Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Khaya in South Africa?
Marc: Since I follow bilingual education at school, I had to do an internship abroad to improve my english. This gave me the opportunity to go to South Africa.
Someone at school had been to South Africa with Khaya before, and he recommended it to me. I went to South Africa along with 2 friends.
The Cheetah Rehabilitation Program looked like a great program and seemed to be a great opportunity.
We gathered some information, and when we received this, it confirmed our idea about the project. We had to go there and work with these wonderful animals.
We had also heard about South Africa being a great country to visit before, and I, personally, had always wanted to go there at least once in my life. This also played a part in my decision to go to South Africa.
Then we booked our stay at Khaya, without any problems, and our flights. At this point, we couldn't wait to leave anymore. We were very excited.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Marc: On normal mornings, we woke up at 7:00 in the morning. We had breakfast and then gathered with all the volunteers to give fresh water to the cats (servals and caracals in this case).
After giving the fresh water, we did some small chores, for example, taking a fence out of the hyena enclosure or cleaning the enclosures. Then we had lunch. After lunch, we did some work again such as building a horse paddock, taking alien plant species out of the ground, and repairing fences.
Then, everyday, in the afternoon, we had to feed the cats (the servals and caracals every day and the cheetahs depending on how much food they already got in the days before).
Feeding the cats was a different experience every day, from sky-high serval jumps in order to catch the meat, to fights between cats for the best piece of flesh (never too harmful though, fortunately).
In order to be able to feed the cats, we had to cut up the meat sometimes (not for the weak-stomached), I was able to deal with this though and learned the best way of cutting the meat. We also had some time during the day to sit down and play with the cats (most of the time after giving them fresh water in the morning).
It feels strange at the beginning to be that close to a wild animal, but you'll get used and you'll realize how unique the experience really is. Not many people can say they've played with a cheetah that way. This was what our basic daily routine looked like. On some other days though, we had cheetah walks.
When we went for a cheetah walk, we had to get up at around 5.00 to be able to leave at 6.00. Cheetah walks are a great experience, you walk behind the cheetahs on a fair distance. When the cheetah then sees a prey, he or she will stalk it and then chase it. Sometimes they miss, then we'd keep on walking until they catch something.
These walks can take as long as 5-6 hours (our longest was 5 hours, with some rests included). I personally didn't mind the long hours, it always contained some sort of excitement (either the walking around knowing the cheetah can start running at anytime, or the chase itself).
These were the basic things we had to do, chores can vary, since there's always something else to do. In the evening, before and after dinner, there was time to relax and have a chat with the other volunteers. We went to bed around 9.30 in the evening, or earlier if we had to get up early.
Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?
Marc: A bit, I've started to appreciate nature a bit more since I've seen the beauty of it in South Africa. The cheetah chases, the beautiful landscape, and the great variety of animals and plants.
I also appreciate the things we have at home more, since I've seen the situation of others in the townships of South Africa. It made me more aware of how good the situation is at home.
The nature part also made our stay even more unforgettable. We don't have this kind of nature at home, and that makes it very special to experience this nature.
Tell me about one person you met.
Marc: We've met many great people during our stay (for example the 5 other volunteers, the owner of Modgaji, and the domestic workers on the farm). One person really stood out to me though, this was Ottie.
He is one of the domestic workers on the farm and he comes from Steytlerville. Although he doesn't own much and isn't very rich, he was really happy and one of the funniest people I've ever met.
He went along with us on the cheetah walks and helped with the jobs we had to do on the farm. He was always in a good mood and always able to help if you asked him.
He didn't speak very good english, but for us it was quite easy to get used to the african language since it is a bit similar to Dutch. This was how we managed to be able to communicate with him.
We always had a good time with him, and laughed a lot. The people on the farm were very nice in general, we had a great time with all the other volunteers and other people at the farm.
Any tips for someone considering this program in the future?
Marc: Know that the program is on self-catering basis. If there are other volunteers, you'll be asked if you want to share food with them or not on the first day. They'll give a list to the person who will pick you up and if you choose to share you can buy the things off the list and share the costs (things like biscuits and snacks are not shared though).
I can recommend sharing, since it's not very expensive (probably less expensive than taking care of your own) and it gives you less to worry about during your stay. It also lets you bond a bit more with the other volunteers, which is nice as well.
The weather can be very different from day to day, so bring clothes for every weather situation. There are some jobs that can give a hard time to people with weak stomachs. You'll definitely see some blood and dead animals, since this is the thing that the cats eat.
Although you can choose not to look or work with this, it is part of the daily routine. You'll have to work hard on some occasions, so don't go there with the idea of not doing any work at all.