|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?|
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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...
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!
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!
Marloes - Volunteer in March / April 2015
"I visited several countries as a tourist, which were all nice experiences, but I was looking for more. I really wanted to help people, not only by spending money in their country. Out of all the projects that were looking for volunteers, I chose Daktari. The combination of working with kids and animals is great. But Daktari earned my choice because of their tone of voice; positive and full of sincere love for the environment. At first I was really nervous about joining them as a volunteer. I did not have experience in teaching, working with kids, animals or travelling alone. These worries were not necessary at all. I was adapted in a group of very nice people and really felt at home. The staff even cooked me vegetarian meals. Fake meat in the bush; I did not expect that at all :)! I had never been so far from the civilized world. I had to get used to the peace and quiet. But after a few days I really appreciated it, even the digital detox cure :)! The set-up of the teaching programme is great. We have done so many things with the kids, which gave lots of energy. Finding the squirrel in the peanut butter, feeling the breath of the donkey in my neck during dinner and getting kicked of the couch by the warthog because I was sitting on his spot; Daktari is really a unique, peaceful and loveable place. The only thing that annoyed me during my two weeks stay was the sound of the owl. I said that I would rather hear the sounds of traffic. But as I am writing this experience on my roof in the noisy center of Rotterdam, I think that owl was not that bad ;). I have many good memories from my stay. Thank you very much for that Daktari, I wish you all the best in the future!"
To see the full interview Marloes did on GoAbroad.com about her experience at DAKTARI, click here!
Thank you Marloes for your kind words!
My experience as a long-term Volunteer at DAKTARI
« I will come back, Africa!! Be sure that, one day, I will travel again within all your beauties» was my last thought when I flew back to France, leaving behind me South Africa. Leaving behind?? Actually not really, I think South Africa will be always in my heart, from all I learnt, saw, discovered, experimented… By all the amazing people I met, children, volunteers, locals, Michele, Ian… And by all these crazy funny animals I had the chance to work with or contemplate during my trip.
Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. Anne-Sophie, 24, French, Marketing Manager at DAKTARI from April 2014 to March 2015, now flying towards new adventures!
How did I choose my volunteer experience?
I searched for months and months for a humanitarian mission or a volunteering experience. I wanted to travel after my studies, being involved in an environmental project where I could help the less fortunate than myself. But doing what exactly? Protecting the wildlife? Supporting the children? And where? In South America, Africa? So many questions and projects all over the world that it was difficult to choose one.
And one day, as if the entire universe just converged to guide me and light my path, the perfect opportunity just came to me. I found DAKTARI, an organization that works with underprivileged children AND injured animal, in the middle of the South African Bush, next to the Kruger Park! PERFECT!! I sent an email to Michele to come for 1 month. Her reply: “Dear Anne-Sophie, (…) I saw you just completed your study in Marketing (…), I am currently looking for a Marketing Manager here at DAKTARI, for 1 year (…), If you are interested send me your CV (…)”
From that moment to today, everything went very quickly and my life took a new turn.
3 flights. 20 hours of travel. 1 foot on the African Continent and my heart had found what it was looking for… DAKTARI. The bush. A new exciting home. New friends. A new team work. And I was ready for the most wonderful job ever!! The children’s smiles. The staff’s dance. The birds’ songs. The animals’ foolishness. The adventurous volunteers. Ian’s jokes and his crazy dirty stories. Michele, her dogs and her contagious funny attitude…
I will never forget all these beautiful adventures and meetings. Here is a sample of what is in my head when I think about DAKTARI: Face to face with Cachou (the Dassie) on my toilet while he was having a poo, a good morning!! Live with 6 little bush babies in my room. Work with a foolish squirrel which bites all the papers and a warthog who breaks everything. Released a pangolin into the wild. The “I LOVE YOUUUU” of the ostriches. Hear the hyena calling at night. And also the Lions (once)!! Scratching the porcupine under his arm. Holding a Python. The Boma fires under the stars with the children and the volunteers. But also… Discovering Shiloweni (the Leopard) dead in his enclosure. See a Black Mamba in the roof above my room. Take my shower with a frog and put Giraffe poo in my mouth (because it’s part of the tradition!).
Finally, how could I forget the breath-taking sunset of the Leopard Rock, the smell of the colourful flowers, the beauty of the green bush, the peaceful noisy sounds around… The list is unlimited and the words are missing to express what Africa is really like. You have to try it to know!! Give your time as a volunteer and you will see that you are not only helping and discovering others, but yourself…
For this unforgettable volunteer adventure and for making one of my childhood dreams come true (living in the bush surrounded by beauty and animals), I would like to say a huge and warm thank you to 2 great lovely people, Ian and Michele!! You are such wonderful people who put all their hearts into this worthy cause and it was an honour for me to work by your side. Thank you for this memorable lesson of life and all I have learnt thanks to you and DAKTARI! Keep going!
In this place I felt alive, free and strong!
Nathalie, Fundraiser Manager at DAKTARI, since august 2014
Nathalie has been interviewed by Go Overseas, one of our online volunteers agency. Click here to visit our page on their website.
What position do you hold at DAKTARI and why do you like working there?
Did you volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
What does the future hold for DAKTARI - any exciting new programs to share?
What is one thing you would tell any future volunteer?
How do you think volunteer abroad will change over the next 10 years?
Laura Nardini, DAKTARI Volunteer 11/10/2014 - 15/11/2014
"I spent 5 weeks at DAKTARI Bush School & Wildlife Orphanage, an amazing program that allows volunteers to work with local children as much as wild animals. The perfect mix! Not only you teach the children about saving environment, animals and other matters, but you also learn about them and their way of life which is quite different from ours. It's very enriching, and I would say that you learn from them as much as they learn from you. You also work and live among the animals, and the arrival of a new one is always very exciting!
Volunteers also have the possibility to meet local people from the neighbor village, by spending a night within a family. A unique experience I highly recommend...
DAKTARI is a family size program. The day of your arrival you immediately meet all the people that work here, including the founders, and you quickly feel like at home. The relationship with other volunteers is great because everybody is very willing to help, and you can meet people of every ages and from every places of the world.
Finally, when you are volunteer at DAKTARI, I would say that you feel very useful and it is an experience you will never forget"