Does Volunteering Change or Shape your Life?

Job Opportunity for Primate Carer.  by josie du toit

Who could not love these wonderful little critters?  You have to be honest – you cannot resist such a cute face.  Could you?

The Vervet Monkey Sanctuary was established in 1989 after seeing the need for an organisation to provide a sanctuary for the Vervet Monkeys and to holistically investigate what was in fact happening to this indigenous primate of South Africa.  During the past decade the Foundation has developed a unique rehabilitation progam that has helped revolutionise the way in which primates are rehabilitated. Their enclosure designs are now utilised in similar primate projects. Fundamentally, the Foundation has saved and improved the lives of more than six hundred vervet monkeys. AVIVA-Volunteer-Vervet-Monkey-Project-01The foundation has also achieved many firsts in the rehabilitation of this primate species with the aid of volunteers, gap year students and primate carers.

Situated in the attractive subtropical garden town of Tzaneen, with a colourful profusion of indigenous and exotic flowers and vegetation. An above average summer rainfall and temperate climate all year round ensures that everything grows here in great abundance – nuts, avocados and other vegetables, fruits (especially citrus fruits, mangoes, bananas and litchis), coffee, tea and cotton. Close by are extensive emerald green tea plantations and the surrounding mountain slopes are heavily forested with timber plantations of pine and blue gum.  Tzaneen is the second largest town in the Northern Province and is situated in the foothills of the impressive Wolkberg (Cloud Mountain), the northern reaches of the Drakensberg Mountain range. The town is the commercial center for the district with 80 000 people residing in its area of jurisdiction and 650 000 people residing within a 30km radius. To this day, the Vervet Monkey project remains a popular project with our volunteers, some who do this project and then come to Cape Town to do the popular African Penguin Rehabilitation project. So when the Vervet put out an advertisement for a Primate Carer, it was natural for us to share this on our Facebook page too and two days after appearing on Facebook, I received a message from one of our past volunteers who said, and I quote “I would just like to thank you for sharing the Vervet Monkey Foundation link to their job opportunities.  I applied yesterday and then had a Skype interview with them today and they have offered me a role as Primate Carer.  This means I will be moving to South Africa very soon and I am super excited! I am very grateful to you for sharing that link, meaning my life is going to change! This is going to completely reshape my entire life, all thanks to you for sharing that link! Thank you so much.”

This is not the first time, a volunteer has used their volunteering experience to make big moves in their careers. From volunteering on our African Penguin project, some volunteers have achieved great careers with Zoo’s in both the United States and the United Kingdom. These volunteers came to South Africa knowing they wanted to study and work in the field of wildlife conservation or marine conservation (but were not entirely sure), fell in love with the idea whilst volunteering on their project and then went on to study and working to fulfil their dream. We are so proud of all our volunteers.

Despite what many people have said on the internet about a Gap Year experience, our volunteers have only had good experiences and have carved out success in their lives

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Dorm Room Living & Travel Hacks

Dorm living as a volunteer can be fun – it is like a grown up pyjama party every night. That is, if you don’t have to get up early and trek to work. For those who need more than 8 hours sleep due to sheer exhaustion, you may need to block out some house noise.

Here are a few useful items which you consider before travelling to South Africa. In fact, “consider” should not enter the equation – the majority of these suggestions will make your volunteering experience a much more pleasant one.  So chat to the folks and family and get them to sponsor you these items as a “going-away” gift.

For When you are Travelling and beyond …..

Packing Cubes

Consider buying packing cubes to pack your clothes as this will come in handy when you are in the volunteer house. 39430566a6c80af99848520b7a81c191

Cupboard space and shelving is limited so you will find you will use your suitcase for the majority of your clothes and keeping your suitcase organised will save you a whole lot of stress and time.

