Kelsie Bylsma - 2013 Program Participant
One of the reserve's lions waking up from a nap in the bush
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad in South Africa?
I had always wanted to go to South Africa ever since I was a little girl. Once I was able to finally save up enough money for it, I jumped on the opportunity. I didn't just want to visit South African bush as a tourist; I wanted to be a part of the bush! That is why I chose this volunteer project.
Why did you choose Enkosini Eco Experience?
I had been searching everywhere online for credible, safe, and fun volunteer programs in South Africa. I found out about Enkosini just by chance through word of mouth of a family friend. He had a client that has a company that partners with tons of other projects in SA, so I did a little research online, and that's how I found Enkosini. From there, I spoke with Kelcey Grimm about what it was I exactly wanted to do in South Africa, and she directed me to Siyafunda. Best decision ever!
On a game drive tracking a herd of elephants
What was your favorite part about South Africa?
It was more than just camping; you literally were living in the wild while still feeling safe (99 percent of the time). I loved that the reserve was just big enough that you could feel like you were far away from main camp seeing tons of wildlife, while still making it back to camp to make dinner over the fire at moonlight.
What aspects of your program made it unique?
The fact that they teach you practically everything you would need to know and more about tracking wildlife, and then being able to be a part of other research topics and projects going on at the reserve. I was able to observe actual animal subjects in the wild that were a part of a immunocontraceptive study. I researched this project of theirs, and then was able to use this towards a research paper I completed for college credit.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They didn't necessarily treat you like they were just teachers and you were just students; they became your friends. When you got to know them, and all of the other volunteers from around the world, you soon all became a family. My Dad came with me to South Africa, and we came back with so many memories and stories that we will have forever, not to mention friends we can stay with when we travel the world!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have extended my stay longer! I didn't want to leave! Two weeks in South Africa was not nearly enough for me.
My dad and I after crossing on foot through the Makutsi River
Describe a day in the life of your program.
You would wake up at the crack of dawn, just as the sun was rising. Depending on your schedule, you would either start out with a bush walk or a game drive, tracking animals with all you natural surroundings and/or radios from other vehicles. After this, you would come back to main camp or bush camp to have lunch and relax for a bit (because the game drives and bush walks tire you out!). Then you would get together again for either another bush walk or game drive, tracking different animals and such.
Some days, you would start the day doing alien plant clearing or general camp maintenance (depends on the day of the week). Also, one or two days out the week you get the chance to go into town to buy snacks and touristy things, or even go on a field trip to other animal facilities. When I was there, we went to a reptile rehabilitation center where we got an exclusive tour of the facility and some hands on work with reptiles!
Once moonlight falls, we all gathered at camp to make dinner and swap stories around the campfire. Then you would go to bed with the sounds of the bush lulling you to sleep. SO AWESOME!
What was your favorite part of your program?
Honestly, I couldn't get enough of the game drives! Tracking down elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and rhinos, the list goes on. Just pack me a lunch and I could be out there all day observing the animals in their natural habitat.
Me sitting on the front of the Landie getting ready to track footprints
What type of accommodation did you have?
For the first half of our stay, my Dad and I stayed at bush camp. We were in "luxury-type" tents (and luxury is a stretch). Basically, it was raised tents that had a divider in the middle for privacy. You had a little cot with sheets, but I highly recommend a sleeping bag too because it gets very cold in the winter months at night. The kitchen consisted of a fridge that ran on a generator, a small two burner gas stove, and cold running water. The bathrooms had a flushable toilet and cold running water sink, but your shower was a large bag with a dispenser nozzle that you needed to fill prior to your shower. If you wanted warm water, you needed to boil some first over the fire or over the stove and mix with cold water. I eventually just took cold showers because by mid day, it got really hot, and the cold water was refreshing!
For the second half of our stay, we moved to main camp (also called Twines). Here we had a room with roommates (depends on how full they are). We had a bed with sheets, shared bathrooms, and cold and warm running water. The water was warmed by solar panels, so if you tried to take a shower on a cloudy day, you wouldn't count on warm water; again, remember you're roughing it! In another building, there was a full kitchen with attached laundry room. There wasn't a dryer, so everyone hung their clothes to dry. Then there was another building where the staff slept, as well as a lounge area and mini research center. This was the only building that also had wifi (which cost a little extra once you got there). Outside was the campfire, look out deck, and volleyball court.
How much has volunteering abroad in South Africa impacted your life at home?
It has impacted my life completely. Ever since I have returned home, it has inspired me to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. Since graduation, I still am yearning to pursue this field, as well as wanting to go back and do more projects abroad in South Africa!