Why did you decide to volunteer with African Dawn in South Africa?
Lucy: I ended up at African Dawn because I was taking a gap year between school and starting uni and wanted to do some animal-related volunteering. I knew I wanted to go to South Africa and so chose from the list of projects in South Africa that were offered by the gap year company Travellers Worldwide; to be honest it was because African Dawn was the cheapest option there!
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Lucy: A typical day would be starting work at 7am, for the morning feed; usually the plates will be completely prepped and laid out for you, so you just pick and go. You'll be with someone who knows what they're doing for the first few days, until you get to know the routes. This takes an hour or two, depending on how many volunteers/weather/which route you're doing. Breakfast is about 9 o'clock, then there are some jobs from a daily rota (washing the animal dishes, checking the clinic etc) that get done first, then a jobs list that varies from day to day - this is usually raking enclosures, moving supplies about etc, which might sound boring but you're pretty much always somewhere that animals are, so you get plenty of contact. Then, depending on how quickly you finish your jobs, you might have a bit of a break before lunch from 1 until 2.
After lunch is the afternoon feed, which is pretty much the same as the morning only the volunteers help with the prep this time - chopping fruit mainly! Then there are a few afternoon jobs to do but you're usually done by about 4 and then you'll definitely need a shower because you get covered in all sorts throughout the day! Dinner is at 6 and from then on you're free to do whatever you like; there's an entertainment room for the volunteers, with a TV and DVD player and a big log fire and tables and sofas, so you can play cards or just sit and chat. In your free time during the day you can go into most of the enclosures and spend time with the animals - squirrel monkeys, birds, servals and the occasional cheetah!
What advice do you have for future volunteers?
Lucy: For future volunteers, I would say that the project is fantastic as long as you don't mind getting stuck in to every aspect of the sanctuary; there is a small restaurant and a game farm attached and there are always things needing done with these areas. Obviously they try to focus your time on the animals as much as possible but, particularly if there are lots of volunteers, you might spend some time doing more manual work. Lots of people seemed to be surprised by the number of birds that are in the sanctuary and how much of the work involves them, so I would emphasise that! Although, everyone gets the chance to spend time with the cheetahs and servals during their time so it does balance out. Everyone there is very friendly and welcoming, so you just have to throw yourself into it and enjoy being in a fantastic place.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Lucy: My experience at African Dawn has helped me greatly; I'm studying vet medicine in Glasgow at the moment and the time I spent there has given me a larger and more varied bank of experience than some of my classmates. It was also really good preparation for moving away from home. Being on a different continent for an extended period of time gave me a great sense of independence and made the move to university much less daunting. It was also really lovely meeting people from so many walks of life and knowing that you were all working for the same cause - volunteers become close very quickly and friends will almost certainly last for life.