Friday, 08 January 2016 21:40

Brigitte Herman - Volunteer in October-November 2015

Brigitte at leopard Rock

A couple of years ago, I watched a documentary on the French television about DAKTARI Bush School.

 

I had been thinking for a while to do something different during my holidays, and this year was the year!

 

I have had the chance to spend 3 weeks at DAKTARI and take part in the Alternative Teaching Program, as we welcomed older students from the nearby community.

 

Very fast I was asked to lead a class and, although I did not have a teaching experience, the fact that I am in my mid-forties (with a bit more work and life experience than the other volunteers) was an advantage as I could share my own experiences.

 

Throughout the week, we helped the students writing a CV, creating a cover letter, practicing job interviews. We talked about the job opportunities in the tourism industry as, surprisingly, they actually don’t know much about them, as most of the students are not in contact with the tourists visiting South Africa. The visit to the nearby Big Five reserve was one of the highlights of my stay. Not only did we have the chance to see a leopard on our way, the students had the opportunity to talk to some of the managers of the reserve who explained their daily tasks and how they got there. It was very motivating! We visited the workshop, the kitchen, housekeeping and we also talked to the camp manager.

 

Back at DAKTARI, we worked with the students on their presentation and debating skills. We had a lot of fun during the debate on ‘Girls are better students than boys’, where the boys had to defend the statement and the girls had to disagree! The other debate we had fun with was on ‘Marriage to more than one person should be legal’. During the practice, the students came with strong opinions to express their agreement or disagreement.

 

Brigitte Volunteer Review

The rest of the week, we stuck to the normal teaching program. We talked about Plastics and the environment, and I even learned a few things! This is why I love being part of a community with volunteers coming from all horizons, having different backgrounds and coming from all over the world. You learn so much!

 

We tried to illustrate as much as possible the class, using for example the video of the Harley Davidson that was washed away by the tsunami in Japan and found more than a year later on a beach in Canada, to explain how far plastic or rubbish can travel in the ocean.

 

Also we made drawings to explain the different cycles (breathing, water, life) and the consequences if something went wrong. If the local community doesn’t take care of the animals and the environment, tourists will no longer go to South Africa, reducing job opportunities in their area but it might also impact my job in Belgium as I work in the airline industry. We live in a world where everything is connected.

Brigitte Volunteer review with Nyala

I must confess, it has not always been easy. First, at the beginning of the week, the students were shy but after playing a game at the end of the first evening or playing football in the early morning, they opened up. Also taking care of the animals brought us together.

 

Secondly, some of the problems the community is facing are tough. During the social talks, we talked about difficult topics related to respect, culture and traditions (like forced marriage, rape and poaching).


The students were asking for some advice and it is so difficult when you don’t have an answer to give them and when you have to tell them that sometimes they will have to choose between bad or worse, to be silent or to stand up and, in this case, to be ready to cut ties with some people (as they might not believe you or understand you or minimize the problem). Reporting a crime is not that easy, especially if it concerns somebody you are close to or if you expect retaliation…

I thought it was important to show the video of Lady Gaga ‘Til it happens to you’. This song is directed to victims of rape - but when you hear the lyrics, it can be addressed to anybody who has been emotionally or physically abused or has suffered any kind of pain whether it is harassment, bullying, depression, drugs, alcohol, losing someone, failing at something, being humiliated, being betrayed... We debated amongst the volunteers about whether we should show or not the video as the content is pretty violent and we decided to show it. To be honest, I was actually unsettled (and not the only one) by the reaction of some of the students who thought the video was ‘cool’. It was not the reaction we had expected on such a difficult topic. Obviously the message Until it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels’ didn’t get through. Rape is a scourge that is minimized and victims are not recognized as such. There is still a lot to do in this area to make them realize how much damage such an event can have in someone’s life.

 

Anyway, at the end of a very busy week, it was heart-breaking to see the students go. They had become our friends and I want to know what they will become in the future. Hopefully we will stay in touch.

 

I only made a small contribution but I hope that for some of the students I made the difference. One of them told me I was ‘inspiring’, another one said I was ‘motivating’. Now I want them to become ambassadors, to teach their community what they have learned at DAKTARI because I believe in education. I also found out, through the comments of the other volunteers that I was good at teaching and they were impressed about all the stuff I knew. I like to keep myself informed because knowledge, just like education, is power.

Brigitte in the classroom

 

To finish, I was really happy when DAKTARI gave Patience and Thato a job. They were both very shy at the beginning of the week but they have really grown during the week and increased their self-confidence.

 

The students just need a little push and that is what DAKTARI and the volunteers are striving to achieve. We want to educate them and create awareness of animal welfare to make sure they act responsible and think long term. Their future is now in their hands!

 

It was definitely an incredible and unforgettable experience!

Keep on the good work!

 

 

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