ISV - Volunteer Projects in South Africa

  • By ISV
  • Reviews (77)
  • 97% Rating

South Africa has had a turbulent history, but with the help of volunteer programs like ISV's, the country is back on its path to development. ISV's volunteer program in South Africa allows you to make a positive impact on the quality of life for South African or the wildlife of South Africa! ISV offers volunteer projects in South Africa in many different areas, such as wildlife conservation, community development, children's programs, and environmental management.
In the community development and children's programs, you may be involved in building schools and playgrounds, urban renewal projects, water and sanitation development, or teaching lessons. In the wildlife conservation and environmental management programs, you could be assisting researchers in surveying and monitoring of flora and fauna used for conservation management or volunteering on a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Program Info

Location: 
  • South Africa
Volunteer Types: 
Community Development
Program Length: 
2-4 weeks
Cost: 
$2,000 - $5,000 (USD)
See Additional Information
Languages: 
Thai
Application: 
Online Application

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Program Reviews (77)

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  • Impact
    94%
  • Support
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  • Fun
    96%
  • Value
    94%
  • Safety
    95%
  • Fatima Taoube
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Sydney, Australia
    Macquarie University
    Trip of a Lifetime!
    03/06/2015

    This trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life! It was so easy to get along with the other volunteers on the group, and we all bonded very well. I loved meeting all of the beautiful locals in the amazingly stunning town of Chintsa in East London. Going down to the beach every morning and taking in the spectacular scenery was so much fun. Playing sports with the children was also so much fun, as you could really see the enjoyment in their faces. The work done on the volunteer site was very hard and rewarding. We did the work on the creche whilst the children and carers were there, which allowed to really see just how much they appreciated it. The children even became involved by grabbing a paint brush and painting the mural. This was definitely my favourite part of the program, although the adventure tour I must admit was pretty incredible!! I got to bungee jump off the highest bridge bungee in the world, abseil off table mountain, and do cliff jumps at Blyde River, things I never thought I'd get the chance to do in a million years. I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere at Island Vibe in Jeffrey's Bay and in Cape Town. The locals were so friendly and chilled out, I never wanted to leave!!

    I would 100% recommend this program to everyone! It is the most life-changing experience and leaves you ready to help and explore the world!!!

    How could this program be improved?

    I think its important to make the extra costs more clear beforehand. Other than that, everything was amazing! Wish it could have been longer!

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  • Harry Barley
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Melbourne, Australia
    RMIT
    ISV Shingwedzi
    03/05/2015

    A truly amazing experience. While on project we had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of amazing animal species, and we were able to see the benefits of the work we were completing first hand. Not only fulfilling, but a life changing experience. Could not recommend highly enough!

    How could this program be improved?

    Maybe more free time/down time on project, was quite intense. To be honest though I wouldn't change anything

    Photos:
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  • Madalyn Bernardelle
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Melbourne, Australia
    Victoria University
    Take me back!
    03/05/2015

    I have travelled the world to nearly 30 countries and my experience with ISV was my all time favorite experience yet. The Volunteering aspect was filled with hard labour, learning new things, laughter, friendship, townships and an extremely rewarding outcome. Our arms ached, bodies sweated and got tired but I wouldn't change it for the world. That was the best part! We knew what we were doing was getting done for the right reasons as we were surrounded by children who would be using the facilities we were creating around their childcare centre.

    The Adventure tour was full of facing fears, fun and exploring new cities. This was an experience where I reconnected with myself and those around me to get out what I put in. I then have the privilege of traveling to Zambia and Botswana to be faced with lions while camping in Chobe National Park and swim on the edge of Victoria Falls. Does it get any better than that? It sure did!! I flew over Vic Falls in a microlight flight and rafted down the Zambezi.

    This trip was a life changing experience where I learnt about the world we live in, unique individuals and found myself through daring, challenging and testing myself.

    Thank you ISV and your incredibly commited, passionate and enthusiastic leaders.

    * I completed this in 2015

    How could this program be improved?

    I honestly couldn't fault it

    Photos:
    Angels Pool | Victoria Falls
    Volunteering | Cinsta, South Africa
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  • Nikki Holland
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    New Zealand
    Massey University
    YOU HAVE TO GO!!!!
    03/05/2015

    This has been the experience of a lifetime ! I recommend it to everyone - young an old ! Thank you ISV for the adventure ! 5/5 !!!!! I was on the 4 week project and adventure tour and the time flies. I was not home sick once and i have made friends for life ! The project was hard work but relly really inspiring ! I loved the children that surrounded were we worked. They would help and were so fun ! I loved the adventure tour as we did so much in only a short two weeks ! Seeing so much of Africa was AMAZING!

