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.