I am writing a review of ACE as a parent of a 17 year old teenager who wanted to volunteer in South Africa with a Wildlife Research Team (Phinda Wildlife Research Project). I cannot recommend ACE and the team highly enough. They supported both my daughter and myself through the whole process and the experience.
There are so many benefits to organising a placement with ACE. First, they vet all the projects so that you know that when you arrive at the project you will be doing the work that you thought you would be doing and that the money is going to the project and not elsewhere. Then, they help organise all the logistics and safety is their top priority. Being a minor, there were several extra documents that my daughter needed to be able to enter and leave South Africa and ACE guided us through all of them. Then prior to departure, my daughter was put in touch with another volunteer travelling on the same flight and they enjoyed sharing the experience of flying to J’burg together. The girls then parted company and my daughter then had to get on a connecting flight on her own and meet a driver at Richards Bay airport who drove her for a couple of hours to the game reserve. Knowing that ACE has been using the same driver in Richards Bay for many years and that he is completely trustworthy meant that I didn’t need to worry about the safety of a 17 year old travelling on her own.
There is also an amazing volunteer coordinator based in Johannesburg who is responsible for all the volunteers in the country at the different projects and he could not have been more helpful and communicative, relaying that my daughter had arrived safely in SA and then that she had arrived at the game reserve. He also helped her organise a SA mobile phone so that we could stay in touch while she was volunteering. When her bag went missing, the coordinator worked tirelessly to get the bag to my daughter as soon as possible.
And then there is the actual experience of volunteering. My daughter got to experience wildlife research that could not have been matched here in the UK – she went on two game drives a day and worked alongside the permanent research team. Each volunteer experience depends on the work schedule that the researchers have scheduled for the week – for my daughter that meant that she got to see 3 rhino dehorning and 2 rhinos being relocated to Botswana, as well as the daily record keeping of sightings of the SA wildlife. Absolutely extraordinary!! We learn so much about ourselves and about the world when we travel. ACE ensured that my daughter’s first experience of travelling abroad on her own was amazing!! I have no doubt that she will treasure the memories forever and the experience will give her the confidence to try new experiences in the future. Thank you ACE. The volunteering experiences aren’t cheap but they are worth every penny!