    Photos:
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  • M Bowyer
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Auckland, New Zealand
    University of Auckland
    Life Changing
    03/04/2015

    Volunteering at Masebe was incredible, our Field Guides were really knowledgable and friendly, as was the rest of the staff. They really made it feel like home.

    It really didn't feel like work everyday we were out in the field, we had so much fun with the VCAs and Bird Point Counts thanks to our amazing Field Guides. Being in the reserve everyday was incredible and gave us ample opportunity to spot some wildlife, whether it was an elusive bird or a glimpse of a herd of Zebra, every sighting was exciting.

    The scenery there is absolutely breathtaking, it's such a beautiful place, and to be surrounded by that everyday was just fantastic. The view from the top of Mt. Magagamatala made the hike up more than worth it (this coming from a girl who had never hiked a day in her life prior to the trip).

    The environmental education was by far one of my favourite things that I got to do while on project. The kids were so eager to learn and just so enthusiastic--and they ran circles around us when we played games with them. They had such a positive attitude, and as much as we were there to teach them, I learned a lot from being around them.

    This trip changed my life. The girl who left on the 2nd of January was not the same who returned home 4 weeks later. This trip pushed me to think more about how I impact the world (and environment) around me, it made me more confident in myself, I learned A LOT, and I really can't express enough how much I loved this experience. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

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  • Jack Tredinnick
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Gold Coast, Australia
    Griffith University
    If I could recommend one thing...
    03/04/2015

    When the opportunity comes, sign up to do the bungee jump on the adventure tour! I don't care how terrifying it sounds, or how much it freaks you out, The atmosphere was electric and it was the best experience of my life. Those in my group that didn't jump have told me that they regret it, and rightfully so. Watch "Jack's Bungy Jumping Adventure" on YouTube to see what we did.

    How could this program be improved?

    The weather in cape town was a bit of a pain, but tbh it was a brilliant program, and I wouldn't change a thing about it :)

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  • Roger Lo
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Auckland
    University of Auckland
    ISV 4 weeks SA trip
    03/04/2015

    I'll never forget this experience I had with my volunteer family and tour friends. I've learnt so much from this trip and made a lot of lifetime friends which we still keep in touch even after the tour. Thanks to ISV for making this possible :)

    How could this program be improved?

    Stay there longer :)

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  • Kinsey B
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Ottawa, ON
    University of Ottawa
    An eye-opening experience abroad!
    11/14/2014

    When deciding where to volunteer abroad, I came across International Student Volunteers and was amazed at how thoroughly organized the program was. I immediately applied to volunteer and was accepted for my first choice, South Africa! They do everything for you, from the flight booking to the accommodations, to most of the meals and all of the activities you could possibly imagine doing while overseas. It was such a culturally rich experience and there was a diversity in activities during the adventure tour to please the thrill seeker and the cultural history buff at the same time.

    The volunteer project that I was on in Cintsa East, South Africa, was an eye opening experience for me. We got to work side-by-side with locals in the community, we got to experience the Xhosa culture and ultimately put smiles on the faces of the children there. In fact, the entire experience made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in Global Health which is exactly what I am doing now, two years later! I strongly suggest volunteering abroad with ISV if you have any desire to work with vulnerable populations, especially children, or if you are studying health/international development. It can definitely enrich your educational path.

    It was also excellent that we had a fixed schedule day to day, waking up around 7:00am and travelling to our project. We had our lunches prepared for us and worked until between 2 and 4:00pm. In the evenings, we were free to go to the community store and to call home (which was incredibly easy from South Africa...only 1 rand a minute with a payphone). We also had our dinners prepared by our amazing house mother and got to spend quality time together all evening.

    There were plenty of opportunities to learn about different African foods and cultures throughout the volunteer project and the adventure tour. We were able to participate in high adrenaline activities like caving and swimming with whale sharks, but we were also awarded cultural experiences like visiting an orphanage in Swaziland.

    The ISV staff were generally very kind and helpful, with the exception of a couple incidents with our project leader, but overall we felt incredibly safe and supported the entire time.

