Voluntouring in South Africa

Hola hola, Its Tati!

Voluntouring? No, I didn’t make that word up and it’s not a typo. This is a concept that has become very popular over the last few years. This is when people volunteer overseas while they travel. I’m not gonna lie and say I wanted to be Mother Teresa and was looking for this directly, I just happened to stumble upon it. I had made up my mind about wanting to visit Africa, specifically to go on a safari.

When I discovered an average price for an Aftrican safari ran along the $1,000 price per night, I was taken aback! The prices are a bit ridiculous, but what bothers me the most is how inaccessible they are to actual locals! During my travels after my South Africa trip, I’ve met several South African backpackers who have never in their lives been able to go on a safari because it’s so damn expensive, even for people who make “good” money. Heck if for me $1000 a night is way more than I would pay, imagine for a local. Sadly that’s part of traveling, tourist traps. Thankfully, I did some more digging on the internet, and came upon a discussion board about how people volunteered at actual reserves and were able to do actual safaris for close to $600 a week…not per night, per week. Well it turns out, there’s a whole world out there dedicated to volunteering overseas. This is how I came across the company, Khaya Volunteer Projects. Khaya is a South African company that offers volunteer projects, internships and gap year opportunities in Africa. They have projects in Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, and South Africa for all kinds of volunteering. These include ; teaching, child care, medical assistance, sports programs for kids, community projects and wildlife conservation. For a complete list of programs click here.

The communication with Khaya, despite the time difference was great. I was mostly in contact with Samantha, who took care of answering all my questions and needs. I did a lot of research on the company and I suggest you do the same. With traveling being so popular now, companies are getting smart and try to take advantage and mark themselves as “volunteer” just to attract people in their program. One of the biggest tools I used to my advantage was social media. I would look up hashtags of the program and company. I would search for people who had checked in these places, and I would direct message them with something like “Hey, I saw that you participated in a volunteering program with Khaya, I’m thinking about volunteering with them, can you tell me a little about your experience with them?” I had about 6 different people message me back with nothing but amazing things to say about the organizations.

I booked a one week stay in their Big 5 Wildlife Conservation Program, they have in South Africa. I felt like this would be a great way to get my feet wet into solo traveling. I arrived in South Africa in March 2017, and by the time I made it to the program in Paterson, I had already experienced 2 full days of actual solo travel, and I was alive! I might’ve cheating a little and “rented” a local from an app… yes a stranger (blog coming soon). When I arrived to the volunteer house I was greeted by Eben, a park ranger who would be our guide. I finally met the team, it consisted of 3 other girls. There was Eli, she was a 16 year old from Washington DC. Her parents were both doctors and were in Capetown doing research for HIV….. how freaking amazing is that! Even though she was so young I connected with her and immediately “adopted” her in my trip. We even shared taste in books, as I was reading mine, she recommended her current read, “Sapiens” (which I have purchased, and it’s in my reading queue … I know it’s been two years.I’ll get there I promise). She was traveling with her parents all across the globe while they worked. I did not get tired of telling her how lucky she was and to not take it for granted! Then there was Janine, a nurse from Switzerland with a cute accent. She was a bit quiet at the beginning but after our afternoon whiskey swigs it was all laughs and giggles when she told us crazy stories about her nurse life. She was about my age and had been in the program a week before me. And at last there was Kim, a free spirit from New York, she was probably in her late 30’s early 40’s. She was a rebel at heart, with an endless love for animals and travel. And here I came a city girl who rolled in with two big suitcases, a whole make up case and a fresh manicure of stiletto glitter acrylics. Oh how long I’ve come since then.

