I am going to start my story off with a conclusion … DO IT! If you are reading this because you are still unsure weather you want to join this project, maybe due to financial concerns or nerves about traveling, then trust me when I say you won’t regret it. My experience in South Africa was one of the best adventure of my life and one that will stay with me forever.
ARRIVAL – The first friendly face I met was that of Martin, the passionate in country support. He gave the group of arrivals, who were from all round the world, a shocking speech about the real problems occurring in South Africa over the past few years. It was really eye opening to hear the side of a resident and not filtered through the media. Martin stayed in steady contact over my trip and was always on hand to talk about any concerns. He made an effort to memorise everyone’s name and learn a little about you despite the vast number of volunteers he meets everyday. Over the few hours spent on the mini bus on the beautiful road to Hoedspruit, I got to connect with all types of people taking part in a range of ACE projects. We all travelled back on the same day which was lovely to catch up and learn about what they had been involved with during the two weeks.
HOST FAMILY – A home away from home, with delicious and inclusive food, the most lovely people on earth (not an exaggeration) and six dogs to greet you back after a long day at the clinic! Sheridan and her family were so welcoming and couldn’t do enough for me to ensure I was happy. The family were always willing to transport you around the local area on weekends to visit projects and sanctuaries only for contribution to petrol money. I packed in as much as I could on my weekends off to ensure I made the most of my trip. I visited an elephant sanctuary, two hand reared rescued white lions, the three view points, the cliff swing and even an entire day in Kruger National Park (where we spotted a young leopard and a honey badger!). All projects are aimed towards conservation, very educational and supported by Dr Rodgers himself. The house is set on a private reserve where you can walk with the dogs and spot anything from bats and warthogs to giraffes. I remember one morning when we were sat out on the porch enjoying a cup of tea when a whole herd of wilder beast walked straight through the garden! The reserve also has a riding school where Murry will take you for rides around the reserve to spot the wild animals, with all the dogs too!
THE CLINIC – everyone at the veterinary centre was so friendly and always made you feel welcome. There was always something exciting going on and even at the quieter times you could walk the dogs that were in for the day or help with routine treatments. We took part in consultations and operations for a range of animals although the trips out to larger wild animals were by far more exciting. I was able to experience check ups and treatment on elephants, cheetahs, leopards, lions and rhinos in a range of environments including private reserves, specialist orphanages and HESC (Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre). This gave me a very well rounded experience of South Africa and each of the people I met gave me a different insight into the current issues of the local animals. Each of the vets I worked with were always happy to explain any procedures they undertook and even allow me to get some hands on experience. The volunteers had the responsibility of monitoring the vitals of any immobilised animals and I had the opportunity to place my very first intravenous catheter into a lion who was being tested for TB.
Overall, South Africa was such an unbelievable experience and one which was difficult to leave! I met amazing friends from all over the world and learnt a huge amount about the career I will one day be part of. I would say it was a once in a lifetime adventure but that wouldn’t be true, I am returning next summer to do it all again! Hopefully my few tips about my experience has convinced you to take the leap into the ultimate South African adventure. ENJOY!