    I also went on this experience with my boyfriend and it was an excellent way to bond as a couple.

    I would suggest this experience to absolutely anyone who was considering it!!

    How could this program be improved?

    The cost of this program is a bit on the high side. The originally advertised cost is approximately $3500 (not including flights). For me, it came to about $8000 total after all of the extra ISV related costs and after purchasing my insurance, gear and shots. I have seen much less expensive programs that still offer full room and board.

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  • Cait S.
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Whitby, Ontario
    ISV South Africa
    11/13/2014

    Figuring out the trip beforehand was quite a headache for me. People giving inaccurate answers, receiving emails saying I have to pay more than what was agreed on, nonsense like that. The trip itself was absolutely amazing!! Project coordinator was top notch, and tour leader was a blast. So although I had difficulty before I actually left, the trip was definitely worth every penny.

    How could this program be improved?

    Better organizing of information before departure.

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  • Jacie Anderson
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    West Lafayette, IN
    Purdue University
    Time of my Life
    11/12/2014

    Being with people who share the same values as you makes the experience that much more life-changing. We all are there to make a difference, to impact the world, and we change each others lives in the process. I made some of the greatest friends while I was there that I still contact regularly. Each day you wake up and go out not knowing what the day will bring. We would prepare food for the cheetahs, go on feeding rounds, play with the cubs even, and learn about cheetahs. You learn so much about sustainability and conservation. This trip made me grow so much as a person. Every day we would do hard work: fixing the roads, repairing the camps for the endangered vultures and African Wild Dogs, and trimming branches. The work never even seemed like it was work. The reward for everything we did was immediate. Every new project we did helped Shingwedzi incredibly. The traveling: caving, rappelling in Blyde River Canyon, horse back riding through the mountainside of Swaziland, meeting the kids in an orphanage, etc. were all once in a lifetime things! So many memories, people, and experiences I will have for the rest of my life.

    How could this program be improved?

    I wish I was volunteering longer!

    Photos:
    Swaziland Orphanage Visit
    Simba
    Selfies with Spooky!
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  • Julian McMahon
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    United States
    Washington State University
    ISV South Africa
    11/10/2014

    My ISV experience was pretty amazing! Not only did it give me a direct cultural understanding, but gave me a strong historical background, which drew it all together. When we first landed in Cape Town, all I could think about was sleeping and how jet lagged I was from the 16 hour flight. However, once we started driving to our hostel (Salty Crax), the reality of where I was gave me a burst of energy. The first thing that caught my eye was how beautiful South Africa is. The second thing that caught my eye was the Dunoon township right next to the highway, and how extensive it was. When you see kids (12-15 years old) walking down the road with scrap metal for their homes, it makes you open your eyes.

    After a day of orientation and walking around Cape Town, we were able to start our volunteering. Our group was split into two groups. One group did community development for the first week and the other group had a building project. We then switched projects (different locations) for the second week of volunteering. My first project was working at a special needs school (Elundini) in the Dunoon township. Here I worked with kids ranging from 2-3 years of age. The highlight from my whole trip (even including the excursions) happened here. One of my students didn't seem to have much interest in socializing with the other kids (he was a little younger). After pushing him to interact, he finally gave in. I handed him and another student two toy trucks. They started talking and giggling, which slowly transformed into a friendship. After just a week, I could see a huge difference in his attitude. He went from standing around with his hands in his pockets, to actually playing and interacting. It really seemed like they formed a true friendship. It's hard to explain in words how such a simple thing can make such an impact.

    I could go on an on about by trip, but I will leave this review somewhat short.

    Accommodations- Salty Crax. It was rad! I shared a room with 4 guys, and we all vibed really well. They had a bar in the back yard. (enough said)

    transportation- Bus for free time, coordinators to and from projects. No issues.

    Volunteering- Loved it, will be going back for a longer period of time.

    Overall, my experience in South Africa was absolutely amazing! I got to go shark cage diving, feed elephants, meet lifelong friends (including my current girlfriend). I'm really grateful for the experience.

    How could this program be improved?

    Direct dates and in-depth project inquiries prior to the trip.

    Photos:
    Dunoon Township
    Students
    building project
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  • Kjersti Maday
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Moorhead, MN
    Minnesota State University
    South Africa
    11/10/2014

    I spent my first two weeks building bike paths for underprivileged kids in Cape Town, South Africa. It was the most rewarding part of the trip.

