Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Scanlan


An IT project manager originally from Ireland but currently on a 1 year trip around the world.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose Twala because, when I compared different programs, I could see that this was a small, personal program with an upper limit of 6 volunteers. In particular what stood out for me was that I would have daily, hands on experience with the animals. For me this was without doubt the most important aspect of the program.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program coordinator was the most amazing woman called Tracey who took the time to patiently answer all my questions - even those completely unrelated to the volunteer program (e.g. how to get to Vic Falls after my time at Twala). They organized airport pick-up, advised how much money to bring, provided comprehensive packing lists. She was exceptional in her help. I just had to get myself to Harare airport and they managed everything else.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

You will want to spend more time here than you anticipate. Every volunteer I spoke to regretted not booking more time. Personally, I booked for a month and was somewhat apprehensive it might be too long - I finally left after 2.5 months! Give yourself two weeks - at the very least and be prepared for lots of tears when you eventually have to leave!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Volunteers start every morning at 6.30 am with preparing food for all the animals. It usually takes about 2 hrs to prep all the food and then distribute.

We then bring the birds outside to their day enclosures. We're usually greeted with loud 'HELLO' from the cockatoos! We then usually have an hour to have some breakfast before cleaning out some bird enclosures, treating the dogs for flystrike before the daily dog walk. Each day I promised myself that it would be a calming and meditative task but walking 17 dogs can never be that!

We usually then had lunch - always something delicious! After lunch, tasks varied and could include habitat enrichment, spending some extra time with the animals that really appreciated human contact, preparing for the weekly dog clinic (the clinic feeds and provides free vet care to approx. 300 dogs each week). There was then the afternoon food prep time, making sure every one of the 400 animals onsite were fed and happy before finishing up for the day.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest concern was around being in Zimbabwe itself and whether the political situation was secure since they had just had elections. However, on arriving there I found that Zimbabweans are a lovely and welcoming people. I must add that the care given to me by Twala staff when out and about meant I always felt extremely safe.