When I decided that I wanted to volunteer in South Africa for two weeks last year, I remember feeling a powerful urge to do something selfless and productive. There are so many incredibly important causes worth supporting in the world, and it can certainly feel overwhelming when you're trying to decide what to do. For me, I felt that my efforts would be best employed by helping nurture animals. I wasn't specific about where, or what kind of animals I wanted to volunteer with, I just knew that I wanted to connect with, and be immersed in nature.
|*Edit: May 2014|
I ended up getting offered a position as a volunteer at the Bambelela Wildlife Reservation, located in Bela Bela, South Africa. The reserve works with all kinds of wildlife, although they are most recognized for their work with vervet monkeys. Interestingly enough, before I went to South Africa, I have to admit, monkeys were probably my least favorite animal. However, it didn't take me more than a few hours after arriving at the reserve to change my mind for the better!
Volunteering in South Africa was a challenging prospect for me. As someone who doesn't enjoy flying (at all!), going from Vancouver to Johannesburg was the longest trip I've taken to date. As I previously mentioned, I was set to work with monkeys, an animal I wasn't especially fond of until my trip. Then there were the usual challenges involved with going half way around the world to a completely new destination, entirely by myself; I was nervous, excited, and very anxious.
Going to South Africa and working so closely with the wildlife (specifically the vervet monkeys) was an incredible experience. The full-time workers at the reserve were some of the most generous people I've met, with an incredible passion and respect for nature. The work we did every day always left me dirty and exhausted by the time the sun went down, but it was always worth it. Having grown up in Canada with so many luxuries, there were many times when I struggled to fully comprehend and process much of the suffering I saw in South Africa. Animals who were horribly disfigured and emotionally compromised as a result of human maltreatment, sprawling slums, and visibly sick and weakened people. These were all things I knew to expect, but was still shocked and saddened by when I encountered them first hand. Despite this, I remember feeling uplifted by the hope and joy I encountered from people proud of their land, and the tireless work of those striving to make it a better place for people and animals alike.
If you're considering going to South Africa, whether it's for work or pleasure, I highly recommend it! While you're there, be sure to stop by Bambelela to see the monkeys!