    Our group first had to dig a path. We moved 10,000 lbs. of dirt, rock, and concrete in a little under 10 days.

    That was the physical labor part of our volunteering. The more meaningful work came from working with the kids in the preschool. Most of the children had learning disabilities and came from low-income homes. It was heartbreaking to learn some of their stories. All of our hard work paid off just to see how happy they were to be in school.

    How could this program be improved?

    More interaction with the children.

    Photos:
    South African Boy
    Timely
    Victoria Falls
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  • Rebecca Noyes
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Purdue University
    Go! Go! Go! You will not be disappointed!
    11/09/2014

    International Student Volunteer's South Africa program was pretty much flawless. Everything was very well organized and had no problems with the travels, planning, or my time spent in Africa. During my time across seas, I not only met some of the most amazing people, but the experience itself changed my whole outlook on life. After coming back home after this amazing trip, I was already looking into what trip I wanted to go on next, preferable through ISV. I wouldn't change a single thing and I encourage everyone to explore the world and make a difference. ISV is the perfect place to start.

    How could this program be improved?

    If I absolutely had to change one thing about the ISV program, it would probably be to maybe prepare the volunteers a little more as to what to take. I brought a lot of unnecessary things as well as wish I would have brought other items from home.

    Photos:
    Fun with kids in South Africa.
    Climbing table mountain in South Africa.
    Elephant crossing during a safari in Zimbabwe.
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  • Austin
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Bozeman, Montana
    Montana State- Bozeman
    Unforgettable Experience
    11/09/2014

    South Africa was an unforgettable experience for me because I did so many things I thought I would never get to do, such as pet cheetahs, go spelunking, explore caves and interact with animals in such a close atmosphere. I think South Africa is one of the most culturally diverse places on this planet and going there opened up a whole new perspective in my life that i will always cherish. I would recommend any ISV trips to anyone who wants to adventure in a safe,learning, and fun environment.

    How could this program be improved?

    If I could change one thing about the program it would be the costs. I think ISV should make a better effort to help kids who are committed to going fundraiser for their trip and maybe plan more activities that are more interactive with the local people.

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  • Dylan McManus
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Sacramento, California
    California State- Sacramento
    ISV South African Conservation Trip
    11/08/2014

    Dagse! To those of you unfamiliar, this is Afrikaans, a language I was able to learn during my time in South Africa. As I stood in the JFK Airport, I was incredibly nervous. However, the other volunteers were very friendly, I still chat with most to this day, and the volunteer project had profound implications.

    I had wanted to travel to Africa to experience the diverse culture, and also experience one of the world's last strongholds for wildlife. Although I was able to work on a reserve (Mesebe game reserve in the Limpopo region) and photograph some of the most beautiful animals on Earth, I was impacted even more so through the humanitarian efforts. Twice, I travelled to the village school to assist teaching. Working with adults and grade-school children really gave me a chance to impact lives and have my own impacted as well. The kids always had the biggest smiles oddly enough, were captivated by the exotic culture I represented! The short time spent with these children was enough to promise myself a return, to see their faces once again. The village where I stayed (Telekishi) was just outside a smaller town, and I would frequently discover children lingering around, waiting for the volunteers to offer a game of soccer. Sweetest kids ever. At the end of the trip, these kids drew me illustrations in my notebook, and I gave them my bracelets.

    The time spent with the schoolchildren, and the kids near Telekishi, has determined my joining Peace Corps. Spending time with these kids, sharing stories from America, and listening to their stories of Africa, or their favorite animals, has influenced and drawn a career path. I am currently enrolled in a TESOL (teaching english to students of other languages) program in hopes of returning to the Limpopo region with the Peace Corps. I cannot imagine my life without seeing everyone I met in South Africa once again.
    Of course, the two weeks I spent traveling were remarkable, and I created memories that even now, while writing this review, I am able to relive. If you have a passion for wildlife, these two weeks will seem like reverie. I recall spending HOURS admiring a leopardess. I sat in silence perfectly content, stunned by such beauty!

    From spending time teaching in schools and playing soccer with kids, to humbly observing African wildlife, this experience has provided me with unforgettable memories and an unquenchable thirst for traveling!

    How could this program be improved?

