My name is Marjo Kommeren, aged 55 years and I’m Dutch. I stayed at DAKTARI for 4 weeks.

I always wanted to come to South Africa, to work as a nurse, but it never happened because I got married, got kids etc. Now my kids are grown up en independent, I decided to go traveling to places I always wanted to go. But when I researched travel arrangements I did not like them, I wanted to do something more active. My son then said: do volunteer work! He showed me DAKTARI’s website and I was exited immediately. It gives me the opportunity to contribute to education and nature conservation at the same time.

The days at DAKTARI are varied. You always start the same: the dog walk, breakfast and morning stabling. Then the lessons start. Every evening after dinner there is the board meeting: the lessons and tasks at stabling for the next day are divided. So, you can do something different every day. When you are not teaching you can help with big cleans of the enclosures or other jobs that have to be done. I also joined the Outreach Program in the Oaks; that’s a program to follow up the kids who have been to DAKTARI and give them the possibility to learn more.  And I helped with the Job Hunting Program, also in the Oaks. This is the follow up of the young adults who have followed the Job Hunting Program at DAKTARI.

The big challenge by teaching is how to reach the children and be able to really teach them something. The first lessons are difficult and it takes some time, but when they open up more en you notice some off the things you have taught lasts it is a great feeling!

My favourite lessons/activity were the lesson “make South Africa a better place” and the social talks about “respect”, “safe sex” and “substance abuse”. This were the lessons where the kids opened up most and I got the feeling that I really reached them.

Sometimes the lessons were hard and confronting because it showed me how hard and difficult life is for the children in South Africa. We are trying to teach them important lessons but you realize that after their stay at DAKTARI, they go back in there own living environment and their reality is so different from ours. We read about it in newspapers etc. but it’s a total different story when you read it in the eyes of a bright and precious child. It really made me emotional sometimes.

All animals at DAKTARI are cute, beautiful and fun. I’ve had a lot of fun by counting the chicken, I love the mice and rats, the caracal is magnificent. It would take to much time to describe all the animals, I love them all. One morning I woke up, it was early and still dark, and there was a giraffe standing in front of my cottage, amazing. I love living in the bush! It is peaceful and surprising at the same time. The surprise of suddenly seeing a beautiful bird or animal. Every time I went for a bush walk or drive in the bush I experienced miracles of nature.  The space and the enchanting landscape, the sunrise and sunset; it’s all addicting.

I’m leaving in 3 days. I now already know I will always remember all those precious moment I experienced at DAKTARI: that moment you notice a child really understood the lessons we have taught them, the moment you see a child reach out to an animal. All the fun we had counting the chicken, cleaning the waterhole and during stabling, the beautiful animals, the excursions. And, of course, all the people I’ve met at DAKTARI and in the village. Ian and Michelle, who are so dedicated to this project. All the staff members and all the volunteers. They all became my family during my stay.

There are lots of opportunities to go on trips. I went on a overnight trip to Manyeleti and Kruger Park. It was awesome. We have seen beautiful animals, the bush is wonderful. Seeing the sunrise standing in the middle of the bush; I will never forget these moments. The hiking trip in Blyde River Canyon and in the surroundings of Pots Boskombuis was magnificent. The Cheetah walk at Thsukudu game reserve: enchanting. I did all the excursions with guide Greg, he showed and told us a lot, took good care of us. I had a great time. I also did the “home stay”. You spend 24 hours with a friendly local family. That was an incredible experience, to see how the local population lives and works. The lady we were staying with is an amazing and very kind person.

This project is important because I think it really makes an impact. I have experienced it by doing the survey in the Village (Oaks) when we interviewed locals about environment, animal care, poaching etc. All the people who gave the correct answers; those were the people who have been to DAKTARI or have children/grandchildren who stayed at DAKTARI. That shows the kids really learnt and spread it. So, you will make an impact on the children, but also on the animal wellbeing.

I want to say to everybody who is considering to go volunteering at DAKTARI: please go! You can make an impact in the lives of beautiful and precious children and animals. You will have a amazing time with all the people and animals at DAKTARI. You also can discover the beautiful wildlife and surroundings and experience the South African way of living. I would recommend volunteering at DAKTARI for at least 3 weeks. It takes time to become useful in teaching, even if you have experience in teaching. It’s amazing the way you feel at home here and do not want to leave…

Marjo 2