Danielle Austin, Daktari Volunteer 24/08/2013 - 08/09/2013
My adventure started with a fundraiser. I stumbled upon Daktari’s website by chance about a year ago. I was doing research for a class assignment and somehow ended up reading about the organization for several hours. I thought it would be an exciting opportunity, but didn’t have the time or money to travel. However, I continued to visit the website every few months to read the newsletters. I was going to make a donation on Christmas when I saw they were hosting a fundraising contest. The grand prize was three free volunteer weeks and two nights in a luxurious game lodge. It was like fate telling me to go to South Africa. Or at least that’s what I told myself when I entered the fundraiser a few weeks later.
I ended up raising € 2, 462 and, even though I didn’t win, the owners Ian & Michele Merrifield offered to let me come volunteer at Daktari for two weeks and arranged one week with Wildlife Vet Peter Rogers.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at Daktari seven months later. I had been in contact with Michele all summer and read everything I could about Daktari and South Africa, but nothing I read or imagined even came close to the amazing people I met and experiences I had.
The moment I stepped off the plane in Hoedspruit I was greeted with a warm welcome. The kindness continued to pour in, not only from the other volunteers and staff members but from the children as well.
I was initially drawn to Daktari because of my love for animals, but I left with a passion to teach. Don’t get me wrong, the animals were amazing, but the children were incredible. They always had smiles on their faces and were so eager to learn new things. I’ll never forget reading a thank you letter I received from a group of students after my first week there. It was absolutely amazing to see just how much this experience meant to them.
Ian and Michele have put their heart and soul into this program — and it shows. I’ve never met two people who are more genuine and dedicated to making South Africa a better place. Both the children and volunteers learn so much during their time there. The opportunity to see and interact with such wonderful wild animals is icing on the cake. I returned to the United States with a new outlook on life and will always be thankful for the time I was able to spend at Daktari. I would do it all again in a heartbeat — even the 16-hour plane ride.
If you are looking for an organization to volunteer with or donate to, I couldn’t think of a place more deserving than Daktari.
Lizzy Garland, Daktari Volunteer 27/10/12 - 17/11/2012
When I was initially deciding to volunteer in South Africa I knew two things about the experience I was looking for. 1. I wanted to work with animals and 2. I wanted to work with students. After a lot of research on different organisations I came across Daktari and knew immediately this was exactly what I had been looking for.
Before traveling to South Africa I held an event to raise money directly for Daktari. I also setup an online account which I encouraged friends and family to donate towards which I used to assist in paying for volunteer fees. Every little bit raised went straight to Daktari and it was an incredible way for me to share what I was about to do with the people around me. If you are looking for a place that feels like home, working alongside incredible people in a beautiful environment set up by two of the most generous and kind people you will ever meet, you have found the right place.
Despite having only spent a few short weeks at Daktari, it was an experience I will always cherish dearly. I would highly recommend Daktari to anyone who wants to learn more about wildlife and who wants to help the community. Believe me when I say it was truly an incredible adventure that I will never forget.
Thank you to everyone who I met at Daktari, in particular the wonderful Michele and Ian!
Barbro and Kjell Asplund, Daktari volunteers 20/10/2012 - 09/11/2012
We had a wonderful time, three weeks, at Daktari last year. Michele, Ian, the staff and the other volunteers made us feel at home from the moment we arrived. It was so nice to be working with the children. They really enjoyed their time at Daktari. Michele and Ian! What a wonderful work you do. We know that many children are so grateful and will remember Daktari for ever. Their education will be useful in the future.
Among the volunteers we met people in variety of ages and nationalities. Together we had a lot of fun as music, games in the evenings.
Everything at Daktari was so nice, our room was comfortable and we got a lot of service. The staff was lovely. They always took care of everything with a big smile.
Our stay at Daktari has enriched our lives and sometimes we long to go back.
It is a privilege to visit such a beautiful country as South Africa too.
Barbro and Kjell
Sinclair Smith, Daktari volunteer 30/04/2011 - 27/05/2011
I spent 2011's month of May at Daktari.
Wild life, Humanity, Adventure.
After landing in one of South Africa's main airports, you take another plane (believe it or not this one is a propeller aircraft). You can feel every little vibration and mini-turbulence , if you are not used to flying, it can quickly become an adrenaline trip. Eventually, you land. You are about to see for the first time the last bastion of civilisation: Hoedspruit. Once all the luggage recovered (or not haha) you will be heading towards the Kruger Park in a typical mini-van. If you are attentive enough you might see some road signs you probably won't find anywhere else.