    As odd as it sounds, I did not enjoy the free time during the volunteer project. I understand the importance of free time but I would have much preferred to drive back to the school, or walk into town, and spend time playing soccer with the kids. In a sense, the two weeks traveling are an extended "free-time," so I would have enjoyed spending the most time possible with the children in Telekishi. Perhaps if students were given a choice between free-time and time spent at the school, or with the village children.

    Photos:
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Alumni Interviews

  • What inspired you to volunteer abroad with ISV in South Africa?

    Masha with Midget, who is the next ambassador cheetah.
    Masha with Midget, who is the next ambassador cheetah.

    Masha: I have always loved animals and nature, and since I was a little girl I always wanted to go to Africa. It appealed to me for many reasons: the animals I would encounter, get to work with, see; culture and history; scenery; people. I have also always wanted to volunteer, as I believe it is important for those who are more fortunate, like ourselves, to give back.

    And as I said before, I had the chance to work with animals which is what I am passionate about. ISV provided an incredible program which allowed me to do exactly this. Not all charities and organizations have such a broad range of projects.

    ISV also organized tours around the host country which allowed me to see the country whilst staying safe and in a group instead of independent travel. What more could you ask for?

    What was your favorite moment of the trip?

    Masha at the orphanage in Swaziland holding a 8 year old girl.
    Masha at the orphanage in Swaziland holding a 8 year old girl.

    Masha: I couldn't just pick one favorite moment so will give a few for each, the volunteer project and the tour. Favorite moments for the project include: meeting a cheetah for the first time, petting it, hearing it purr and letting it lick me! Playing fetch with Midget (a cheetah cub) was also incredible.

    Watching the wild dogs feed was another incredible moment. I also loved meeting Ann van Dyk- founder of the Ann van Dyk cheetah sanctuary where we volunteered.

    The last day of the project (don't want to reveal in case I ruin the surprise for future volunteers) was another favorite moment. Getting to work with people who are passionate about cheetahs and meeting all the volunteers who love these animals as much as I do was also incredible.

    Highlights from the tour: The scenic route from Blyde River Canyon to Kruger National Park. Seeing the Big 5 including a leopard (unbelievably lucky) on our safari around Kruger. Caving and hot pools in Swaziland.

    The orphanage probably had the biggest impact on me out of everything we did. I still think about that day every single day! Surfing in Mozambique and not wearing shoes for 4 days we were there was another highlight. Overall this experience was so incredible that me and another girl from the UK decided to stay longer and go to Cape Town.

    Tell us about one person you met.

    Masha: I can't mention just one person in this as they worked as a team, but our project leaders Jaclyn Stephenson and Natascha Sibilski were probably the most incredible people I met. They worked so well as a team, got us involved and made us feel like part of the family. They truly changed my outlook on life and taught us a great deal.

    Masha with Natascha and Jaclyn
    Masha with Natascha and Jaclyn.

    I know that it is not just myself that feels that way, but all the volunteers that were on my project. They taught us a lot about sustainability and how to lead a more sustainable life. They raised our awareness towards environmental issues in the world today and made us think about it in depth. They did this through playing games with us, watching videos, etc.

    I could not be more grateful to them because I have taken all these lessons home and I am now trying to encourage my friends, family and colleagues to be more sustainable and aware also. They weren't just our project leaders; we all became a big family and I still keep in touch with both of them almost daily which shows that to them we weren't just a work assignment, but we also all became friends.

    Saying goodbye to them was probably one of the worst parts of the whole experience, but on a positive note we still keep in touch and I will definitely be visiting them in the future as I am planning on volunteering in South Africa again in 2014!

    If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?

    Masha and Danielle, one of the volunteers, overlooking the Indian Ocean in Mozam
    Masha and Danielle, one of the volunteers, overlooking the Indian Ocean in Mozambique.

    Masha: I literally don't think I would change a thing. As mentioned before, me and another one of the volunteers ended up changing our flights and going to Cape Town which was absolutely incredible! What I would advise those who are considering volunteering and travelling is to make sure to say yes to all the activities.

    I was terrified of caving as I am very claustrophobic, but doing this activity was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Make the most of it as it will fly by! Also definitely keep a diary.

    Say yes to everything, if there is drama in the group try and avoid it at all costs as well. Remember, you paid for this trip, why should you let other people ruin it?

