Alumni Spotlight: Nicola Wilson

Nicola Wilson, 26, volunteered in South Africa from September 14 to November 9, 2011. She is from Stoke-on-Trent, UK and works as a Retail Assistant.

Why did you decide to volunteer with African Dawn in South Africa?

Nicola: I visited South Africa with my husband Mike. Mike and I had always dreamt of travelling the world and we both adored animals completely. I had always wanted to visit Cape Town and within a short plane ride (under 2 hours) or you could take a lovely scenic coach ride through the garden route (under 8hrs) would lead you to the sanctuary. We thought this project was perfect for this reason and it had such good reviews and not only were there small game type animals at the sanctuary but there were many 1000's of types of birds. Birds, especially parrots, are my favourite kind of animals and I knew this was the place for us. Also in this part of South Africa we were advised that we did not need to take malaria tablets which was a huge bonus as they can work out rather expensive especially as we were in South Africa in total for 9 weeks.

Volunteer with wildlife in South Africa with African Dawn

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Nicola: All the volunteers were put on a rota for the week with each section of the sanctuary divided between them. Everyday the volunteers would be placed on a different section to try and give everyone the opportunity to work and play with all the different animals.

The day started at 7:30am where we collected the food plates (already prepped by the main volunteers earlier that morning) we went around all the enclosures that we were rotered on for that morning refilling water bowls and replacing old food plates with fresh ones. For some aviaries we would take fresh seed bowls, nectar and freshly halved fruit. Some routes had 3 or 4 enclosures to tend to and other enclosures such as the main aviary or the horn-bill aviary were very big which could take you up to an hour with just that particular aviary. When the routes were completed that morning we all helped to clean the prep room, wiping the tables, mopping the floor, cleaning the equipment and taking the old plates away to be cleaned later on that morning.

Breakfast was at 8:30am we had several cereals to choose from and toast with several preserves. After breakfast we had a list of all the jobs that needed doing that day. Some of them included raking up the Macaws enclosure, scrubbing the small parrots food stations, giving fresh hay to the wallabies or kudus, feeding the ducklings, anything that required feeding, cleaning or fixing etc.

We were able to volunteer for the jobs we would like and would take it turns to do jobs that we all weren't keen on. One of the jobs that many volunteers weren't very keen on was what we called 'chicken dishes.' This was the station where we took all the used plates from the morning or the night before and cleaned them. A lot of people didn't like this but Mike and I quite enjoyed it as you can sit down while cleaning them and it is outside so you get to have a semi-relax in the sun. There are many chickens and rabbits running about outside the station which is fun to watch as they chase each other for bits of fruit or pap that has been left on the plates. Chicken dishes was done in the morning after the jobs list and again in the afternoon after doing all your jobs for that day.

We usually finished our jobs around 12pm and had the opportunity to play with some of the animals, sunbath on the roof, relax, whatever you feel like doing until lunch. Lunch was 1-2pm We usually had sandwiches (cheese, tomato, ham or salad) or pancakes, toasties, hotdogs, pasta salad, etc.

At 2pm we begin preparing the animals afternoon feed. We have 5 tables with many different size plates on. We make and divide up several foods such as egg, pap, fruit, meat, pro-nutro, nuts, seed etc. between the plates. The fruit is either cut in half, slices or cubed, the meat is mainly chicken breast or legs which is again cut into small or medium size pieces all depending on what size the animal is.

I am a vegetarian and found it very difficult cutting up the meat so I was able to prepare something else instead. Then we take the food plates and watering cans and do our scheduled routes for the afternoon. Once this has finished we do any other afternoon jobs that we have left to do such as feeding and changing water in the clinic where all the sick animals are nursed back to health.

We usually finished work for the day at around 3:30-4pm depending on how many volunteers are working that day. We can choose 2 days off in a week to visit the local town Jeffreys Bay, we could have a day trip to a game park or another sanctuary or we could just have a nice relax around the sanctuary.

Dinnertime is at around 6pm and it always a fresh home cooked meal. Chicken, beef, potatoes, pasta, vegetables, sauce or gravy, there was always a different variety every night such as spaghetti bolognese, chicken casserole. With me being a vegetarian and several of the other volunteers I had meat substitutes like from the Quorn range but in South Africa they use products from the Fry's range. We would quite often have a braai (bbq) instead with a selection of chicken, lamb, pork and again I had vegetarian sausages and burgers cooked on the braai for me and the other vegetarian volunteers. There was also a fresh cold pasta salad as a side dish.

From dinnertime onwards the volunteers would chill outside in the enclosed garden or we would play cards and board games or watch the small telly in the dining room and chat about all our past and current adventures. We all learnt so much about each others cultures and what it was like to live in a different country. When it was time to close the main building up for the night we would watch movies in the volunteers entertainment room which is only a few metres away from our cabins.

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

Nicola: I found my time at African Dawn so amazing because I felt so needed and accepted. I have always shyed away from strangers but have learnt from this experience that this is somewhere I want to spend my life, helping and working with animals and African Dawn feels like a second home. I miss everyone and every creatures there and cannot wait till we can go back.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Nicola: We are defiantly looking into how we can move to South Africa, hopefully to work at African Dawn for a much longer basis. We had many other countries we wanted to visit but we have decided that African Dawn is the place we want to be.