Alumni Spotlight: Michele Charles


Michele is 27 and from Toronto, Canada. She completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and a Law degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is currently completing a clerkship at the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

As a lawyer, Michele will be pursuing a career in international environmental law and hopes to work with the United Nations Environment Programme. Before volunteering at Legodimo, Michele spent a year travelling around the world.

She volunteered at Legodimo in August 2011.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Legodimo Wilderness in Botswana?

I decided to volunteer with Legodimo Wilderness because I am interested in environmental issues and conservation. Until my time in Botswana, most of my environmental volunteer work had been done in Canada in the form of policy development and pro bono legal work. This was the first time (other than some tree planting) that I was able to engage in hands-on conservation work, which was a great treat. Further, I wanted to be able to spend time in Africa, engaging with wildlife and seeing how conservation is run abroad, without simply booking a safari.

When I looked into Legodimo, it was clear that I would be able to get this kind of experience.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

We joked, when I was at Legodimo, that if you want to do environmental conservation, you have to like digging. There is no getting around the physical labour that is required to do conservation work in the field and spending time at Legodimo is not for people who want to sit by the pool.

That being said, the day to day life at Legodimo is very balanced. Generally, there are 2 activities per day and in the morning you are put in a group that would either do data collection, or work. Data collection involved bird and animal watching, either done from a vehicle or by foot on a walk, and work would involve maintenance of the reserve. During my time there, this maintenance could include digging water holes, wrapping trees (to prevent elephants from scraping off the bark), trail clearing etc.

While the data collection is more scenic and relaxing, the work was more labour-intensive, which means that by doing one and then the other, the day was pretty balanced. When I was at Legodimo, it was winter time for them, but I was told that the pool gets used quite often during the summer and there are beautiful areas to sit and read, or have a nap during breaks. At night, after dinner, we would often see herds of animals trotting by on the river bank and enjoy a cup of tea by the fire.

What made this experience unique and special?

The thing that made this experience special was the staff. The owners of Legodimo are passionate about their work and the volunteers. They work very hard to make the experience memorable for the volunteers and to make sure that everyone experiences various kinds of conservation work. This included, among other things, trips into South Africa to track cheetahs and overnights at the remote northern camp. The camp staff were also great and did an excellent job of making everyone feel included and their work appreciated.

What's something interesting about Botswana that the average person doesn't know?

I don't really have an answer to this question because the time spent is out in the bush and I didn't really learn a lot about Botswana as a nation. However, an interesting thing about baobab trees ( you get to see a famous in the bush) is that when they die, the inside rots and the heat from the rot can occasionally be so great that the tree explodes. One day it is standing, the next day, gone.

How has this experience impacted your future?

The experience in Botswana has impacted my future in two ways.

First, I have a much deeper appreciation for the quality and intensity of work that is needed to maintain and grow a conservation site. As in many areas of the world, poachers continue to be a problem and good organizations are constantly fighting with other organizations to ensure that land is acquired for sustainable purposes, often with very little funding.

Second, I have a much better appreciation for the way in which responsible organizations are run.

Today we are often bombarded with calls to support myriad organizations that are all embarking on what seems to be noble causes. Often we have no idea where our money goes and whether these are causes worth supporting. At Legodimo, the owners have always been very open about their organization, how they use every dollar and how they can best use volunteers to accomplish their goals. They stay in contact with their former volunteers and update them with news of new developments.