Why did you decide to volunteer with African Dawn in South Africa?
Caroline: As I was planning my gap year abroad upon graduating from high school, all I knew was I wanted to work closely with animals. I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was very young and have always had a passion for wildlife. I learned about the African Dawn Wildlife Sanctuary through someone who had been previously involved in volunteer work in South Africa, and had heard a lot about it. I was pretty much sold on it after learning that they had 9 week old cheetah cubs at the park. However their mission is what helped me finalize my decision.
The staff and owners of African Dawn have such a heart for the animals they work with, and treat them with the utmost respect and care. Knowing I would be working with people who shared this outlook helped me know this was where I needed to be.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Caroline: We awoke early every morning to an incredible African sunrise, along with the chatter of the birds and monkeys beginning their day. We prepared each animal's specific plates of food in the feed room before heading out on our assigned routes to deliver breakfast. You might be assigned to the back route, where you will deliver food to owls, emus, and bush buck and change the cheetah's water (through the fence of course). After all of the animals had been fed and given fresh water, we would sit down to our own delicious and well deserved breakfast. This usually consisted of pancakes, cereal, eggs, toast, bacon and tea.
Following breakfast, we would tend to general maintenance of the park, ranging from caring for the sick and injured animals in the nursery to preparing any food needed for their afternoon meals. These jobs take up the time between breakfast and lunch, and you are able to pick the things you want to work on. After an always delicious lunch, afternoon feedings began. The evening feed is generally the same as in the morning; making the specific plates of food, delivering the plates to your assigned route, and making sure everyone has water. Once all of the animals are full and comfortable, we would head back to our cabins for some down time, and to get clean and changed for dinner. The staff at African Dawn will cook dinner for you every night, giving you a delicious and relaxing end to each day.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Caroline: This experience has significantly impacted my future in many ways. I now have amazing friends from all over the world whom I still talk to almost 2 years later. It gave me a sense of community as all of these people share the same love and care for animals as I do. I experienced so many amazing, new things during my time in South Africa from having cheetah cubs play on me to bungee jumping to bottle feeding baby servals. I also gained skills during this time that have had a huge impact on my academic success and future career.
Having the opportunity to work with these incredible animals has given me the confidence to know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life. This has given me an advantage over my fellow college students and peers in that I am taking classes directly related to this goal, rather than "exploring" various subjects before finding my passion. I am so grateful for having had this amazing opportunity and am now counting down the days until I can return for another few months at the sanctuary. My only advice for anyone joining this project is that you give yourself at least 2 months there. This will enable you to gain the full experience of the sanctuary, as well as form a close bond with both the people and animals you work with. I 100 percent recommend this project to ANYONE looking for a life-changing experience!