During my one week stay we had a 4 day and a half work week and we had the weekend off. I will say these programs are better if you stay for 2 weeks or longer. In my case due to work I only stayed a week which really limits how much “work” you can do. That might be good news to you, though. Every single day we would go on 2 safaris one in the morning and one in the afternoon, or sometimes walking hikes where we saw the different flora and insects in the region. Our park ranger was extremely knowledgeable and they do a great job at really educating you about the threats animal conservation has. The biggest one, being poaching. We helped the rangers keep track of animal count, erosion control, fence maintenance, but I would say the biggest thing you can take from this program, is to educate yourself on the dangers of having these beautiful animals going extinct. It’s crazy to think that before humans appeared on earth, about 66 million years ago, animals of all kinds roamed freely. Yet we came in and took over ALL land and now regulate and fence them in to our standards. And on top of that, not only do we hunt them “for fun” but now poaching trade is one of the most profitable in the black market.

So yeah, the safari’s were amazing you get very close to the animals, and it’s just such a good heart warming feeling that you are flying in to their habitat and approaching their beauty there, and not across a window. The huge benefits besides paying only 1/10th of the price was that it was just a small group of us and we could take as long as we wanted in the reserves studying the animals and learning about their behaviors. I got really lucky and was able to see all Big 5 of Africa, specially my favorite, the Lion. It was an awesome experience we followed a pride of 3 lions for hours, they crossed the road right in front of us, literally made eye contact as they walked across our (completely open) jeep, we saw them climb up rocks, drink water from a stream, sunbathe and eventually nested in the shadow for their afternoon nap.Highlight of my trip.

The fact that you aren’t staying at the actual resort, but at the volunteer house, where other local workers live, gives you that access to get to know their lives. One of the cleaning ladies shared her story about how she’d lost many family members due to HIV (South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world), and her sister had recently passed away to it. When you share with the locals, you take your tourism filter off and can really dive into other cultures to see the way people have to live. With my extensive luggage I made sure to fill one suitcase with baby clothes, shoes for kids and school supplies. My mom ran a daycare back home and I asked her if she could ask the kids’ parents to donate these items for my trip. Consider this option if you have the chance to go. To know most of our used clothes end up in landfills, might as well put them in the hands of people who really need them. Before traveling ask your volunteer agent, what donations they are lacking and instead of buying new products and clothes, think green and try and get donations from your family and friends. You’ll be surprised how many people are happy you take their “junk” away from their hands.

My stay with the Amakhala reserve finished with a surprising free stay at their resort, in their safari lodge! So turns out if you stay a minimum of two weeks you can stay for a night at the all inclusive lodges. My whole crew had stayed for two weeks, and Ebin was really sweet to let me go and spend the weekend with them. Talk about cherry on top! We stayed in their luxury suites. They each had their private balcony with a pool where you had an amazing view to the reserve and if you got lucky enough elephants would come and have a drink from your private pool. They also featured an amazing outdoor shower, free wifi and air conditioned rooms. We actually got to take a traditional safari with the guests that were staying that night. We had an amazing private dinner, where we actually got to dress up and get cute after our volunteering week. After dinner we walked back to our lodges and turned out monkeys had gotten inside Kim and Janine’s room, going after an open bag of chips lol. Note to self always zip up all doors completely! To finish up the night we went to the resort’s big porch to stargaze. I kid you not, it was probably one of the best places to see the stars. I could’ve stayed there for hours just looking up at the sky. This was the perfect way to say goodbye to Amakhala Private Game Reserve and Luxury Safari Lodges.

Saturday Ebin recommended a homestay for us to stay in before our flights back home on Sunday. The four of us spent the day at the beach in Port Elizabeth and enjoyed our last day together. Kim would go back to the volunteer house, she was staying longer. Janine was flying back to Switzerland. Eli was flying to Capetown to meet with her parents and it so happened we had the same flight booked. I was spending my last day in Capetown, before heading home. On Sunday we were all dropped off at the airport and it was time to say goodbye to the amazing volunteer group, I had spent the last week with. I can not recommend this program enough.

Tatiana Vas
Source: https://traveltati.com/voluntouring-in-south-africa/

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