My name is Karin and I’m from the Netherlands. I’m at Daktari with my husband Gerwin and my two sons Nils (14) and Bjorn (10). When we’re planning this holiday we really like to combine working as a volunteer and meeting other cultures and experience the nature. Daktari offers that. Especially the education program for the local students and working with the animals is why we choose Daktari.
We came at Daktari on Saturday 28th of April 2018. We flew to Johannesburg where we rent a car. We drove to Daktari ourselves. It was a beautiful trip and, in the end,, we even saw buffalo. We’re staying for one week.
At Daktari, every volunteer works with the animals and give some lessons to the students. Every evening there is a meeting where the work and the lessons for the next day are planned. You do stabling, feeding the animals and cleaning up. The animals vary from smaller ones like mongoose, meerkat, owls, eagles, bush baby and dassies to bigger ones like ostrich, caracal, cheetah and wild dog. The subjects of the lessons are about the environment, renewable energy, knowledge of the animals but also about politeness, respect and job opportunities at a game reserve.
My sons helped with cleaning the enclosure of the cheetah “Martin”. That was exciting! First, we had to lure the cheetah with a chicken to got him locked. It took a couple of minutes but eventually, it worked. And then they could start cleaning the water and fill it up with fresh water again.
The Tuesday we went to another school in the village where Daktari offers a special education program called “Eco-club”. The children coming there on voluntary base. It is very special to see how eager the students are to learn. It was a lesson which took almost 2 hours without a break. And they were still focussing! In the Netherlands students that age (15-17) not even have the focus for 1 hour! I was impressed.
When we were at Daktari they had a baby buffalo and two baby sable antelope. Six times a day they get a bottle of warm milk. At 6 pm it was my turn and it was already dark. With my headlight, I got into the fence and the buffalo came immediately to me. He was pushing me forward to get along so he gets his milk. It was really funny. When he was drinking I had to say to myself: I am here in South Africa feeding a baby buffalo! It was great!
Daktari was a family experience we will never forget!
Thank you so much!
"I came to DAKTARI on April 1st 2018. I was looking online for places to volunteer abroad and out of around 20 organizations DAKTARI was the one that seemed to offer the most opportunities and experiences. After I found DAKTARI I spent no time hesitating to prepare for the trip. I bought my plane tickets just a few days after I emailed them saying that I wanted to volunteer and would be arriving in 2 weeks.
My experience here overall has been wonderful. I was nervous because I have had no previous experience on teaching children or taking care of wildlife but every new thing I am doing here has been with a supportive team of amazing volunteers and staff. I learned that teaching children about the environment is fun and rewarding. However, kids are still kids and they can get into quite a lot of trouble-making which means that we the volunteers spend much time watching over them. Trying to juggle the classroom lessons while caring for baby antelopes and doing regular duties has occasionally left me exhausted though. I love that I am making a difference here in the lives of many children and animals but my limits have definitely been pushed but they have been pushed for the better. I think my favorite times were when I was able to share in the local culture and dances with everybody and we all had a great time as well as when I was able to take breaks and bask in the beauty of South Africa and not worry about a single thing.
I have enjoyed my time here greatly. I come from a very urbanized city with little to no wildlife. Coming here is like a vacation and reminder that the Earth has so many wonderful things to show us. I was also able to partake in great opportunities like working with children to teach them to take care of their environment and feed baby antelopes and buffalo from a bottle. We also are lucky enough to work closely with a cheetah, dassies, jackals and wild dogs which is something very few people will ever do in their lifetime. It also gave me a break from the very fast-paced lifestyle we have in Los Angeles so I will be very refreshed coming back home.
My best memory may have to be the bonfire night dances with the children and staff. It is like a party and everyone has a great time. It makes me feel like we are all one big family enjoying our time together."
I arrived 3 of March 2018 for one month. My biggest interest to come to DAKTARI was the kids because I would like to work in social services. I always wanted to do a volunteers trip. Furthermore, the perfect place for me is in the middle of the bush to discover the animals and to learn a lot of things about them.
During my stay at DAKTARI, I went a week in the neighbouring village. I lived with a local family and discovered their daily life and their culture. I was disoriented by their way of life: the toilets are not in the house, it looks like a hole outside and sometimes there is no door. The most shocking thing for me was the shower. The family puts a little water in a bath with a dishcloth and you have to do it by yourself. And there is not a real road in the village.
Then the children play everywhere with everything the most of the time without shoes. Everybody is really welcome, friendly and you feel like a star because everyone wants a picture with you!
During this week, I visited the creche and discovered that it is very different than in Switzerland. I went also to the primary school and secondary. I had the opportunity to teach English and math. The greatest difference is the number of student in one classroom: around 50, sometimes more!
