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After being home from South Africa a week now, I am already ready to book a plane ticket straight back. The weather here just isn’t cutting it. You may or may not know that I spent January Volunteering at a Chacma Baboon rehabilitation centre in Phalaborwa, South Africa. While I volunteer frequently at home this was my first trip abroad to work – I can honestly say it was better than I ever expected and one of the best experiences of my life. While I maybe biased as I really enjoying volunteering and ‘giving back’, I thought I would share with you reasons why I feel you should make a volunteer trip an option.
Reasons to Volunteer abroad:
1. The People
The one thing you can guarantee on a volunteer trip is that everyone is there for the same reason and actually wants to be there – which is pretty handy when you are working together. You work together, eat together, relax together so you naturally bond and get to know each other so well in a short space of time. It is amazing seeing such a diverse group of people from all over the globe bond over one common interest. Also meaning volunteer trips are great for solo travelers wanting to meet new people.
2. The cost
While my trip wasn’t the cheapest it was a damn sight cheaper than it would have been had I booked an South African Safari through a company . Most trips work on a ‘bed and board’ basis, meaning the price includes all meals and accommodation. While most of the time this is basic, it is completely livable (bare in mind that the majority of your money will be going towards the charity) Often the longer you stay and work the cheaper your stay will become. Excursions are usually at an additional cost, but again a lot cheaper than you would pay through a tour operator, I went on a day trip to the Kruger National Park (a twelve-hour driven safari) for roughly £50, I wouldn’t want to think how much this would have cost had I booked in the U.K. Tip: Contact the charity / centre you want to volunteer with direct, again it is often cheaper than going through a third-party as you won’t be paying their fees as well.
3. Learn new skills / enhance current skills
My full-time profession is a Veterinary Nurse, so naturally I choose to do Veterinary work on my trip. Now I am very confident in my skills as a nurse but treating a wild animal in a limited facility charity is a whole different ball game to treating a domestic pet in a hospital with all the necessary equipment and drugs, I really felt like my skills were challenged and strengthened. You can find volunteer trips in nearly all fields of work, perhaps you want to move into a new profession but lack the experience? A relevant volunteer trip can be a great addition to your C.V as well a potential reference. Perhaps you want to try something completely different? Some of the people on my trip had never worked with animals before, let alone baboons, they just simply had a desire to help and that is all you need. A good charity will give you full training because they want your help just as much as you want to be there.
4. The culture
As I previously mentioned most working trips are no thrills, however I actually ended up appreciating this. I was completely submerged into the South African culture including going into the local townships to do collections, admittedly something that wouldn’t be safe to do with out being with locals, but still an incredible experience. Most of the time there will be long-term or local volunteers at your chosen place, these people know the area inside out, including the best places to eat, the best prices, little tips and in our case the best places to spot the local wildlife (which just so happened to be the Big Five). These people have the advice and experience not available in any guide-book.
5. It makes you feel good
As Joey Tribbiani once said ‘There is no such thing a selfless good deed’ and so what? It makes me extremely happy knowing that the work I have done means that one day the little cutie below will be able to released successfully back into the wild where she belongs. During my time at C.A.R.E I had experience and made memories I know I will remember for the rest of my life, while also creating a positive impact in lives of the Baboons that are being looked after there. That is something that is pretty amazing and not something that happens everyday.
So this is not me saying I am going to give up all my annual leave to work with charities, I still love travelling and my beach holidays very much so, but I know I will do something like this again and I very much encourage all of you to do at least once.
Where I volunteered: