Volunteer in Israel – Desert Wildlife Program
Arava Desert, Israel
When I first decided I wanted to volunteer, I searched so many websites and eventually I came by GoEco’s website, and I started by reading this exact page you are reading now. So many positive experiences, I thought to myself, this has to be something that I do! I have never really liked Christmas in the UK, so I thought Israel would be the perfect place to go over Christmas as Christmas isn’t really celebrated. I made the most PERFECT decision. I then decided which project I wanted to do, working with animals was at the top of my list. So, without any hesitation I confirmed my place on the website. I had all of the details within a week, the office in Israel are so quick at replying, and really look after every volunteer who books through them.
The time came, the flights were super cheap. I paid around £120 return from London with EasyJet to Tel Aviv. Day 1 of the 3 weeks experience was just the start of what was to come, it was awesome. We met Yan, a Coordinator for GoEco, and he took us around Jerusalem for the day. I felt that it was important to spend the day doing this, as we learnt so much about the country, the culture, and also told what the next few weeks would entail.
The next day, Yan took us to the bus station and we got on the 4 hour bus journey to the desert. We got off at the bus stop and one of the rangers picked us up. My first impressions were exactly how I expected, in the middle of no where, perfect. We were taken to the volunteers house, which is just so lovely. 2 bedrooms, a nice bathroom, a HUGE living room with a smart TV and a computer, a well equipped kitchen, and a washing machine outside. There’s also a fire outside which was great at night time. The volunteers house is in between two of the rangers houses, so there was always someone around, and they are very sociable. It’s also at the very end of the safari, so the Ostriches are literally a stones throw away, you can hear them making their calls in the night quite clearly. Night fell on the first evening there, I remember walking outside and looking up at the sky and being speechless. When you live in a big city like London, its not very often that you see stars, let alone shooting stars and the line of the Milkyway! It’s breath taking. After star gazing was over, we lit a fire, and sat under the stars for the rest of the evening and got to know each other.
6am wake up…. For a 7am start. That was a bit of a shock to the system, I’m usually quite lazy in the morning! A ranger picked us up in a truck, and we rode through the safari to the office to start our first day of work. We met all of the rangers, who each are so individual, lovely and unique its hard to explain, but you will see for yourself when you book this experience. Quickly we learnt what we were to do for the next few weeks! Basically, every morning we would prepare food to feed the animals in the rehabilitation centre. We would first clean the toilets that the public use (they visit the safari only), this was one of my favourite jobs, which I’m sure the rangers appreciated. Then we would go into each cage, apart from a few dangerous animals only professionals can enter, such as leopards, the wolf, and the hyena. We would clean the floor, change the water, and give them food. Some animals are fed at night time, so if you stay for a few more hours each day, you get to do this too. I found I got more out of the project by working 7am until 4pm every day rather than the 7-2pm which is required. I LOVE the animals there. On the reserve there are White Oryx, Ostrich, Addex, and two types of donkey. And in the rehabilitation centre there are wild cats, caracal, a wolf, tortoises, a hyena, parrots, owls, raptures, leopards, jackal (love them), and many others. Other duties included, preparing new enclosures, counting the Gazelle, measuring trees, painting, and feeding the safari animals. One day I got to spend the whole day with the vet and learn about his job, and another day I made toys for the cats. Every day was different!
Work would be Sunday to Thursday and the rest of the time was free time to do whatever you like. You have to bear in mind that the nearest bus stop is a 40 minute walk, but the trick is to just makes friends with the rangers and they will take you where you need to go (and it’s always nice to bring them back something sweet in return!). On my first weekend, I decided to take a trip to Jordan through a local tour company in Eilat. It cost in total around $500, which included everything! Including Visas. I was so glad I did it. I spent 2 days in Petra and 1 in Wadi Rum. I also took a day off from the reserve which they were totally fine with. I had the best Christmas Day ever, waking up in Wadi Rum on Christmas morning was a totally unique experience.
The second weekend was quite chilled out. Me and one of the other girls went to Eilat, we went to the camel ranch, lay on the beach, went out for New Years Eve, and we also visited the Coral Reef which also has volunteers and we made some new friends there as we snorkeled in the Red Sea! We also swam with wild dolphins, which really made me want to learn to dive, which I did the next weekend!
At night times we would sit around the fire, cook food on the fire or in the oven, watch music videos, or generally just talk! One thing that’s changed me since doing this experience is that I now don’t feel like I need much. I’m less materialistic than I was before. I think being in an environment in the middle of nowhere does that to you, it makes you appreciate what you have, and it also allows you to listen to other people more. The rangers were so lovely, I cooked a BBQ for them on my last day as a thank you. The girls I was volunteering with were great, we had such a good time, and if I could rewind and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing, it was perfect. I made some amazing friends, people that I will keep in touch with forever. I don’t even feel that this blog explains just how amazing this experience was, and I could probably stand up for a few hours and talk about it! I loved Israel that much I stayed in the country for an extra 2 weeks, and explored from the south all the way up the Golan Heights.
In general, I feel a much better person, and I’ve learnt a real value in life (I also now get up a lot earlier in the mornings!) It’s the best thing I’ve done with my life and I have a totally different perspective now! I can’t wait to go back.