I had just retired and decided to travel to South Africa to begin my new life of "giving back." When my husband and I (both in our early sixties) arrived at Daktari our first activity was after dinner -- the baby dassies needed their evening bottles. I fed the furry little creature, then she crawled onto my neck and went to sleep. Believe me -- it was more relaxing than any spa treatment I have ever experienced. So began our wonderful 2 week adventure at Daktari. We feed and cuddled the dassies every morning and evening, met the cheetah, held brand new baby mice, petted the jackal and laughed with Eeyore the donkey. We also worked hard stabling and feeding the animals. That was the animal orphanage part of Daktari. The Bush School part was just as rewarding. Who knew my husband could command such attention in the classroom - the kids really listened to him. We had the opportunity to talk about politeness, respect, the environment and the economic and humanitarian importance of protecting the animals in South Africa. I loved every minute. Everything was wonderful -- from my first email inquiry until the day we left. We plan to go back. Animals and kids in the African bush. What could be better than that?
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!

 

 

At first I want to say thank you to the people who made it possible for me to come to DAKTARI.

 

When I arrived in DAKTARI I was afraid about everything but with the time I realized that I found a little piece of heaven. I met so many interesting, different, and wonderful people from all over the world and I learnt a lot about animals.

 

DAKTARI changed my view on the world. It was a fantastic experience that I will never forget. In the beginning all the lessons and the stabling were too much for me and I wasn't used to this hot climate. So I struggled. But with the time I grew on the exercises. And in the end I was ready to hold all the lessons by myself.

 

Katharina volunteer in south africa

It was great to see the kids growing. In the beginning they were so shy and didn't know so much about their world but after one week they were open to us and they learnt a lot. I think this project isn't just good for children, it is also good for the volunteers. They can see that different cultures can easily work together for the greater good. And as we saw it on the survey they learn a lot about their environment in this one week. The work with the kids and the animals helps the kids to not only learn about the animals but also, loose their fear of them. 

 

So for me the time was running too quickly and it was a very great time. Overall, it was perfect.

 

Thank you Michele, Ian, Erika, Ernest, Manu, Toine, Marta, Natalie and Will. 

 

And now I don't want to leave...

Monday, 14 September 2015 00:57

The Maurel Family - Volunteers in August 2015

In August we welcomed a group of volunteers a little different from what we usually get. The Maurel Family came to visit DAKTARI and over the week they were with us they were nothing short of amazing! Even if the names of the children turned out impossible to say for the children (hence the nicknames in brackets!)! Below you can read the original testimonials from all the members of the family! 

 

Maurel Family Review

 

Fabrice and Cécile (Dad and Mum)

We lived an unforgettable experience at DAKTARI Bush School ! Our amazing hosts, Ian and Michele, and great volunteers were so kind with us ! Our entire family has been wonderfully well received (welcomed). Parents as children were immediately involved in all activities. To help with the education of great children and to take care for wild animals was an amazing and rewarding experience. We will never forget our hosts, all other volunteers, children and animals of DAKTARI Bush School. Thanks to all of you!

 

Marianne (Bobo), 14 years old

I spent only one week at DAKTARI, but it was so wonderful that I left in tears. Everything was perfect. We met very nice people who I will never forget. DAKTARI is just like South Africa: a beautiful place, unique in the world. That is why I want to thank all who were there and made this adventure amazing, especially Michele, Ian, Marta, Nathalie, Erica, Ernest, Manu, Toine, and also all the volunteers, Wellington, Thijs, Amy, Jodie, Julie, even Mirabelle and Nikita !

You can be sure that I will come back!

 

Baptiste (Baba), 12 years old 

I had a brilliant time at DAKTARI : to take care of animals, meet other young people, walk in the bush, play cards and participate in daily tasks !

I feared not being authorised to participate in activities. But instead, I was busy all day with some great people and great animals. Thank you all !

 

Perrine (Bibi), 15 years old

I only spent one week at DAKTARI but if I could had made this experience last longer, I would have gladly done it ! We had a lot of fun with the other volunteers and children. The animals were just as amazing as the people. I really do hope I will come back one day !

 

Thank you to all of the members of the Maurel Family for being so amazing and sharing their experience with us! Hopefully we will see you again soon!! 

 

"My stay at DAKTARI has been so rewarding. I particularly loved having the opportunity to teach. Not only do we educate children about the environment, we also show them how they have the ability to make a difference. The kids are wonderful and its been such a fulfilling experience to see how they improve throughout the week. 

DAKTARI has such a welcoming atmosphere. It has been so great to meet other volunteers from around the world. My time here was short but full of exciting moments that I'll never forget.

 

Michelle just completed a degree in English and is moving on Teacher's College in Canada, where she is originally from. Thank you for your kind words Michelle, and hopefully we will see you again at DAKTARI!! 

Pénélope and Claude came to DAKTARI with an amazing attitude and the willingness to make the best of their stay! Leaving their families in France, these two ladies set out on an adventure where they fit right in and actively took part in all activities with an unmatched enthusiasm and energy. Their sole worry before coming to DAKTARI was their level of English, but like with the rest of challenges they faced throughout their stay, it soon became evident that it was nothing to worry about!

They wrote a short text to sum up their experience:

'We spent two weeks at DAKTARI to realise our childhood dream. What a great moment to be immersed in the bush and share the daily life with children and animals!! There is a great ambience like in a 'big family'!! We really loved our stay, and we recommend it to everybody...

The "French Ladies",

Claude & Pénélope

Honestly a real pleasure to have these awesome ladies stay with us! Thank you for everything Mademoiselles! 

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