The Great Projects

Why choose The Great Projects?

Volunteering with The Great Projects means your travel really can help save endangered animals around the world!

At The Great Projects we believe that there is a better way to holiday. With us you can volunteer with the world’s most incredible wildlife in breathtaking environments; from orangutans in the Bornean rainforest, elephants in the Namibian desert, turtles in the Pacific Ocean, to lions in the southern African bush.


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No, I don't recommend this program

The Great Projects - AVOID

I had an awful experience with the Great Projects. There was no in country support and I was in a very remote part of South America where there were threats to steal all my belongings. I had to evacuate the following morning and fly back to the UK. They have no in country support that is available and the whole thing seems very professional on the uk side but absolutely unsafe. Be very cautious booking any trips that they newly advertise as an 18 year old traveller they do not offer any support when it becomes dangerous. I would recommend Think Pacific and I would avoid the Great Projects like the plague. I still paid for the experience where I was threatened by multiple people to have my stuff stolen whilst they tried to break through the door of the basic room I was staying in. I have not been offered any compensation and actually paid for the hell of this experience. Do not book this as a univeristy student/ Gap year student- it is highly dangerous !

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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Wildlife and Volunteer Project (Rhinos, Elephants, Cheetahs and Wildlife and More!)

Amazing Wildlife & Volunteer Project (Elephants, Rhinos, Cheetahs, and More!)
July 2021

10 out of 10! My brother, sister and I just returned home from a two week stay at Imire, in Zimbabwe. I've been on 8 safaris (5 to Tanzania and 3 to Kenya) over the past 25 years. All were amazing and fabulous experiences. This time, I decided to step behind the tourist safari scene and get personally involved in a true conservation/community service volunteer project. After reviewing dozens of projects, I chose the Imire Rhino and Elephant Conservancy Project posted on the GREAT PROJECTS website. Unlike a traditional safari, Imire blends up-close, intimate wildlife viewing with meaningful contributions to conservation and community building. The daily walks with elephants, tracking and following cheetahs as they stalk their prey, being able to feed and actually touch endangered Black and White Rhinos, engaging with local school children and the community, working alongside the Imire wildlife handlers, anti-poaching rangers, and participating in the daily chores necessary to maintain the Conservancy, resulted in this trip to Africa being the best one yet! The Great Projects staff (Michael, Jane, and Morgan) provided excellent and timely information and support from my very first contact to our arrival in Zimbabwe. Don B

Read my full story
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No, I don't recommend this program

The (not so) Great White Shark Conservation Project

Briefly, the “Great Projects” great white sharks South African program may be alright for teenagers and mid-level or untrained/moderately trained, budget conscious college or possibly even graduate students seeking a thrill and a travel opportunity, however, if you are well educated, have a profession that you are taking time from in order to obtain a real opportunity to volunteer in a way that allows you to truly give back and assist constructively with shark conservation and/or if you are looking for a more meaningful level of education about shark conservation, then this program is NOT for you. At its essence, this is a themed sleep-away camp for young people on a budget.

In more detail, the “Great Projects” promises you training in shark biology and conservation, cage diving, data collection, training in basic seamanship, and much more. Delivery is pretty hit-or-miss and really depends on luck. If the weather is bad, as it often is (when I went, the group before me had just experienced 4 “no sea” days during which time several told me they were bored out of their skulls and I myself experienced only two “sea days” the entire time I was there and never got to get in the cage, despite the program’s guarantee) the volunteers are mostly left in their “cottages” with massive amounts of downtime and nothing to do. When I was there, the project intern would take people out to drink, smoke and dance at the local pub. While this can be fun, it’s not why I volunteered and contributed nothing toward the shark conservation mission. **Note to parents of high school kids: be sure you trust your teen and that she or he can handle him/herself because the intern and the volunteer program coordinator try to be “friends,” not guidance counsellors or mentors or babysitters or teachers. The program coordinator regaled a group of two young volunteers with stories about how she used to party all the time. These 17-20 year olds look up to the volunteer coordinator. Just keep in mind that the level of professionalism and maturity is very low. Will your teens like them? Probably yes because they may seem very fun and let them do all the things parents might not. Will people older than 25 like them? Maybe but I think much less likely if they’re professionals. Depends where you are in your life.** The company comes across like just one more in the sea of semi-ethical companies capitalizing on well meaning people, taking their labour and money.

