Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in South Africa?
Zoe: I had never been to Africa and when the opportunity came up, I took it gladly. The idea behind ISV’s 4-week program really appealed to me, two weeks of volunteering in conservation (or community) followed by two weeks of adventure-touring the amazing country of South Africa – it sounded just right for me – holiday thrills plus giving back to the global community.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Zoe: I was working in conservation in the remote north-east area of South Africa. Every morning we went out for a Bird Point Count – which is identifying (by sight or sound) and recording each bird that was within a few hundred metres of us.
During the day we examined the vegetation in the reserve, measuring and analysing the grasses and trees to determine how well the reserve was coping with the number of animals within it. This kind of data gathering is used to make decisions on wildlife management and gain a better understanding of the eco-system. We were also lucky enough to fit in some community work as well, we ran workshops with local adults with regard to conservation and wildlife management, and we got to visit the school in the nearby village and work with the children.
What made this experience unique and special?
Zoe: There were a lot of things that made this trip worthwhile for me. First, I got to work with and get to know a large group of people from all over the place that were there for the same reason I was – to make a difference and have fun while doing it.
Second, I was doing something useful – when you’re recording data on a clipboard in the field, you might not think that, but in hindsight, it’s that kind of data that determines whether animals from a more crowded area will be killed, or sent to our reserve to balance populations – that, and it holds scientific value in the understanding of the unique African ecosystem. And thirdly, a huge part of this trip for me was about trying things I hadn’t done before, and I can now say I have bungee-jumped, I have abseiled 112 metres, I have cage-dived with Great White sharks – and much, much more.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Zoe: This experience has certainly broadened my horizons. I was already fully aware that, globally, there are environmental and social challenges beyond counting that need to be addressed – but there’s nothing quite like going to a foreign country and really experiencing that from another person’s point of view. Professionally, this experience has altered how I view each situation presented to me, as a history student and prospective teacher and writer. I’ll never forget this trip, it has definitely changed me, and for the better.