A little voluntourism goes a long way
Situated just a couple of hours from Johannesburg are a number of viable options. One is Africa Sol Safaris, which places volunteers at the Elephant Sanctuary and Monkey Sanctuary near Hartbeespoort Dam, and the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Pretoria.
The programme offers a 14-day minimum stay, with one week spent at the sanctuaries, and one at the cheetah centre. Accommodation is offered off-site, where volunteers spend their evenings together while conducting their day-to-day activities divided among the three entities.
'Our volunteer programme is specifically designed for people who are interested in making a tangible difference to the lives of the animals they work with,' says Pieter Engelbrecht, owner of African Sol Safaris. 'The organisations we partner with are not glorified zoos; they are educational places committed to conservation, striving to draw volunteers who want to learn, to impact positively on the natural world and to walk away enriched by the experience.'
Volunteers work quite closely with the residents of the Elephant Sanctuary – which offers a space for elephants that have proven to be problematic in other environments – undertaking work that ranges from food preparation to stable cleaning. The Monkey Sanctuary caters for exotic primate species from other parts of Africa, as well as from Central and South America, that are victims of the pet trade. As these animals grow and become unmanageable, they are donated to the sanctuary where they can be properly cared for. Volunteers assist with a number of activities, both animal and environmental, including the control of alien species.
'We cater for a maximum of 24 people and provide full board and lodging,' says Pieter. 'Until October 2014, the price is R9 000 per person for 14 days, though volunteers typically stay between two to four weeks, sometimes longer. We also work quite closely with African Sun Volunteering.'
Another organisation offering volunteering opportunities is the Botshabelo Community Development Trust, a rural community some two hours from Johannesburg comprising a school, an orphanage and a medical clinic. Botshabelo cares for children whose families are unable to support them, and those who have been orphaned by HIV/Aids.
The organisation rose to prominence in 2007 when a documentary film titled Angels in the Dust was made about Botshabelo. The film, which received international acclaim and recognition, placed Botshabelo firmly on the map and saw it flooded by requests from volunteers all over the world.
'Today, we continue to help volunteers make the most of their time in South Africa,' says Con Cloete, the founder of Botshabelo. 'Our volunteers help with every aspect of the work that we do, rising early, getting the children ready for school, helping out in the classrooms and with extramural activities, assisting with homework, and even conducting workshops with the children on everything from etiquette to gender roles.'
Botshabelo asks for US$50 per volunteer per day or a donation, and usually asks that the volunteers stay for a maximum of three weeks. Volunteers are provided with board and humble lodging, though accommodation expansions are under way.
Volunteering in South Africa involves little more than a valid tourist visa, a little extra time, and a strong sense of enthusiasm to make a difference to the lives of the people and animals you come across along your journey.