Breaking it down some more:

1. The Training

The entire time I was there, I got one lecture from the marine biologist. It was quite decent and he was a smart, interesting man, but that was it. Another volunteer who is studying biology in the UK created an ad hoc lecture on ocean pollution for us at the request of the volunteer coordinator because there was literally nothing else to do. The boat crew did give an excellent basic training on seamanship for those unfamiliar with all things nautical. That training takes only an afternoon and is done. For the majority of the time, the volunteers are hanging out in their “cottage” or washing wetsuits or cleaning the boat. There is very minimal education. Again, fine for high school students or even low level college students or grad students without much biology training. If you want to learn how to wash a wetsuit, though, you will definitely learn that. If you’re lucky to have good weather and be at sea regularly, without having to rely on the volunteer coordinator, you may have a very good time. But that will be based on luck.

2. The Lodging and Food

Expect bare bones. The bathroom in the upper cottage had black mold colonies growing on the walls, a toilet permanently stained, paint peeling off the shower floors, and was unheated. If you go in the winter, expect it to be freezing and pack accordingly. The lower cottage has two bedrooms and the upper cottage three, which are fairly dirty and have twin-size bunk beds in them to dorm everyone up. They provide a pillow and one coverlet. They do not provide towels. Nobody goes on this project expecting The Ritz so it’s fine, but don’t expect anything too nice. The breakfast foods provided are milk, inexpensive bulk cereal and white bread. If you are vegan, you will have to go and buy your own food. If you’re lucky enough to go out on the boat, they will have water, crisps (with dairy - sorry vegans) and peanut butter sandwiches. Other than that, food-wise, you’re on your own. Good luck.

3. Location and Poaching

It is a small touristy town with several shark cage diving companies, one of which you’ll be working for, washing wetsuits and cleaning the boat. There is very little nightlife. There is one restaurant within walking distance. It’s beautiful for all ocean and nature lovers. Sadly, the first thing the project intern informed us of was that it’s unsafe to go out alone after dark because of, according to them, an abundance of poachers who will threaten and even physically harm anyone they perceive to be watching them too closely. The intern stated there are many, many poachers who collect abalone illegally every night and that the local police are paid off to look the other way. I suggested reporting the poaching to a level above the local police. The intern advised us not to report the poaching and that it’s the “Great Projects” policy not to interfere with poaching, which was surprising and disturbing. I reported the poaching to a third party watchdog group anyway and, a week later, was told by a Cape Town resident that arrests for poaching were made in Gansbaai. Coincidence? And why didn’t the staff of the “Great Projects” do that from the start? How can you say you support and promote marine conservation yet turn a blind eye to poaching and actively dissuade others from reporting it? Hmmmm.

4. Who Will the Other Volunteers Be?

Based on my experience and talking to others after the fact, the volunteers are majority female, white, teens to early 20’s. They tend to be majority from the UK, and most seem to be smokers. Based on what others told me, volunteers over 30 and volunteers who are professionals tend not to fare well with the project, partly due to the immaturity of the intern and volunteer coordinator and partly due to the lack of organisational structure/cohesion and partly due to the fact they’re bunking with excitable kids that may be their own kids’ ages. While I was there, though, even the teens had had it. At least three people under the age of 25 also left the program early.

5. Race

As mentioned above, volunteers appear to be predominantly white. When I was there I was the only person of colour and did feel a bit of an outsider. The staffers dealing directly with the volunteers from authority positions were also white and British. The only black South Africans I met on the project (who, by the way, were all lovely and the bright shining positive part of the program) were working in labourer positions, not authority positions.

