Voluntourism 101: Africa Big 5 Conservation and Community Volunteering
Updated: Jan 5
Waking at dawn, eating a hearty breakfast, then boarding a safari truck, blankets in hand for a 20 minute drive in the brisk morning air to a nature preserve may hardly be most people's description of a vacation, but that's how we started each day of our voluntourism adventure. By the end of the day we were usually tired, but it was a good tired because we knew we were making a difference.
What is Voluntourism?
Volunteerism, plain and simple is combining volunteering with a vacation that makes a difference to the local communities, endangered animals, or the environment. Let's face it, sometimes it's hard to find hope in our everyday lives when we're bombarded by information about a planet on the brink from climate change, species on the threshold of extinction, and people unable to afford the basic necessities of life. There is hope however. Each one of us, no matter who we are can make a difference. Every time we step out of our comfort zone and lend a hand in a new culture and community, we send out tiny ripples of hope and all of those ripples can cause huge waves of change.
Our Big 5 African Research and Community Development took place near Hoedspruit, South Africa just outside of Kruger National Park. Our daughter Jordyn, an Environmental Science major in college with an interest in the effects of climate change on wildlife discovered the organization on the recommendation of a professor at her school. The trip was through a company called African Impact. The organization has numerous volunteer adventures to choose from throughout Africa. We chose this one because it included wild animals (it is close to Kruger National Park- known for its safaris and amazing wildlife) and community work and it was in South Africa, a country we had come to love.
What do you do?
Everyday was a new adventure. We stayed at a lodge called Dumela and were with travelers from France, England, Hong Kong, Brussels, and Denmark. Also with us were travelers who were taking an African Impact month long wild animal photography course. For our research and conservation work, we were each assigned a job. our jobs ranged from monitoring predator sightings to observing lion and rhino social interactions. I was also in charge of counting each day a colony of bats that lived under the roof of the outside porch.
Each day, we went on two safari drives. If we saw the animal we were assigned we noted the GPS coordinates and answered questions about their behavior. Later, we would enter this information into a computer data base that was shared with various NGO's. The data was used to help in their conservation. We also spent time removing invasive plants from areas. going on anti-poacher patrols and helped with a community business program where community members were taught how to farm and sell their produce. Best of all, we learned the importance of community involvement and leadership.
Time for Fun and Relaxation
The trip wasn't all work and no play.
When we weren't active in the various volunteer activities, we had time free time to relax near the lodge pool, meditate, enjoy a sundowner (sunset), or chat and make new friends from people around the world. Friday and weekends were free. We would take trips to town to shop and have lunch or rent a car for a weekend to visit Kruger National Park.
We also had presentations on the local culture and conservation. Weekend trips are also offered to Blyde Canyon, a beautiful canyon above the Blyde River with stunning cliffs and views.
New friends, New Perspectives and a Heart full of Memories
At the end of the trip we said goodbye to our new friends. We arrived hoping we could make a difference and left with a heart full of memories and love knowing that we had done something that helped people and animals beyond our own borders and comfort zone.
Volunteer Organizations: African Impact https://africanimpact.com/ . Goabroad.com and Gooverseas.com also list and review volunteer organizations. In addition, keep your eyes open for volunteer opportunities as you travel. If you see a need, make a contact and see how you can help.
Transportation: Fly to Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg Airport is easy to navigate. Fly from there to Hoedspruit (one hour flight). African Impact will pick you up at the airport and help with all arrangements.
Medications: check the CDC website for recommended vaccinations and if maleria pills are recommended. Your primary care physician can prescribe the medications you will need and make sure you are up to date on your vaccinations. We took medicine for typhoid, which we got from our County Medical Center.
Food. South Africa is very cosmopolitan and is known for its good restaurants. My daughter and I are vegetarians and African Impact provided great vegetarian food for us.
When to go. Our favorite time of year to visit Africa is June or July. Since they are below the equator, June, July, and August is their winter. The weather is perfect during the day (usually around 70-75 degrees F) and mosquitoes weren't a problem. Mornings on safaris were chilly, so bring warm clothes for the mornings.