. They are given a very strong support structure throughout their placement, with ACE staff available 24 hours a day 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 give them the option to contact you on their arrival. As long as they have given us an email address, 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 regularly (weekly, depending on the assignment). For some projects, internet facilities are available to the students at the base accommodation. Mobile phone signal is also available at most projects, although 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 not to contact home too much to allow them to make their adjustments and settle into their new group and friends. Remember, most of our volunteers are in the same position and, therefore, can all feel a little apprehensive initially, but strong bonds are typically formed 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! Suppose you need to get them urgently during the placement. In that case, we always ask you to contact our 24-hour emergency line in the UK immediately, which is always in contact with the southern African contact. You can also contact the office staff at any time during the placement, who will be happy to update you about their order, 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 increased independence and skills developed for teamwork 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 working in South Africa alongside the projects! The experience gained on a project can stretch a young student and be demanding while giving them the experience of a lifetime, passion, and drive they take home with them.

Hear from ACE's past parents

Gill Portsmouth

Mother of James Portsmouth, who spent four 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 an excellent company choice to be looking after my son on such an adventurous trip.

ACE deal solely with trips of this nature and is therefore very experienced in 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 regarding travel arrangements and accommodation. The two lovely ladies in the office 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 James was away. They are in regular contact with the project managers abroad and are well-informed about the daily "happenings" within the field. They informed me of what 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 could even 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 their home's grounds, fed and watered and entertained them. They remain in touch by email now that James is home, and I believe they will be lifelong friends. The experience he gained working with the capture team was invaluable to his chosen career in veterinary science. He worked on 4 out of the big five and certainly had some fantastic tales to tell on his return, not to mention the photo collection we all viewed enviously. I would recommend ACE to anyone sending one of their loved ones on this trip. You can rest assured that they will be well cared for and enjoy the journey of a lifetime!

Debbie Gratton

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

Mrs Davies

Mother of Abigail Davies, who spent four weeks with our rehabilitation projects in 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 organisation staff were always amiable, offered helpful advice, and answered 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. The staff reassured me that a representative would meet her at Heathrow Airport and, similarly, she would be met at Johannesburg Airport and escorted safely to her project. Abigail has verified that all this happened and that she felt safe, secure and welcomed in her new environment. While at the reserve, she grew socially confident 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. The trip's success was reflected in her not being homesick and did not want to come home!