I wanted some work experience that was related to working with animals. In the UK there were very limited opportunities as I was only 16, so when my parents suggested volunteering abroad I was very interested. I'm also going to university next year so I wanted to start doing things by myself and developing my independence.
Why did you choose Kaya Responsible Travel?
I did some research into different companies and places. At one point I wanted to go to a project in Peru with a different company, but the dates weren't right. Looking back I am glad I went to South Africa rather than Peru, because South Africa is similar to the UK in certain ways, and given it was my first time travelling alone, I felt more comfortable going there. However in the future I would love to go to the project in Peru.
What was your favorite part about South Africa?
I really liked South Africa. There is so much to do and all the locals I met were friendly. It was also really cheap, which made activities more affordable. After talking to other volunteers, they told me about other places in South Africa and I now want to go back to travel around the country, for example the Garden Route.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I had never been to an African country or been on a safari before, so most of the trip was a completely new experience. I think one of the most enjoyable things was making friends with people from other countries such as France, Peru, and Argentina.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Overall the staff at the game reserve were really friendly and informative when on the game drives. There was however a lack of organisation amongst the staff which resulted in a bit of waiting around.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had gone for longer and taken a better camera, as there were many good photo opportunities.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would wake up at 7 a.m. and get ready for the first activity at 7.30 a.m. We would do an activity until 9 a.m. After that we would have breakfast, which consisted of a cooked breakfast or cereal. Before the next activity at 10 a.m., we would have a bit of free time. Most of the time we would go to reception for WiFi. The next activity would last until 12.30 p.m., and we would go and have lunch afterward. The lunches varied each day. After lunch, at around 2 p.m., we would go for the final activity of the day, which would last until 5 p.m. We then had free time before dinner at 6 p.m., to shower or relax. Most days we were tired from the day's activities, so everyone just got on with their own thing. After dinner we had more free time. In this free time the group of friends that I had made put on a film, and we would all sit round and watch or just chat. Some of the activities included tree chopping, fence patrol, visiting a local school to give them lunch, fence clearing, tree planting, game count, and predator feeding.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
During the week I just enjoyed sitting around and chatting to other volunteers. On the weekend there were different trips that you could pay to go on. The options included Jeffrey's Bay, Plettenberg Bay, and Port Elizabeth. I went to Plett Bay where the were so many different activities to do such as a cheetah walk, bungee jump, Monkey World, and skydiving. In the evenings we would go out into the town for a meal.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I stayed in two different accommodations. The first one was the worse of the two. It was a big single-sex dorm with bunk beds. It had a tin roof so when it rained it was very loud. I didn't anticipate how cold their winter is, but we were given blankets. There was a shower and toilet block nearby. Outside the dorms there was a sitting area with TV's and a drinks station. The second accommodation was much nicer. It was also split into two dorms, but these had just single beds with drawers underneath for clothes. There were showers at the ends of each room. Between the two dorms there was a kitchen where fresh cakes were delivered each morning and a seating area with a TV. The best thing about the accommodation was that it was close enough to the predator camp that you could hear the lion's calling, and also the roof meant you could hear monkeys running around on top.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Just do all the activities to get the most of out the trip. Some volunteers decided to have a lie in rather than do the morning activity, which I think is a waste. Plus if you're fussy with food, say you are a vegetarian and you can have a choice of both the meat and veggie option. For the best game drives try and get in the small jeeps rather than the big trucks.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
It has made me more confident and excited to go to university because I have had taste of what it is like to not know anyone at all. It has also made me really want to go travelling more and do other volunteer projects in the future.
Would you recommend Kaya to others? Why?
Yes. They were really helpful with any questions I had and organising my trip for me. However it is worth checking if you can book directly with the project as you can save some money.
Hannah Martin is a 17-year-old student from Hertfordshire. She studies biology, geography, and maths and plans to go on to study biology or zoology at university. She has had previous work experience at a zoo for a week. Her regular part-time job is as a lifeguard at a local school pool.