    We were extremely lucky in the sense that our group (our project had 19 people) all got on really well and when we met the other two groups for tour we all got on with them too and we all made great friendships. Everyone got on which was incredible. I couldn't recommend this trip more. You do so much, your days are packed with activities - it is definitely worth the money.

    There is no way I would have enjoyed this trip as much if I went on my own because I wouldn't have gotten to experience the culture as much and see as much. All the staff were so knowledgeable, they really taught us a lot about South Africa and this experience will definitely stay with me for a lifetime. I would do it all over again if I could!

    Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

    Masha: My worldview has changed immensely! I have become so much more aware of the issues people and animals are facing every single day. After visiting the orphanage in Swaziland I have become a lot more grateful for what I have and a lot less materialistic.

    Masha overlooking the three Rondavels on the way to Kruger.
    Masha overlooking the three Rondavels on the way to Kruger.

    It was incredible to see how happy those children were even though they had nothing, and made me realise how unhappy people are in the West because they don't have the latest iPhone or gadget. My priorities have definitely changed. I am more humbled now and a lot less materialistic.

    I have definitely learned a lot about who I want to socialize with in the future as well. This trip has also made me a lot braver when it comes to making life decisions. I have moved to Dubai very recently because of it, without it I don't think I would have had the guts.

    It has increased my passion for travel and volunteering, and now I see what I want to do with my life a lot more clearly. If you let it and open your mind whilst you are there you will definitely come back having changed for the better!

  • Volunteer in South Africa with ISV
    Philippa getting ready to forge new trails

    Morning: A typical day as a volunteer in South Africa was AMAZING. We would wake up at around 4:45am and get ready to head out for the morning. Breakfast was cereal on the lookout, where you could look out across the entire private reserve and see how many giraffes you could spot, an awesome way to start the day. By 5:30 we were on the back of the bakkie heading out into the government reserve to get to work. Each morning started with the same activity; checking and disabling the live animal traps, to make sure nothing was in them during the day. If we caught any rodents we would tag them and release them. After this was done we would do some machetteing and slashing, trying to battle our way through the African thorn bushes to create paths.

    By about 1030/11 it was far too hot to work so we headed back to camp. Usually fairly exhausted by this time we would hang out in the shade or head into town to get supplies. We were camping so had to bring out fresh water and get treats!

    Beautiful Robbin Island
    Beautiful Robbin Island

    Afternoon: At about 2pm, depending on the heat we would head back out, this time tracking tortoises or checking the motion detector cameras, or going for a game drive, and finally we would reset the live animal traps that we had disabled that morning and go back to camp.

    Evening: Some days, depending on if it was working or not, we got to shower... the shower had the same amazing view that the lookout did. Other days we would chill out at the look out, once again giraffe spotting, and whoever was on dinner duty would cook. After dinner and a bit of socialising everyone went to bed. The two weeks volunteering allowed us to meet so many amazing people, do so many amazing things, and learn so much!

  • Women volunteering in Africa
    Felicity with her ISV friends!

    Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer experience was the volunteering! It was amazing to feel like I was actually making a difference in something I really care about. It's really great to care so much about anything, but sometimes it can feel as though there isn't much you - as one person - can do to make a difference. So it was really good to see and feel the tangible results of our work. Additionally, meeting like-minded people was a big highlight. My experience has shown me that that there are lots of people who care just as much - if not more - than I do about animals and conservation, and they are beautiful, wonderful, interesting people from all walks of life! It sounds so cliche, but this experience changed my life. Not in any huge and obviously discernible way, but in small ways that are important and real. I've definitely changed - and it's difficult to adequately put into words - but it's absolutely for the better.

    Morning: Our typical morning as a volunteer in Swaziland began early! We woke early to beat the heat. Breakfast was usually around 6am and we endeavored to leave camp by 6:30 or 7am. Some days, we traveled to the nearby game park to track leopard tortoises that had previously had GPS trackers and data recorders attached to their shells. Some days, we walked deep into the bush and set up camera traps to monitor baboon activity in the area. We worked Monday through Friday, so on weekends, we had free days which included sleep ins, tours of nearby villages and townships, meeting the beautiful locals, tasting the local cuisine (which is delicious!), lazy afternoons at the country club and game drives!