During the english lesson, they had to read a text and answer questions. The problem was that if a front person read basically they were talking to each other and it’s hard to get everyone’s attention. During the math lesson, I tested the children with mental calculations, they all stood up to answer. What I remember is that really hard and tiresome to have a large class like that.
The secondary school was to teach the teenagers to keep a healthy environment, not to throw waste on the ground and how to reuse it. For example, we make a rubbish with the brick of milch. You have to know that this is an optional lesson and there were so many students present.
My experience was just amazing! I really want to come back there because the life is totally different but really a good place to live as well.
My best memory was in the primary school when all children come to hug me. I felt really overwhelmed but so comfortable at the same time because they look so happy.
I volunteered at DAKTARI for three weeks and it was the most beautiful project of my young life. I had wanted to volunteer for a while but I was more interested in volunteering with animals rather than children. After three weeks at DAKTARI that completely changed and I was so happy to be able to spend so much time with such incredible children.
Every week eight children from a local school come to spend one week with us to follow a teaching program and do educational activities. From Monday to Friday you could see how much they had changed. On Monday we helped the children to fill out a questionnaire with questions on several topics that will be discussed during the week with them. Usually on Monday they cannot answer the questions correctly. The same questionnaire is given to them on Friday and it is a joy for all the volunteers to see there has been a big improvement. During one of my weeks, the child I helped went from 4 out of 16 right on Monday to 14 out of 16 right on Friday! It is really amazing to observe the impact one can have on them and to realize that their future is in your hands.
The best time of the week is Thursday night. We gather around a bonfire with the children and sing and dance all together. It is a beautiful moment to share with the volunteers and children.
In terms of the animals, it is just as wonderful. Each animal has its own story that has led it to DAKTARI. I loved being close to the animals, cleaning their enclosures, feeding them twice a day and cuddling the baby dassies!
I could talk about my experience at DAKTARI for hours so I will thank all the volunteers and staff who I share my time with - it was lovely to meet you all. Leaving was the hardest thing but as DAKTARI says so well "Goodbyes are not forever, goodbyes are not the end, they simply mean I'll miss you until we meet again!"
I'm already saving to go back!
To sum up I would like to say that my time at DAKTARI was awesome!
I had my first volunteer experience at Daktari in September 2017. I was staying for nine long weeks. Before my arrival I was quite anxious and nervous because I did not know if I would like the place or the people. My worries completely disappeared as I was taken care of as soon as I stepped off the plane and into the green van and the airport and drove to Daktari, which is a one hour drive away from Hoedspruit.
The welcome at Daktari was very warm and quelled my fear that these people will have no interest at making me feel at home. I was supported by the staff from the moment I arrived at Daktari until my departure in December. Never was anyone annoyed by any questions I asked and never did I feel like I was unwelcome or unwanted.
Every week we welcome a group of eight students to teach about the environment and every week was unique because every group of children had their own dynamics.
Every week we welcome a group of eight students to teach about the environment and every week was unique because every group of children had their own dynamics. Concerning the lessons, a big plus was that you do not have to teach every one of them. You can choose which classes you want to teach at the daily board meetings. Classes are usually taught by two volunteers, so you do not have to be afraid about having to do the classes alone without support.
Even though I felt like my experience was very positive, there were a few things I disliked. That would be the fact that you do not have much privacy or the opportunity to wander outside of the camp due to the wild animals on the reserve. However, you do have the chance on going on tours on the weekend to see some of the local sites so do not worry about not being able to leave the Daktari camp during your stay.
To sum up my experience, I would like to say that my time at Daktari was awesome! I had fun, great students and lovely baby animals to take care of. I do not regret spending nine weeks at Daktari and I would love to visit again.
Online, DAKTARI's ideal balance of working with children and animals seemed too good to be true. I arrived expecting some sort of catch but soon learned that the website, as well as the rave reviews from past volunteers, are extremely accurate in depicting the curriculum and atmosphere DAKTARI has to offer. Unlike many programs, the volunteers aren't coddled - they are immediately embraced and given the utmost feeling of importance, as well as aptitude to complete their tasks. This sense of independence is, in my opinion, what gives DAKTARI the familial atmosphere that makes you forget that you are a volunteer. Although given a schedule of lessons, along with instructions, the way in which you're encouraged to be interpretive shows the way that DAKTARI understands how there is no 'right way' for something to be done. Although a running establishment for more than 11 years, this humility continues to be felt the minute Ian greets you at the airport.
