From a very young age, I have always wanted to travel and have had a passion for animals, particularly our primate friends. Coming across the Oyster Worldwide website, I was instantly taken in by the range of places you could travel and projects you could take part in. Whilst various projects caught my eye, I was most attracted by 'Volunteer with monkeys and baboons in South Africa'. Oyster provided lots of information about the project and throughout the process maintained good communication.
Alumni Spotlight: Edward Griffiths
From seeing new places to caring for endangered animals, Ed loves to travel and is always looking for a place to explore next.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Oyster answered any questions or queries I had and told me everything about the project and country, from waking up, sleeping and going to bed, that I may need to know. A lot of this included preparation before departure, such as required injections and a 'kit list'.
As an under 18 traveller, Oyster informed me on what documents I would need to travel to South Africa and what injections I would need. With this information, I went to my local doctors/ pharmacy to get the required tablets/injections and arranged for a lawyer to sign the relevant documents. As you would expect with any trip, I had to ensure I had all the kit I needed, but Oyster made sure I knew what I needed.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Volunteers really help the centre that I went to in South Africa and, truly, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. It can be very hard work, but it is very rewarding and an amazing experience. Also South Africa is an amazing country and those staying out there for a longer period should make the best of what the country has to offer. There all sorts of amazing places you can visit or activities you can try, such as visiting Kruger National Park.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day would start off by waking up at 6:30am and commencing work at 7am. We would do two hours of work before breakfast at 9am. This work would include cleaning enclosures or food preparation for all the animals (chopping up the food and feeding). Work would continue at 10am to midday and also from 2:00 to 4:00pm. This work could include bug catching (for the bushbaby), weeding, cleaning food, cleaning crates, unloading food trucks, harvesting (chopping grass with machetes), monitoring and afternoon food preparation.
At midday, we would go on the 'baboon walk', where we would take the baby baboons down to the river to sit and play with them. We would have one hour for lunch and once a week we could go to town to buy whatever food and drink we would like for that week. Before dinner, participants liked to spend time in the baboon and vervet monkey enclosures (sit with the animals), relax and shower before dinner at 6:00pm.
During our free time, volunteers would often spend time in 'the hide', a place to relax and have fun with each other. As a tradition, on Friday evenings volunteers have the chance to go out for dinner to take a break from the centre and have a fun night and on Saturday nights we would have an authentic South African meal made on a Braai (South African BBQ).
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
As both my first time travelling alone abroad and my first time travelling outside of Europe, I was slightly apprehensive about the journey there. However, ultimately it was stress free and reasonably simple. I was also slightly anxious about travelling to a country with an entirely different culture, unsure if I would manage to settle in.
However, everyone there was very welcoming and we had a lot of fun together. Since leaving the project, I have kept in touch with other volunteers. When you join the volunteering team at Riverside Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, its like joining a whole new family.
What did your project mean to you?
Home in England, I'm in college Monday to Friday, and working weekends. Going to South Africa and experiencing a new culture and a hands on experience with baby baboons and vervet monkeys, especially when you see the importance of your hard work, was truly special.
On multiple occasions, such as when I was sat in an enclosure with five monkeys down my top, or on a walk with four baboons clinging on to me, I was struck by a moment of disbelief to where I was, doing what I was, and a feeling of how fortunate I was to have this opportunity. The weather, the people, the food; it was all an unforgettable experience and something that I was enjoying so much, despite it all being so different to my home comforts.