Suzzy Hald - 2015 Program Participant
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I traveled and volunteered back in the 70's and 80's before becoming "trapped" in the corporate world. I wanted to go back out by myself, but the world had changed and I wanted to take my first foray back out with a recognized organization that could provide the sort of information and advice that I needed.
Why did you choose GoEco?
After much research, I found the overall quality that stood out with GoEco was their responsiveness. Communication is a must for me and I only travel with a company that will keep me informed in a timely manner; Go Eco had this down perfectly!
Klaserie - Greater Kruger National Park South Africa
What was your favorite part about South Africa?
I loved the remoteness of the Dumala Lodge and the proximity to the Greater Kruger National Park. They had just moved their location from Thanda and had already secured a bush camp in Klaserie and other reserves, which gave us a chance to experience various aspects of collecting data and what areas needed specific data collection. They were in the process of adding more reserves when I left so it will be even better when I go back!
What made your program experience unique?
The total immersion that happens from day one was truly what set this program apart from others. I was immediately sent into the bush and stayed overnight in the bush camp, participating in all the game drives (a total of four at three-ish hours each), preparing our own food in the bush camp, documenting our data sheets, and taking accompanying pictures to later be imputed into various databases, such as ALERT. The amount of community work is impressive. I would do two game drives a day, community work, brush clearing and burning, or digging out water hole areas at reserves or around the lodge; all this in one day!
You spent your time doing volunteer work, which is what I came for. I enjoyed my days off too, and doing side trips to Swaziland and Blythe River was just icing on the cake!
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff was great. Tim, their resident photographer expert and teacher, was always there to help even for those of us with point and shoot cameras as we all shared our pictures for the database. They brought in Trico to teach us how to speak some phrases and know the names of wildlife in the local language. They had guides to show us what plants to stay away from and what plants were beneficial, and even had us try those beneficial plants out so we had practical experience. If you had a problem or issue, you simply just had to ask and they addressed it.
Cape Town South Africa Table Mountain in the background
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Stayed longer at each location! I had six weeks of vacation from my corporate job and had to split them up, so one week for travel in both directions (three days U.S. to Jo'Burg, two days back to the U.S., one day to fly from Jo'Burg to Cape Town, and one day to travel to Hoedspruit). I had two weeks in Hoedspruit and two weeks in Gansbaai, which left a week in Cape Town. I would have preferred at least four weeks at each location, and to be honest three months in Hoedspruit!
Describe a day in the life of your program.
Wake up at 5:30 a.m., dress, go have brekkie, and be on the Land Rover by 6 a.m. Drive to a local reserve (10 minutes away) and do a sunrise drive, documenting what animals and bird life I saw. Get out and check the camera traps or get out and study tracks. After two hours, head back to the lodge to input reports and pictures and compare notes with other volunteers.
Then lunch and tea. Get into the van and drive to a nearby township and school to plant keyhole gardens, play with the kids on their play period. Put all our tools away, get back in the van, and head to the lodge. Get a quick nibble and tea and head out on another game drive for a few hours. Come back to the lodge, shower, have dinner. Spend the rest of the evening talking with all the volunteers, sharing ideas and pictures while having a drink if you want one. Very nice way to end the day.
What is something you enjoyed doing outside of your volunteer work?
The Braai was so much fun. They have a special area that you must see to believe, where a fire is going, dinner is served, presentations are given, songs are sung, and guitars are played, all under the stars with monkeys jumping from tree to tree around you. Beats being in a board room any day of the week!
End of the World Saloon Bimini Bahamas
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
I stayed in a Rondavel, a round hut with mud walls and a thatched roof. It had all the comforts of home, toilet, sink, shower, tub, beds, closet, safe, and A/C (if needed.) There were more modern rooms to stay in on the property, but I liked the authenticity of where I stayed, and it so added to my total overall experience!
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I have gone on an active Facebook campaign against canned hunting and poaching; I had no idea how bad both were until I had feet on the ground. I visited one "park" in Jo'Burg under the pretext of a Texas hunter and was shown things one should never see. I won't get into how I got my pictures, but I came away after leaving the gate in tears. I now go to events and speak and show pictures and videos of what happens on the "side" and encourage people to get with their national politicians to help put a stop to this. I am just one person, but I believe one has to take a first step to begin this trip and encourage understanding in others on this epidemic of poaching.