I was very impressed in the ways which DAKTARI implemented little, seemingly casual lessons with nature to instill impactful environmental considerations with the kids. Even the 20-minute morning dog walks managed to teach the kids important lessons about countering wild snakes and how to walk a dog with a combination of firmness and gentleness. These little lessons, as well as countless others are the ones I had assumed that the kids already knew. They hadn't and this highlights the way in which DAKTARI's great relationships with the nearby communities allow a valuable understanding of what to include in their curriculum. This understanding is also seen in the environmental lessons, in which DAKTARI's understanding of the local rubbish practices allow them to turn a broad lesson about the environment into one that the kids can relate to.
One of my favorite parts about DAKTARI was how remote its location is. Coming from a big city, I expected to take a while to get used to the isolation and wild animals. This turned out to be the farthest thing from true- now back home, I realize how easily I took these things for granted. Small encounters, like Eeyore the donkey hanging out next to your chalet, or the squirrel coming up to you for a cuddle in the lapa are thing that I would give anything to experience one more time. And don't get me started on how much I miss cuddling with my meerkats.
A little review cannot do justice to explain the amazing four weeks I had at DAKTARI. Even explaining DAKTARI to my friends and family back at home proves futile. This is because the experience at DAKTARI cannot be justified in the curriculum or the types of animals that they have there. Instead, my time at DAKTARI is made up of countless moments with the kids, animals, and other volunteers that I will take with me for the rest of my life. It's made up of the moments in which Ian and Michele truly felt like my surrogate parents. It's made up of the way I weirdly enjoyed picking up spotted owl poop. All these little moments are why I definitely know that I will be back one day.
I stayed at Daktari during 3 weeks from end October to mid November 2016. This was not my first holiday volunteering but Daktari provided me with a unique opportunity to both bring some of my experience to children and to be surrounded by nature and animals.
Each Monday 8 children aged 12-13 year old came from local villages to spend the week with us. Our days were organised around giving lessons to the children (mostly linked to the environment) and taking care of the animals (meerkats, mongoose, eagles, wild dogs etc.). The programme of lessons is very well prepared and detailed but Daktari is always keen for volunteers to bring their own experience and personality, and improve it if necessary. Depending on the number of volunteers present, we usually led with another volunteer a couple of lessons a day (which we chose the day before) and attended the other lessons in order to bring one on one support to the children. We also had more relaxed talks with the children on topics such as respect, substance abuse and safe sex and played board games. Overall the days were quite busy but you have some breaks to relax. There was no obligation to attend all the activities but most volunteers wanted to help and spend as much time as possible with the children. A volunteer coordinator attended most of the lessons and helped with the organisation and translation in case the children struggle to understand in English.
Daktari is situated in the middle of a game reserve which makes it a unique location too. You are surrounded by the bush and the sound of animals. This is a place where you feel very quickly at home and relaxed. The accommodation (chalets) was comfortable and to my surprise, we had hot water everyday! The food was very good too (and I'm French) and you don't have to drop bad habits like smoking (there is a nice quiet area for smokers) and drinking (for a cheap price too). There was a really nice atmosphere among the volunteers who came from everywhere.
Every Saturday we had the opportunity to go to the nearest town for shopping. I also spent an amazing week end in the Kruger Park with Greg, our guide, and 3 other volunteers. Visiting the park in a small group and accompanied by somebody like Greg who has a great deal of knowledge and passion about the animals is something you'll experience nowhere else. Greg also offers other types of day or week end excursions for Daktari.
In short, I had an unique and amazing experience at Daktari and guess what... I'm already planning to go back there for a longer period...
Such an amazing project with the loveliest people!
I have had the most amazing month at Daktari! Daktari is such a great project, what they do is amazing! I've always wanted to go and volunteer in Africa but I wasn't sure if I wanted to find a project with animals or with people and this was just such a good combination, I immediately knew this was it!
My first week, the group of kids we got were amazing! They were a little shy in the beginning because this is such a new experience for them. For most, it was the first time they went away from home for that long. But very quickly the kids opened up to us. They were so enthusiastic to learn! You can tell they're not used to having people actually ask them questions and pay attention to them in class.
In the beginning of the week we take a survey with each kid with questions about animals, the environment, safe sex, respect... all the topics we teach about in the week. On Friday we take the survey again and we can see how much they improved. A girl there my first week went from 2/16 to 14/16! All the kids improve and grow so much! Not only pure knowledge, but also their English, their confidence...
The animal part was amazing as well! My first night I hardly slept because of all the noises; owls, ostrich, dogs, donkey, squirrels... But I got used to it so quick and now it's weird to be back home and to hear cars and plains at night! Every day you do stabling twice a day; preparing food, cleaning out the cages, giving clean water... There was also an orphaned baby nyala we had to take care of while I was there which was such an amazing experience! It's also good to know that all the animals at Daktari are there for a reason! That was something we really tried to teach the kids as well; protecting the animals doesn't mean putting them into cages if they can live in the wild!