One of the main ingredients of Daktari's beauty is your fellow companions: I had the chance to meet an "interesting" swiss guy, a (what a surprise) huge Deutschman and some of the finest female specimens coming from the United-States, Scotland, England, Germany...
Then comes the trip in the bush, the first encounters with wild life (even a part of the Big Five if you're lucky enough). Now, the team, the "cadre", the explanations...for you won't have as much luxury as you have at home. (running water, electricity etc.) Each and everyday is a succession of discoveries, laughter (big up to Mr Porcupine) and enjoyment.
You will be able to take care of a multitude of creatures, from the meerkats to the leopard, from the tortoise to the rats...and all this with the help of the youngsters from the nearby schools...English, Mathematics, Geography, Sexual Education, singing and dancing around the fire...meeting and sharing. You will learn from them as much as they do from you.
The hardest part is when the end of the week arrives and you have to say goodbye.
I would like to say a huge "Thank you" to Michele and Ian for I did not take the opportunity before.
P.S and some more thanks to Thabo, and the whole team!
Katrien Vermeulen, Daktari volunteer 15/09/2012 - 27/09/2013
What can I say about Daktari?
It will be very difficult to keep it short for me, but will start to say that it was absolutely amazing!! My name is Katrien Vermeulen from Belgium and I stayed at Daktari for exactly 1 year. I fell in love with so many animals, met beautiful people and saw a positive program that helps the local underprivileged children. The owners Ian & Michele Merrifield have dedicated their life to this project which I admire so much.
I can only say to future volunteers, funders and friends, if you love animals and would like to help the local community, then Daktari in South Africa is the place to be! Daktari Bush School & Wildlife Orphanage will always have a place in my heart.
Gillian Kenneally, Daktari Volunteer, repeat visitor!
Well, I so enjoyed my time at Daktari that I came again and again and again…looking after animals "amazing", teaching the children "challenging" and the scenery "magnificent" - add to this, a friendly and peaceful environment. In short a wonderful volunteering experience - you'll love it!
Gemma Annan, GVI intern volunteer 06/05/2011 - 17/06/2011
I volunteered at Daktari for 6 weeks in 2011 and I absolutely fell in love with the project and the people that run it. I was in South Africa for a total of 9 months on that trip and my 6 weeks at Daktari hold some of my most precious memories. Caring for rescued injured wildlife and teaching local children about the importance of wildlife was an incredible opportunity. During my time at Daktari I was lucky to assist on taking 10 of the local children to Kruger Park on a day trip offered by Daktari as a reward to 10 of the hardest workers to be on project. The trip was one I will always treasure; I remember jumping out of my seat when we saw a wild cheetah and all the children wanted to see was a lion! The children learned a lot from seeing their local wildlife in the flesh as realistically they do not have the opportunity to visit such places; if not for Daktari who knows if they'd ever see wild cheetah, elephants or ostrich?!
My other great experiences include; creating enrichment's for the mongoose and meerkats, listening to wild jackals and owls in bed, and getting up extra early some mornings to 'run' around the small park surrounding the base with 2 of my closest friends on project.
The experience given to me at Daktari has helped me go on to become a base manager on an elephant rehabilitation project in Thailand; it gave me leadership and teaching skills as well as increasing my wildlife and tracking knowledge. If Daktari offered paid positions I'd be fighting to work there, the atmosphere and family vibe made me feel welcome and appreciated. I'd urge anyone wanting to gain some wildlife or teaching experience or who just wants to make a difference to give it a go!
Volunteer placement on the GVI internship May 2011
Jeanne Lazarevic, Daktari Volunteer 09/03/2013 - 22/03/2013
Daktari! What marvelous souvenirs! There is no crossed eyed lion like on TV at the time of my childhood, but Daktari is an unforgettable experience.
Daktari was my first volunteer trip, in March 2013. Michèle, Ian and their team have welcomed me warmly and I immediately felt very good, in a kind of nice smiling family. I have appreciated meeting other volunteers from different countries; I have been filled with emotion by children who are happy to learn and to understand. I was feeling alive, happy, serene, walking in the bush, taking care of animals, especially with meerkats, marmosets and the bush pig. There is also a beautiful leopard and a lot of other animals. Everything is very well organized, comfortable, meals are excellent. Days are very busy, everyone makes the most of himself, but it is so pleasant that you do not feel that you are working.
