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Volunteering in South Africa – Home Away From Home

Volunteer in South Africa – Wildlife Sanctuary
Hartebeespoort, South Africa

I have been home for just over 24 hours and still can’t believe I’m no longer at the Wildlife Sanctuary. Who knew a goodbye could be so hard from just over 2 weeks somewhere. Even thinking about the fact that it was only 2 weeks feels so strange. It felt as though I was there for so much longer.

My name is Bridie Watson, I am 19 and I come from North Wales. I was mid an exam-provoked breakdown when I decided I needed to get away from my dull life in Britain and on a complete whim booked to come to the Wildlife Sanctuary. Little did I know it would be the best decision of my life to date. Booking through GoEco gave me the opportunity to take part in orientation in Johannesburg for 2 days, which I thought was a great idea. This is where I met 3 of my closest friends, which helped me settle significantly as I had been on my own prior to this. We were given a guided tour around the city visiting places such as cool independent shops and places where pivotal historical moments happened. I won’t spoil them for you as they were truly eye opening.

As we were driving up the bumpy track to the Wildlife Sanctuary, I couldn’t help feeling a bit nervous. We got there on a Friday, and starting work on Saturday morning gave us time to explore a little on our own and introduce ourselves to the other volunteers. My nerves quickly subsided when I realized how absolutely amazing everyone was.

Monday was aptly named “Shit Mondays” in which we cleaned the camps of the lions, tigers and hyenas. Then in the afternoon, the trailer, where all the poo from the past week had been loaded onto, had to be emptied by the volunteers. To make it more enjoyable they made it into a competition and we had to try and get all the poo off in the quickest time and then everyone had to jump back onto the empty trailer.

On one of my first days there we decided to go horse riding which was a little terrifying as I hadn’t ridden since I was about 8. However it turned out to be amazing to venture to places we hadn’t seen before and see the animals even closer up as they were more at ease with the horses. The highlight was my friend Laura’s horse jumping and splashing around in a huge puddle of muddy water and covering Laura head to toe.

A GoEco volunteer on an elephant walk
I was trying to get a nice picture with one of the elephants when she wrapped her trunk around me because she could smell the orange peel in my pocket and someone caught the moment perfectly

Throughout our time there we got to sign up for elephants walks that truly took your breath away. As well as interactions with Kodi the leopard cub which I still think is the cutest thing I have ever

A GoEco volunteer playing with a leopard
Kodi the leopard i.e the cutest thing to ever grace our planet

We were split into teams and each team got their go at game drives in which you drive around feeding the animals with the likes of Jack the zebra, who loves attention, giraffes Hamlet, Gerald and Camilla you’ll see wandering about, and the illusive kudu Charles. We got the chance to get up close with the sanctuary’s 3 legged cheetah, Bailey, who is an absolute softie and has a thing for sniffing hair.

A GoEco volunteer interacts with a cheetah
Bailey the 3 legged cheetah and I. I think he was my favourite in the end, the sound of his purring was amazing.

We got to walk the 3 lionesses Sahara, Savuti and Serabi as well as build a fence between their camp and the 2 male lions, Monty and Boris to familiarize them with one another and eventually unite them in a pride.

A GoEco volunteer walks a lion
A once in a lifetime experience to walk alongside such a fantastic creature.

We also got to do enrichment exercises with the three lionesses as well as the two young tigers Pi and Jasmine. This is when I realized how much of a unique opportunity I was being given.

A GoEco volunteer cares for a lion
Not even a photograph can capture how majestic these animals are.

There are chances for different excursions given at least once a week as well as African night where some locals get you up and teach you African dances. Every Wednesday is Bonfire night where everyone comes round the fire with music, drinks and marshmallows. Some of the work was quite challenging but you work with a great bunch of people who keep morale up so makes it enjoyable regardless. (Can I add, whoever decides who gets hired is doing a fantastic job!)

What I would have given to be able to stay for longer and I feel truly lucky to have had the opportunity to go and would encourage anyone to do the same whether with friends or alone. I honestly met some of the best people ever and left with many invitations to visit people around the world which I intend to take them up on. I have also created good friends from the ages of 16 to 55, which really shows the inclusivity of this project.

It sounds cliché, but I really think the Wildlife Sanctuary has allowed me to see myself more clearly. A year ago I’d never imagine myself catching two planes totaling 13 hours to a place where I didn’t know anyone and I’m so proud and happy that I did. I also never thought I’d be stroking a lion or hugging an elephant, truly awe-inspiring experiences. – Bridie

Get involved and begin the journey of your lifetime! Click here for more details about the Wildlife Sanctuary!

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