On Friday afternoon and in the weekends you have free time and there are lots of trips and excursions to take! Me and another volunteer Beccy, went to the Blyde River Canyon with Gregg. Not very cheap but definitely cheaper than a tour with a company, and Gregg knows so much about the area, the animals, the history! We also went and did a homestay in the Oaks village to really get immersed in the culture! I was also very lucky and joined the students of the week (each week the volunteers choose a student of the week; someone who improved the most and has shown the most interest. They win a free game drive) for their game drive to Kruger! We saw so many animals and all the Big 5 except for a leopard!
Last but not least, the people there, staff and long-terms and Michele and Ian are so wonderful! They have been so sweet! I would highly recommend this project, you'll have the time of your life!
Our family of 4 has returned from our volunteer time at Daktari... and we miss you and all the animals!
We still laugh about finding blind Eeyore outside of the camp, miss Thor your monkey stealing our food and Boy, the bird taking a liking to Alex (15) and attacking him nonstop from behind....
Our goal of exposing our French-American teenage sons (17, 15) to the "real" South African bush with its children and animals, was exceeded on all levels: it allowed a complete disconnect with our fast-paced school and work lives. In fact, one week was too short, one month would have been even better!
The community feeling at Daktari, the insights learned from caring for wild or injured animals are powerful. The opportunity to teach local children and then accompany them to the "back stage" of a Safari Lodge (hotel)" showed us how lucky we were not to only see one side, the "touristy South Africa". Accompanying your Outreach Manager to the local schools and exchanging with the Young Eco-Club members who proudly showed the trees they had proactively planted at their school, confirms that your concept "Education drives Environmental protection!" works.
We all returned, vocal proponents of this type of humanitarian vacation! What we gave in terms of our time and energy to teach teenagers in English, was returned 1000 times to us with the insights we gained from the local staff, the Children, the animals and the staff.
A few friends had travelled abroad and it looked like a lot of fun, and I was always incredibly jealous seeing their pictures when they got back! As it was my first time travelling solo, I decided that a volunteering project would be the best way to get out there, whilst not being completely alone.
I had looked at a lot of programs on many different websites. In the end, I chose the project at Daktari Bush School in South Africa as it involved teaching local children whilst also looking after animals - I was sure it would keep me busy! As a primary school teacher, I love working with children and thought that this would be a brilliant opportunity to not only make a difference for these children, but improve my own teaching in a situation completely different to the one I am used to in England.
I was a little nervous when I first arrived as this was my first time travelling solo, but I soon realised I had no reason to be! Ian was there at the airport to greet myself and another volunteer, and he immediately made us feel welcome. He even stopped the car a few times on the way back to show us the giraffes and other animals! Arriving at Daktari, the warm welcome continued and it seemed like Ian and Michele had created a proper little Daktari family. After settling in, we were invited to join the other volunteers on an overnight safari, organised by Greg, which was such a fantastic experience and allowed me to bond with the other volunteers before the children arrived, and get a real taste of Africa.
At the start of both weeks, the children were so shy and quiet, but it was fantastic to see them growing in confidence and knowledge as the week progressed. By the time Thursday rolled around, we were all toasting marshmallows on the bonfire, with the children teaching us different songs, chants and dances.
The teaching programme at Daktari covered so many areas in such a short space of time, but it managed to do it in a way that kept the children engaged and motivated. As volunteers, we were encouraged to improve the lessons, so we worked on the existing knowledge hunt lesson to create a challenging scavenger hunt. The children got incredibly competitive running around the camp looking for the clues, and it was great to see them helping the other children in their team.
I was also given the opportunity to visit a local crèche as part of Daktari’s outreach programme and teach a lesson to the 3-4 year olds. It was a real eye opener, and such a contrast from my school back in England.
I think the thing that makes Daktari unique is the combination of working with children and animals. I was drawn to this project as very few others give this opportunity. As a volunteer, you have a real impact on the children by teaching them about job opportunities, tourism, their environment, how to look after the animals and social issues such as substance abuse. After a long week of teaching, you then have the chance to cuddle up to the meerkats at the camp, go on a Big 5 safari in the nearby Kruger park or go bungee jumping off of Blyde river canyon. It was just such a fantastic project!
All in all, I have had such a fantastic experience at Daktari, and my only regret was that it didn’t last longer! It’s incredible what Ian and Michele have achieved at Daktari in 10 years, and it’s clear the impact it has on the children, animals, local communities, and the volunteers who visit. I cannot recommend it enough, and I hope very much to visit again in the not too distant future!