Portable Charger

Though you will have time to recharge your phones in the house, going out for a day excursion, could leave you stranded without battery life on your phone.  514a3565e0683527cb9a671f664957e0We suggest you either (1) buy a battery power pack before you leave home or (2) buy one in South Africa when you arrive.

On the plane, For Chilly Evenings or Comfort on the Couch

These scarves will come in handy, especially on the plane or if you are going out and little eddies of wind funnels have whipped up bringing a chill factor which leaves you shivering.  0e4faa55cd519b4aaf5c1fe7d94ec96aAlso ideal when laying on the couch but you want to block out the sound of everything around you as you are listening to music.  8f63c726935f4595af0feca67bf92c8aComfort is never a bad idea and as you are far from home and your usual creature comforts, why not spoil yourself when you are in another country! AND, they come in designs for men too!

 

Comfortable Ear Phones

I have just seen these recently advertised and I think they are brilliant as they can also be used over your eyes to block out light, whilst listening to your music.  e7d4b342fe49cb69b722fbe9fe80db3fFor both the plane and whilst in dorm living conditions.  Definitely worth the money and you will be thankful when you are trying to sleep and someone is snoring loudly. They come in a Wi Fi version and also with a cord.  And in case you are wondering, we are not getting a kick-back for mentioning this but seriously volunteers, this is ideal for the house and on the plane. Remember you have many flying hours ahead of you and sometimes a long stopover before your connecting flight .

Toiletries

This will definitely come in handy to keep all your toiletries in one place for when your suitcase undergoes serious gravity tests at airports due to hurried baggage handlers. 541727ffc2e447f59e377f4f1ec0305cMore important, as you are living in a dorm room and though there are plenty of bathrooms in the house, space is still limited so we suggest you bring a toiletry bag with you so you can hook this over your bed each day and leave the area in the bathroom and around your bed as neat as possible for everyone.

Having said this, the Aviva Volunteer has enough shampoo, conditioner, sunblock, creams and unless you use a specific brand, we would venture to say, don’t bring any of these supplies as you are more than welcome to use what other volunteers have left behind.

 

 

Time Saving Solutions whilst you are in the House

Laundry Bag

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Either buy or make a laundry bag.  The launderette is down the road and you will need to carry your laundry so is makes sense to make this comfortable for yourself. This is also a great way in keeping your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes – makes sense, doesn’t it. Pinterest has great ideas and even a DIY laundry bag which you can get a grandmother to make for you?

Bed Storage Pouch

A great idea for storing items whilst you are lying in bed or whilst you are sleeping.  9402e84104c04a338820faeff587edccThis will also keep the area around your bed neat and you won’t end up tripping over something when you wake up in the dark and need to tip toe to the bathroom.

Day Excursions, Sightseeing or Clubbing/Eating Out

No matter how many times we have mentioned to volunteers to never act like a tourist and leave their valuables laying around, they still seem to ignore this rule especially after a couple of drinks and then end up sobbing into the glass of wine when their phones have been stolen.

We urge you to get yourself a cross-the-body-bag which will hold your money and phone when you go out and you never have to remove it even if you are doing a head banging dance at a nightclub. For day excursions, bring with you an attractive day backpack

like the examples we have included here as it will make your life so much easier and you will be able to store a valuable resource – water bottles!

 

Great ideas and travel hacks

There are some things that just make sense especially when you are volunteering and you want creature comforts, you need to adult and be independent and to simply bring you peace of mind. So what am I talking about?  Let’s go ……

Comfy shoes are a must when travelling but even more importantly for the volunteers who are volunteering at our African Penguin & Seabird Rehabilitation project, waterproof, non-slip shoes is a MUST.

You will be surrounded by volunteers who have phones and tablets, journals, books and charges so keeping all your technology and other useful objects in one place is the best option to not misplacing anything in the house. Another great should-have is a waterproof pouch for your phone when you head out to the beach or when you go Shark Cage diving.

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What would travelling in style be, without such innovative items which makes life and travelling a whole lot stress-free ….