6. Most importantly, will you actually help sharks and aid in shark conservation?

Sadly, my personal experience was that I did not feel I had the opportunity to actually help sharks or aid in shark conservation. Because I was left alone to my own devices the majority of the time, I felt pretty useless. I offered to help with anything from data entry and collection to shark observation, but was mostly ignored. The two times the boat actually went out, we didn’t cage dive or take data. I do think there’s a potential for a great experience if you have luck and don’t need to rely on the volunteer coordinator. If you go when the weather is good and can get out on the boat frequently and really observe the sharks and collect data, you might have an eye-opening experience. Sadly, that didn’t happen for me. When I was there, instead of using all the downtime to educate the volunteers on other ways to educate the public about shark conservation or take other constructive measure to help sharks (which you can do without needing to be on a boat), the volunteers were either left alone with nothing to do or the intern took people to the pub or the volunteer coordinator would arrange some sort of typically touristy excursion. If you are 17 and have never traveled before or if you’re older and on a serious budget and have never had these touristy experiences, they will likely be fun for you. If you are already well traveled and came to the program as a means to really throw yourself into shark conservation for two weeks to give back to the community and not to holiday, you will feel like it’s been quite a waste of time. I was able to take lemons and make lemonade though. After it became clear there would be no more sea days for the remainder of the project, and after three days of nothingness, the volunteer coordinator sent the volunteers to a youth hostel for two nights where they could pay to go on tourist excursions like a safari, etc. I did not go. Instead, when it was clear no efforts would be made towards shark conservation, I promptly left and spent the remainder of my time traveling South Africa solo, which was a wonderful and eye opening experience.

7. How to Help Sharks

What I will say is DO support the shark education and conservation efforts of the eco-conscious shark diving operations by going on cage dives with them. Your contribution toward the local economy and support as a tourist will probably be more meaningful than washing wetsuits. Bonus points if you utilise a company actually owned and operated by South Africans.

In Sum

This project was a waste of my time and I would not recommend it to anyone well versed in biology, serious about social good and over the age of 30. Teens looking for a low-cost summer camp with a shark theme, however, will probably be just fine.

What would you improve about this program?
Advice for Volunteer World and the “Great Projects”:

1. Disclose the typical age range and educational level of the average volunteer. It will help others determine if this program will be a good fit for them personally.

2. Consider an application process for potential volunteers and try to form cohesive groups based on educational attainment and age range. Learn what skills volunteers have (maybe they are graphic designers or data analysts or PR mavens) so their specific skills can be put to good use in the program to actually constructively assist in shark conservation efforts in ways suited to the volunteer’s individual skill set. This will greatly help in the numerous “no sea” days, enduring volunteers are effectively utilised so that an actual social good is happening.

3. Improved Staffing and Organization. This is, perhaps, the most important thing of all. Volunteer World could use more professional travel consultants. The project needs to have a better monitoring system in place for its staff, including interns. Overall, there is a major organisational failure here. The coordinator is creating a spur of the moment and ad hoc schedule (which often consists of nothing -e.g., days of boredom and downtime, followed by pay-for-yourself touristy activities that, while they may be fun, have nothing to do with social good or volunteering) that does little to help with shark conservation or the creation of social good. Properly done, “no sea” days could actually be educational and useful, both for the parent company and the volunteers.

Professionalism is critical to good business. A small but telling example of unprofessional behaviour consisted of the volunteer coordinator actively lying when the travel consultant asked if it was true I’d been on no cage dives. The coordinator made up a story that I opted not to cage dive rather than simply saying, “True and it was regrettable.” I have been free diving with sharks, sky diving and many other things along those lines. You want a program with staff that is professional, mature and honest. They set the tone for the entire experience.
Response from The Great Projects

Hi Jen,

I am sorry you did not enjoy your time on The Great White Shark Project but was glad to help you depart early and also provide you with a full refund for the days you were not at the project. Regarding your issues, as you know it is not always possible to go out to sea if the weather does not allow. Whilst this can sometimes be frustrating it is something that we indicate before booking. There can sometimes be a few days in a row where it is not possible to go out to sea, as was the case when you were there, however during this time additional trips are arranged such as a trip to Betty's Bay to see the penguin colony, a day at a local animal shelter and a day out wine tasting to name a few. On other days, lectures and data input activities are completed.