    Afternoon: After working in the mornings, we went back to camp to have lunch. After lunch and depending on the weather (heat and/or rain) we went out again in the cooler hours of the afternoon for more tortoise tracking (usually for another attempt to find the tortoise who successfully evaded us earlier in the morning), to collect the 45 camera traps we set up earlier in the week or to repaint signs for the game park the we were camping in. We usually finished working around 4:30 or 5pm. Sometimes we went back to camp; sometimes we went down to the local pub for a beer!

    Evening: Evenings in Camp Sara were lovely and relaxed! We had a cooking and cleaning roster, so while those who were on cooking duty prepared dinner, the rest of us had amazing showers after our hot day. The showers were open air, atop a cliff and they looked down onto the beautiful African landscape that was the game park we camped in. After dinner, we went around the table and did 'Compost and Daisies'. After compost and daisies, we played board games, wrote in our journals, roasted marshmallows by the campfire or headed to bed.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in South Africa?

    South Africa Mountain
    South Africa has great areas to hike

    Zoe: I had never been to Africa and when the opportunity came up, I took it gladly. The idea behind ISV's 4-week program really appealed to me, two weeks of volunteering in conservation (or community) followed by two weeks of adventure-touring the amazing country of South Africa - it sounded just right for me - holiday thrills plus giving back to the global community.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Zoe: I was working in conservation in the remote north-east area of South Africa. Every morning we went out for a Bird Point Count - which is identifying (by sight or sound) and recording each bird that was within a few hundred metres of us.

    During the day we examined the vegetation in the reserve, measuring and analysing the grasses and trees to determine how well the reserve was coping with the number of animals within it. This kind of data gathering is used to make decisions on wildlife management and gain a better understanding of the eco-system. We were also lucky enough to fit in some community work as well, we ran workshops with local adults with regard to conservation and wildlife management, and we got to visit the school in the nearby village and work with the children.

    What made this experience unique and special?

    South Africa Volunteer and Kids
    Adorable South African children

    Zoe: There were a lot of things that made this trip worthwhile for me. First, I got to work with and get to know a large group of people from all over the place that were there for the same reason I was - to make a difference and have fun while doing it.

    Second, I was doing something useful - when you're recording data on a clipboard in the field, you might not think that, but in hindsight, it's that kind of data that determines whether animals from a more crowded area will be killed, or sent to our reserve to balance populations - that, and it holds scientific value in the understanding of the unique African ecosystem. And thirdly, a huge part of this trip for me was about trying things I hadn't done before, and I can now say I have bungee-jumped, I have abseiled 112 metres, I have cage-dived with Great White sharks - and much, much more.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Zoe: This experience has certainly broadened my horizons. I was already fully aware that, globally, there are environmental and social challenges beyond counting that need to be addressed - but there's nothing quite like going to a foreign country and really experiencing that from another person's point of view. Professionally, this experience has altered how I view each situation presented to me, as a history student and prospective teacher and writer. I'll never forget this trip, it has definitely changed me, and for the better.

  • Woman with a cheetah
    Anna with a cheetah!

    Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in South Africa?

    Anna: I chose ISV because they came to my university and gave a brief outline to what the trip entailed. Then I further chose South Africa out of the options as I have always wanted to visit and I love animals, which the country is abundant with.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Anna: Each day volunteering was different but overall we arrived at 7 am to the centre and feed the cheetahs and other animals at the centre. Then the afternoon comprised of clearing out enclosures for animals, cleaning and general things to help around the centre. We also were so lucky to interact and play with some of the cheetahs that need to be friendly with humans and safe, so we always ended the day interacting with them.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Anna: This experience has impacted my future greatly, making me want to work in South Africa with my degree, Bachelor of Veterinary Technology, and has definitely encouraged me to think more towards conservation work. Overall has really made me want to help South Africa in their communities and for their amazing animals.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in South Africa?

    Deanna: During my first year at university, there was a speaker at one of my lectures who talked about the programs offered through ISV. A year later, I was researching various programs and came across ISV again. I looked more closely at what they offered, the cost, what was included, how the program was set up, etc, and eventually decided that ISV was right for me. It was a decision I definitely do not regret!

    An ISV Volunteer exploring South Africa
    Deanna exploring South Africa

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Deanna: Volunteering with the children of Langa really changed the course of my life. As much as they learned from us and were glad to have us spend time with them, their impact on me has been ineffable. I reflect back on my experiences in South Africa every day and am thankful for what it has given me.