You learn a lot about this African life and about yourself too. It is a kind of rebirth: you are transformed, your mind changes, you have new ideas, you sense life differently, you are fully here, now, as a part of the world and something softly tickles your heart.
Once your stay is finished, you just want one thing: go back to Daktari! Change your life and feel fulfilled being useful to nature and to humankind.
Furthermore, all around the area, there are many beautiful places to visit during the week ends: the Kruger Park and the big 5, the Blyde River Canyon mind-blowing landscapes, the walking safaris accompanied by a cheetah, and many other places and activities to discover and enjoy.
But for me, my best souvenirs are the children’s eyes shining of satisfaction and happiness once they have understood the lesson, marmosets and meerkats hugs, the evening meetings to discuss about the day, Michèle’s heart laugh, Ian’s very good jokes and also the sleep beneath millions of stars at the Kruger Park.
In short, it is “all in one”: tourism, beauty, friendship, altruism, harmony, learning or reminding of life essentials and a lot of love. Do not hesitate! Go to Daktari!
I have been there and today, my life is really changing. It has been a wonderful experience which made me decide to leave my “robot” office job in France and start a new heart life dedicated to nature and children.
Well done, Michèle, Ian and your team for this marvelous project you have built with heart and courage! Thank you for the happiness and love you are spreading all around you, not only for animals and children, but also for foreign volunteers like me that discover an essential component of sheer happiness.
THANK YOU. I miss you very much…
Liz Best, Daktari Volunteer 16/03/2013 - 06/04/2013
I spent 3 weeks as a volunteer at Daktari in March 2013. It was an amazing and wonderful experience. I helped to teach African children and also spent time looking after the wonderful animals. Ian and Michele are wonderful hosts and the accommodation and food is of a high quality. I would recommend anyone to volunteer and experience this wonderful place. Not only will you feel like you are making a real difference to the lives of children you will make lasting friendships, experience beautiful South Africa and have wonderful memories.
Emily Grohs, Daktari volunteer 01/06/2013 - 26/07/2013
I miss everyone (animals and people, of course) at Daktari very much! I look back through my pictures and check for new updates on Facebook every single day. Being back in the US and back at school is surreal... not a moment goes by when I do not miss the Daktari family and my time spent with you all in Hoedspruit. I really do hope to return one day to volunteer again! I cannot even begin to explain how perfectly Daktari suited me. The combination of teaching kids, caring for animals, and working with amazing friends was beyond perfect. I see posts from Amy and Louise and Aby on facebook pretty often-- they seem to be having an amazing time, as always! How is everything else? How are you and Ian and the other volunteers? And, of course, how are King Kong and his new lady doing? I miss him so much :))
But even before I can come back to visit or volunteer again I want to be doing something to help. I know there are a lot of animals (my babies! how I miss them all!) without sponsors. In the future I hope to be able to sponsor several animals each month, but for now I would like to start out with one :) I would really love to be Nikita's sponsor, if you haven't found anyone for her yet. She was one of the animals I felt particularly close to, and also after the accident with her tail I have been endlessly worried about her health and care! Can I be her sponsor, please? I would just love to know that I am there for her each month, even while I am so far away!
Thank you, and please let me know! If someone else has already snatched up her sponsorship I would be happy to help with another animal! I am also not sure how the money transfers/donations work, so I will need instruction for that bit.
Having visited Daktari in 2005 (pictured below), here is what Mina wrote to us in February 2013:
My name is Mina, we met in 2005 while I was doing grade 9 at Rakgolokwana high school, my self and other students use to come to Daktari for educational purposes.
I wanna thank you for the knowledge and experience you have assist me with concerning nature conservation, I am currently working as a data collator with the K2C based at Hoedspruit, I have graduated for my diploma in nature conservation and currently doing btech degree.
I dont know how to thank you, because I started to acquire knowledge from Daktari, this place gave me a good background in terms of environmental knowledge and I really appreciate your effort as well as uncle Ian. I hope to visit you one day.