Regarding a meaningful level of education, all trips out to sea are accompanied by Tom, the resident marine biologist who is available to answer questions and teach about data collection, shark ecology and conservation (topics which he discusses more in his lectures). He has done this for a number of years and has a lot of knowledge he is keen to share. I must also state that we do not guarantee at least one shark dive, and it is an extremely rare occurrence whereby it was not possible for a volunteer to get into the cage during their time on the project.

Regarding accommodation, I have passed on your comments to the team whom will take a look at the bathrooms.

Going out to restaurants and/or the local pub is something a lot of volunteers do during any down time, with or without the project staff. It is not a requirement, and everyone has the choice, but it offers a social environment especially on days when it is not possible to go out to sea.

Finally, it is not a company policy not to report poachers. I understand from your review that you were told it is, but it is most definitely not. It is however policy not to approach poachers as the health and safety of everyone is paramount and rules are in place to ensure everyone is safe at all times.

Again, I am sorry you did not enjoy your experience, but I hope you enjoyed your time in Cape Town for the remainder of your time in South Africa.

The Great Projects

Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience

I stayed at Fuze Ecoteer's project for a month... In that time I learn how to dive and was able to put this skill to use whilst surveying. It was so rewarding to use this skill to collect data that will hopefully be used to influence marine park management. Such a beautiful place to work in - developed a true appreciation for the marine life. It's also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local village an culture. I was lucky enough to see three Hawksbill turtles whilst diving!

What would you improve about this program?
By offering language lessons so that you can communicate better with local people.
Yes, I recommend this program

An excellent experience

I stayed two weeks and it was an excellent mix of game drives, physical labour and working with the local community. I spent a day with the Born Free Foundation which was awesome ... cutting up meat to feed the cats and cleaning their cages etc. We also spent ages just observing elephants. The accomodation is basic but good and the food plentiful. This organisation lives its mission and really are into conservation and education.

What would you improve about this program?
I found the weekends long and boring - would have preferred having some more work to do!


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.


Why did you choose this program?

Having been totally engulfed by the vastness of the African landscape, surrounded by nothing but nature, and being fascinated by the multitude of Africa's unique wildlife, Africa draws me back again and again. The plight of Elephants and Rhinos caused by man's lust for their tusks and horns, continues to push these animals ever closer toward extinction. Serving as a volunteer, was a rewarding personal contribution to the preservation and the future of these majestic animals.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The Great Project personnel provided excellent information, assistance, and support from the time of my first inquiry to my arrival in Zimbabwe. Despite being a seasoned global traveler, it was my first journey to Zimbabwe. The Great Projects staff provided personalized, step-by-step guidance, to complete all visa, travel insurance and other required documents. All I had to do was choose my preferred dates and book my flights.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My only recommendation is to ask the hosts in the project country, which telecom company's SIM CARD has the best signal/connection at the project's location. Although I highly recommend disconnecting from the outside world, as much as possible during your adventure, it is helpful to have a connection if needed.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Our days were filled with a nice blend of activities including tracking, counting, and close-up interaction with wildlife, working alongside Imire's staff assisting them with routine chores and maintenance projects around the reserve, interaction with local community members and school children, and experiencing the many and varied tasks necessary to successfully operate the reserve and protect its wildlife. Getting to know other volunteers and sharing experiences was interesting and FUN!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Given my previous global travels, I had no fears that needed to be overcome. Imire is a third generation, family run farm and wildlife conservancy. Their mission is to care for, protect, and reintroduce wildlife, especially endangered white and black Rhinos, back into National Parks in Africa. Imire's success is the result of both the Travers family's dedication and their engagement with the local Shona community, their health care, education and welfare.

Write and answer your own question.

Imire offers one and two week options. I definitely recommend two weeks and wish I could have stayed longer. I met several volunteers who were on their second visit to Imire and one who was on his 4th visit! That says it all, doesn't it?