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Volunteer Review: Sarah W., African Savannah Conservation in South Africa

A giraffe spotted in Botswana

Arriving in Botswana

I travelled with Projects Abroad for five months, on various projects, in late 2017, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My 2 weeks in Botswana with the Conservation Project was one of the most beautiful, emotional, and exciting experiences of my life. I arrived in Johannesburg after travelling for almost a day, from my previous project. After one last short flight to Polokwane, I was met by a representative from Projects Abroad, along with one other volunteer who arrived on the same flight as I did.

We then embarked on the three-hour drive from the airport to the reserve, while crossing the border of South Africa and Botswana. Customs and immigration crossing the border was simple and efficient. The only really scary part of the switch was crossing the Limpopo River, across a very narrow bridge with no railings, that could only fit one car. The rest of the drive slowly changed from a paved road to a long, bumpy dirt road. I would soon learn to love the bumps on the roads, as we would ride down them in a safari styled jeep every day.

A group photo of the Conservation volunteers in Botswana

When we finally arrived at the camp, I was really impressed. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but it certainly was not what I saw. The camp is permanent, with sturdy structures, tents raised on slabs of concrete, and full on shower and toilet stalls. The best part? The showers had hot water! That definitely compensated for the fact that we didn’t have access to Wi-Fi. At first I was very alarmed by this, but once I got past the first day or so, I found it rather therapeutic. After unloading our stuff from the jeep, we became acquainted with the staff. Each member is so full of life, loves what they do, and wants to get to know you. The tents are liveable, equipped with storage shelves tarps, and bunk beds. The living space was comfortable, however, I was only really in my tent to change clothes and sleep! Myself and the other volunteers were always outside, enjoying the fresh air, the sounds of the bush, and the views.

Conservation volunteers in a Jeep

Daily life on the African Bushveld Conservation Project

Our days started around 6.30am. We would wake up, get dressed, eat some breakfast, consisting mainly of cereals and rooibos tea, and do our best to head out for the morning by 7am. Morning activities usually consisted of the more “laborious” jobs for the day, whereas the afternoon would be more relaxed, as the heat would be the most intense then. Morning tasks differed day to day, but we could expect to do any of the following tasks; fight soil erosion, road repairs, anti-poaching patrol, the construction of water holes, and conducting census’. Each task was rewarding, and I definitely felt awesome about my work and was super pleased to see the progress we made each day with each task.

Sarah completing a wildlife census during a safari drive

The job I usually enjoyed the most was anti-poaching patrol. For this task, we would drive to a location where there have been snare trap sightings. We would walk around the area for about two to three hours, searching for traps to remove and bring back to our camp. Unfortunately, in one day, we found about 40 snares. It was bittersweet; the fact that they had been placed there initially is devastating, but knowing we found them and were able to remove them was a great feeling.

The afternoon tasks were more relaxed and educational, in my opinion. We would always conduct census’ about our surroundings, whether it be for tracks, elephants, or birds.

Elephants spotted in Botswana

The staff always had something interesting to tell us about the animals. Now, I can identify the oddest things, such as hyena waste (I can literally elaborate about it for a dangerous amount of time if anyone was interested), and bird calls. We also learned how to use navigational devices, as each time we found an animal, we would write the approximate location in which we saw it.

An amazing experience

I cannot elaborate enough how much I would recommend this trip to anyone, especially if they are already planning on volunteering in another central/southern Africa country. I was initially supposed to be there for four weeks, however I dropped it down to two in fear of spiders, scorpions, and lack of Wi-Fi. Don’t be like me. I saw a grand total of zero scary spiders, one scorpion, and I ended up loving not having Wi-Fi, and this is coming from someone whose second home is Snapchat.

Sarah completing a wildlife census during a safari drive

I think, if I had to choose one memory to elaborate on, it would be this, despite how simple it is. I had done laundry, so it was drying for a few hours. When it dried, I went to go gather my clothes from the drying lines behind the bathrooms. While I was folding my clothes and listening to music quietly, this herd of elephants appears about 30 yards ahead of me.

So, that day, I folded my clean laundry in the company of about 12 elephants, who were lounging in the shade. It is such a small and odd memory, but it touched me so deeply. It is something I will keep in my heart forever. This trip is definitely an opportunity of a lifetime, and I feel as though it is so much more real than other projects in a sense. The friends I made while on camp know me at a different level than others on my other trips did, and vice versa. There must be something about Botswana, or the people there, or the serenity of the bush, but it was an experience I will never forget.

Sarah W.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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