Janet Hickey, Daktari volunteer 03/08/2013 - 23/08/2013
Dear Michelle and Ian,
I just wanted to write a few words to thank you so much for the wonderful experience I had at Daktari recently.
I have been home a week now and I have had time to reflect on my visit to your wonderful home. And you truly made me feel 'at home' from the moment I arrived. I had a lovely welcome from Katrin at the airport and then a huge hug from Michele when I reached Daktari. I had been pretty nervous about my trip and all my worries disappeared when I started meeting everyone. Each and every volunteer was welcoming and friendly and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Aby gave me a tour of Daktari and was so kind to me and was always, always there to sort any problems out with a big smile. Aby is an amazing, hard working, and fun loving lady!
The other volunteers all got on so well together and there was always laughter in the lapa and great fun to be had at the end of the day. There were a good variety of ages and nationalities and that's what added to the fun, so many different characters all together because of their love of children and animals and their desire to travel and experience new things. The long term volunteers like Helena, Kaleisha and Sebastien are just really special, they have so much patience with all of the short term volunteers, they have to constantly answer the same questions over and over and I don't know how they were so tolerant of us all lol! But we had great fun with the wolf game and the many card games and Sebastien makes such a wonderful magic story teller!
As for the ladies in the office, they are just hilarious and such fun. The sound of laughter from the office is a joy to hear. Especially Claire's wonderful laugh! I think they sum up the spirit of Daktari, happy, caring and hard working. Louise, Amy and Claire are wonderful girls and I will always remember them dancing at the bonfire.
Michele and Ian are in my opinion saints! To open up their home to so many people and give their lives over entirely to help educate the children through the medium of animals is just wonderful. Their love and passion for the animals, children of South Africa is evident in everything they do, the results of their hard work are evident too when you see the smiling faces of the children on Fridays and how they do not want to leave Daktari after their stay. You can also see how much they have learnt each week too by the results of the survey every Friday. Ian and his jokes and Michele and her big warm heart are very very special people.
So thank you Michele and Ian. I loved working with the children, hearing them laugh and seeing them meet the animals for the first time, especially watching their faces when Spikey appears at dinner time on Mondays...priceless. I loved meeting all the animals too and each and everyone of them is cared for with love too. All the staff, Senor, Jacob etc. are always smiling and singing, There aren't too many people in this world who look so happy at work. I love your country as well and the whole experience has touched me and enriched me and has been an unforgettable life experience.
Thank you with all my heart!
Grace's Success Story...
Grace first joined the Daktari Outreach Programme in 2012 after thoroughly enjoying her initial week at Daktari, she had recently moved from her home town in a big city to a small village after her father lost his job. Grace was brought up to speak English and Zulu but really struggled in her new home and school where they only spoke Sepedi. The school element was especially challenging for her as in order to pass any Grade the school stipulates that students must also pass in Sepedi language. This very bright and intelligent young girl was losing all hope and motivation for a promising future. With the help of Daktari and an appeal to our supporters we managed to enroll Grace at Southern Cross School in Hoedspruit, where the first language is English.
Grace is currently half way through Grade 10 and, although she had a lot of catching up to do at the beginning, is performing well. Her subjects are English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, Physical Science, Life Sciences, Visual Arts, Life Orientation. In the near future she will be passing Grade 10 (we hope!) and progressing into Grade 11 to continue her studies, long term she would like to be a Forensic Pathologist. Believe us, this girl definitely has the strength of character and confidence to make this happen!
Why are we are so proud of Grace?
Moving schools hasn't been easy for a 15 year old girl who has had to leave her family home and move in with other students so she can make the journey to school each day. Despite this she has continued to work hard and stay motivated, she already inspires young people from her village and the children she has left behind at the Outreach classes, especially the girls, to empower themselves and grab life's opportunities.
“I am getting used to the school environment and I have got a lot of people who care about me and support me. I am a very lucky girl to be able to enter into such a school and I am very thankful to Daktari for giving me the chance to fulfill my dream”.
Grace Mulumba - age 15
How can you help?
You can give another child the opportunity to experience 5 days of inspiring education at Daktari, where Grace's journey began. Each week we invite 8-10 children to Daktari where they have the opportunity to discover and become passionate about wildlife, conservation and through our Outreach Programme, find guidance into the the next stages of their lives and careers.
The cost of sponsoring one child is R 1,715 per week
If you would like to sponsor a child or a group of children please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org