    ISV helps you with everything you need throughout the planning of your trip. They provide you with a ton of background information on your project as well as the country you will be working in, they get you in contact with your project leader in order to establish a connection before you leave, and they have a large online community with blogs from past and current participants, not to mention an excellent Facebook page to get in contact with other participants for your trip.

    South African kids in a classroom
    Deanna worked with local kids

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Deanna: The work I did in Langa inspired me to change my academic route. I returned home with a week and a half left before the autumn semester was set to start, but I applied into another faculty anyway and was accepted. I am so happy with my studies and I am extremely grateful to Happy Feet because of it. They really showed me what I care about!

    Living in another part of the world also made me realize how fortunate I am. Everyone at home is told how lucky we are to be North American, but it takes a completely different meaning when you experience it first-hand. Upon coming home, I resolved to be less wasteful. I am much more conscious of how I use resources. I walk as much as possible and carpool when I can. I no longer take things for granted.

  • Tell us a little about yourself and your trip.

    Kendra: My name is Kendra, I'm a 20-year-old Canadian student who participated in ISV's trip to South Africa in May and June of 2011.

    Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in South Africa?

    Kendra: I decided to volunteer abroad because I have always been curious about Africa, because it's such a different part of the world, but would never have felt courageous enough to do my first trip there without an experienced organization. On top of that because there is need in Africa, I wanted to help people who have less than I do. I'm an International Security major in university and have always been passionate about making a change in the world, and ISV was a great starting point to do that.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Kendra: During the volunteer portion of my trip, we would wake up at around 7 and have breakfast together at our house before driving to a nearby township to begin our work. The project I was involved in was to fix up a pre-school, so we did a lot of sanding, painting, water-tank and gutter installation, and art work. Between working we'd have break where we ate or played with the kids, which was a great opportunity to meet the locals and have an awesome time. The kids are so friendly and lively, and they love attention, so there was never a dull moment!

    Plus everyone in my volunteer group became good friends quickly, so work felt more like play than work. Sometimes locals or student and teachers from nearby schools would invite us into their homes or classrooms, and we got to see a side of rural Africa that tourists wouldn't have the chance to. After work we'd hang out at the beach or a cafe, and maybe grab dinner out somewhere or else have a BBQ or home-cooked meals back at our house. Every once in a while when we had a few days off we'd have a party at our house or go to the local bars for a night out!

    Volunteers at the day care in South Africa
    Kendra and the other volunteers at the day care in South Africa

    During the travel portion of my trip with ISV, every day was different. To sum up the highlights we went caving, surfing, on microflights, on a safari, sailing, chilling at the beach, cliff-jumping, camping (in a safari park), biking, horseback riding, visiting small villages, bungee jumping, zip-lining, rappelling down cliffs, sightseeing, on boat cruises, or to hang out and pet with elephants, lions, cheetahs, or monkeys. Everything I just listed was optional, so you will never be too far out of your comfort zone but you will never be left out either. It was so amazing to do all that stuff over the course of just a couple weeks, every day was a new adventure!

    What advice do you have for future volunteers?

    Kendra: My advice for future volunteers is to not be so afraid of going to new places. I was nervous to go to Africa, but now I feel ridiculous for having some of the worries that I did. It's really just a fear of the unknown, and once you actually arrive there you'll see how safe ISV keeps you. Talk to the locals, they're the best part about the volunteer work! Also don't expect your bank card to work most places and bring a decent amount of local currency with you from home.

    How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

    Kendra: This experience has impacted my future by making me want to work in Africa in the future. I'm going to Rwanda this summer for a course on International Security and will be applying for internships in various countries throughout Africa in the fall. It was a huge motivator for me professionally because I found out how much I love Africa, and how much I want to help out there in any way I can. I've also definitely got the travel bug now, and I can't wait to be back in Africa!

About the provider

Our mission is to support sustainable development programs around the world through life changing student volunteer programs designed to positively impact our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.

Program destinations include South Africa, Costa Rica, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic. ISV has won multiple awards, and over 30,000 participants from around the world have experienced our volunteer, educational, cultural and adventure programs.Volunteers can join small teams for two-week projects in conservation or community development, followed by a two week adventure tour. Many university students earn academic credit for their involvement. Local staff carefully oversee programs and volunteers abroad. ISV is recognized as one of the highest rated volunteer and travel organizations in the world. ISV is a non-profit organization in California, USA and its Australian operations are based in Sydney. Begin your ISV Adventure!