Kelly Cheary - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

A desire to travel internationally while volunteering for animal causes.

Why did you choose Enkosini Eco Experience?

My favorite animal is the cheetah. In researching volunteer opportunities, I came across the Namibia project, which is focused on saving endangered predatory animals - specifically, cheetahs, leopards, and wild dogs.

Wild dog in Namibia
Wild dog at the sanctuary waiting for feeding time.

What was your favorite part about the location fo your program?

Its geographical uniqueness.

What surprised you most about Namibia?

What surprised me the most about Namibia is that it has the largest free-roaming cheetah and black rhino populations in the world! And, it is the first country (maybe the only?) to include environmental protection in its constitution! Some additional cool facts I learned, geographically, it has the oldest desert, the largest sand dunes, and the second largest canyon. Plus, it is only one of two countries that has desert elephants!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

A staff member was always involved with each team project, educating the volunteers on various topics during the performance of team duties.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Namibia?

I wish I had known more about the other locations where I could have spent some time as a volunteer for the same organization, as they were focused on different research projects. I also wish I had known the organization offered field trips for fun to the main sights in Namibia (i.e. Etosha, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei) – I could have saved money and not signed up for a separate safari!

What made your experience abroad unique?

The time spent with the various African animals at the sanctuary, and being able to get involved in trap and release opportunities.

Volunteer with a leopard in Namibia
Catch & Release - placing a tracking collar on a wild leopard.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Each day is divided into morning projects and afternoon projects. The volunteers are assigned to teams for the length of their stay. Each team will then have one project in the morning, and a different one in the afternoon. Projects range from preparing the daily food servings for the animals to cleaning their stalls to actually feeding them to taking the baby baboons or baby cheetahs on walks to performing game counts (either in a safari truck or on horseback) to observing animal behaviour, and much, much more.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Hanging out with fellow volunteers, playing games, having a beer or two, and exchanging life stories.

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

Spent more time there. The project is in four different locations, and I only spent time at two of the locations. I would like to have gone to the other two locations as well.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Namibia?

Definitely pack light – and take clothes you don’t mind leaving behind when you are done volunteering. I took one duffel with work clothes, and one with “safari” clothes (for my post-volunteer travel through Africa). Also, make sure you have the right kind of hiking boots for the terrain and that they are in good condition (my boots were old and fell apart during a 6-mile hike! Not fun!). Hat. Lots of sunblock. Get a filtered water bottle (about $60 through Amazon). Flashlight. Work gloves. Ear plugs if you are a light sleeper like me! If you can, take the sun-shield type of clothing – the sun and heat can be brutal there.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Dorm-style rooms with communal showers. There are also tented accommodations and private cabins available.

Cheetah eating meat in Namibia
Resident cheetah enjoying a snack.

Do you have any advice on how volunteers can prepare for your program?

You will need shots, which can be pricey. I had not accounted for this when planning out my adventure. The rabies shots alone were almost $1000!!

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

For me, the hardest part about volunteering abroad was not being able to stay in touch with my family on a regular basis. I was relying on free wifi (WhatsApp), which was rarely available. My phone was locked, so I could not get a local sim card and my global calling plan was expensive (plus, cell service was sketchy in any event unless you were in a main city).

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

I believe it has strengthened my professional skills related to working on teams and fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment. And it has increased my knowledge about, and my desire to continue learning about, other countries, and their cultures and conservation efforts.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

Biggest benefit? I believe there are three huge benefits of volunteering abroad:

  1. Feeling like you are giving back and doing something constructive with your time/energy/money.
  2. Meeting people from all over the world and forming new friendships that will live on long past the volunteer experience.
  3. Having the opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures first-hand.
Giraffe in Namibia wildlife sanctuary
Free-range giraffe.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

Without question...yes, yes, yes! It is such a unique and amazing experience - you may never again in your lifetime be able to touch a wild leopard, hyena, or meerkat, or be within feet of a pack of wild dogs while they devour a if you can go, DO IT!!

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I could go almost anywhere to volunteer! I am hooked! But I have just signed up for the Bamboo two week Cambodia/Thailand program, and I’m going in January 2018; it is one week teaching English to Cambodian children and one week helping with rescued elephants in Thailand! I’d also like to do something in Latin America.