Marloes de Vries - 2015 Program Participant

South African children with international volunteers

A group of children & some volunteers

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad? 

I visited several countries in the past as a tourist; these were nice experiences but somehow not satisfying anymore. I really wanted to help people, not only by spending money in their country. Therefore, I chose to use my main holiday to volunteer abroad.

Why did you choose Daktari Bush School? 

Choosing between working with kids or animals was too difficult for me. Daktari Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage had the solution by combining the two. Daktari educates underprivileged children to care for the environment and they look after animals that are hurt, orphaned, or too tame to be rehabilitated into the wild. The wildlife orphanage also serves as an education medium for the children. Without any doubt, I booked with Daktari. They had really earned my choice because of their tone of voice, positivity, and sincere love for the environment.

Donkey in South Africa

Eeyore the blind donkey

What was your favorite part about Daktari’s location? 

Daktari is situated in the bush, about one hour from the civilised world. I live in the centre of a big city, so I had to get used to the peace and quiet, including no Wi-Fi. But after a few days I really appreciated it, even the digital detox cure! It felt safe to stay at Daktari and it was nice to always be outside. The best part of the location was its surroundings. You can, for example, easily visit Kruger Park or the Blyde River during the weekends or visit others parts of South Africa before or after your arrival. I myself combined my stay at Daktari with Johannesburg and Capetown; Capetown was an especially amazing and beautiful city to end my trip in South Africa.

What made your program experience unique?

The location, owners, long and short term volunteers, kids, staff, animals, and the atmosphere all together make Daktari a unique, peaceful, and loveable place. Finding the squirrel in the peanut butter, feeling the breath of the blind donkey in my neck during dinner, and getting kicked off the couch by the warthog because I was sitting on his spot are just some of the many examples of unique experiences I had.

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

I felt very welcome. The owners and the long term volunteers see short term volunteers coming and going continuously; nevertheless, they still put energy in getting to know you, show interest in you, and appreciate all the work you are doing. Daktari works with locals who do the cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc. It is really hierarchical, so I had to get used to that. The local staff sleeps and eats, for example, not at the same place as the volunteers. But the positive thing is that the project creates jobs for them. The food they cook is amazing. I am vegetarian, but that was not a problem. The staff cooked vegetarian meals every day, just for me. Fake meat in the bush, I did not expect that at all!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I was really nervous about joining Daktari as a volunteer. I did not have experience in working with kids, wild animals, teaching, or travelling alone. I wish I would not have worried so much before my arrival. This was a waste of energy and not necessary at all. I was accepted into a group of very nice people, who were always willing to help.

Classroom in South Africa

The classroom

What was an average day like for you?

Every week, a new group of six to eight kids arrived from a local school. They stayed from Monday until Friday at Daktari. The days during the week started at 7 a.m. with coffee or tea. After that, it was time for the dog walk. This was a 20 minute walk in the bush with volunteers, the kids, the dogs, and the warthog, who truly believed he was a dog as well. After the walk, breakfast was waiting for us. When we finished we were looking after the animals with the kids by giving them water, food, and cleaning the cages. The rest of the morning we taught the kids, for example, about politeness, taking care of the environment, and animals.

After lunch, the kids were allowed to play in the swimming pool. During the afternoon a few other lessons were scheduled as well as some time to take care of the animals. The kids could take a shower and we had a social talk with them before dinner. This was a discussion about a certain topic, for example respect or the use of substances.

After dinner it was time to play a game. The last evening we had a bonfire and the kids went crazy with singing African songs and dancing; it was great to be a part of that. The set-up of the teaching programme was great. We did so many things with the kids which gave us lots of energy!

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your volunteering? 

My favourite activity was definitely leopard rock. A 30 minute walk or a drive by car brought us to a huge rock in the bush on which we could see the sunset. The first two visits I was still too much in my city girl mood. The only thing I could say was “Wow, there is really nothing here!” Everywhere I looked I saw bush, I was kind of shocked. But luckily, the next visits I saw the beauty of it. Now, I wish that rock and its view were situated at a 30 minute walk from my home!

Chalet in South Africa

One of the chalets

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it? 

I stayed in one of the chalets of Daktari with one other volunteer. I expected to go back to basic but that was not the case. The chalet had a private bathroom, with hot water! And I was positively surprised that we could drink the water from the tap. The mosquitoes did not agree with me, but I was very happy with the mosquito net above my bed.

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life? 

Even though I really wanted to help other people, it felt a bit like giving up my main holiday at first. But when I look back that was not the case at all. I have received so much from the experience. For two weeks I have lived a completely different life from what I am used to. Stepping out of your comfort zone makes you think about your “normal life”. I started asking myself, “am I really happy with the work I am doing and the way I do it?”

On my way back, I bought the book Busy which describes how to deal with business, a world of too much. I hope it will help me find a little bit more relaxation in my life and thereby more joy. I have reloaded completely during my trip, even though I worked hard. The project gave me a lot of energy and I have so many good memories from my stay.

It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I am thankful to Daktari for that, and I can really recommend them to other volunteers!