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Important Note: All images have been downloaded from Pinterest so credit to those peeps whose images I have used.

We hope this helps you when packing for your volunteering experience but we are always an email away if you have any questions.

Look forward to seeing you in Cape Town!

 

Wake up on Table Mountain – New 7 Wonders of Nature

Surprisingly, very few people are aware that you are able to sleep on top of Table Mountain. Imagine going to sleep with a canopy of stars above you and then waking up with the city beneath your feet? overseers-cottage-large1

The Overseers Cottage is part of the Hoerikwaggo Trail and you are able to rent it for a night or a weekend.

Why not gather your friends together for an opportunity which will leave all your friends and family back home envious of the awe inspiring experiences you are having whilst volunteering in Cape Town? The cottage falls within the within the Table Mountain National Park.oversears-cottage-jpg

The cottage is self-catering and is as comfortable as the Aviva Volunteer House. It is a renovated stone cottage with a large fireplace and gas-heated showers. The bedrooms consist of two x 4-sleeper bedrooms and four x 2-sleeper bedrooms and can accommodate up to 16 people. It has a braai area so you are able to enjoy a wonderful South African tradition of cooking your steaks on a wood fire whilst gazing at the stars.  The best thing is that it is fully equipped – just bring your food – AND – you can hire portage if you do not want to carry your own backpacks as you will need to hike there.  Naturally the portage is for a small fee.

The rate is very reasonable at approximately R2,700 for 6 people and about R400 per person for additional adults.

Now what are you waiting for?  Speak to Megan, our Volunteer Coordinator, and get the weekend planned!

 

 

Balule Wildlife Conservation Project – Part 2

There were far too many highlights during my three week stay at Paradise. One of the major events that left me with sleepless nights occurred two weeks into my stay.  Spencer returned from one of the lodges clutching a box which he told me was my project for my final week, in his words I was to “keep it alive”. Inside the box was a cloth which I carefully unwrapped to find a tiny baby squirrel.  Its eyes were barely open and it easily fitted into my hand when I made a loose fist.  After a degree of “faffing” by the men, the sensible woman in camp (did I mention I was the only woman there at the time??) dismantled a biro and used the tube with thumb over the end to create suction to make a feeding device.

Unfortunately at the time the only thing we had suitable to feed him was a protein shake and ended up being the inspiration behind the squirrels name, Arnie, after ultimate muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Thankfully Arnie took to the strawberry flavoured protein shake and the new feeding device, although he expressed no opinion to this new name.  For the next week I constantly had a squirrel attached to me, usually down my cleavage (well it was warm down there and meant my hands were free). In just a week Arnie flourished, he became hairy, especially his tail. He even started to eat mashed up bananas and he loved to be touched and would lift up his arm so you would scratch him in the right place. I was worried about what was going to happen to Arnie when I left, but the men about the camp assured me they would look after him and after watching them with him, I felt secure.

We had many close encounters with the wildlife during my stay; being approached by two male white rhino; watching a herd of 30-40 elephants come to the dam for a drink 15069040_1256464067743513_5083334806709702438_oand play; seeing two male elephants fighting; occasionally being mock charged by various elephant who disagreed with having their photo taken; watch Spencer flee from the tracker seat at the front of the Landrover to the back after coming across a rather upset and trumpeting lone elephant at night (we did get close); have three male lions walk right next to usaviva-volunteer-balule-conservation-22 in what suddenly felt like an overly open and exposed game viewing Landrover.

We witnessed a male lion following a female lion one evening looking like they intended to go mate. We sat in camp with solifuges (sun spiders) and scorpions running around our feet and watched a large black mamba snake rear up out of the road as we drove past. We were stopped by a family of jackals and being amazed by the boldness of the juveniles who walked up to us to get a better look; 15493329_1283381658385087_103040995881605297_oseeing elegant giraffe stare at us through lone eyelashes and getting close to herds of buffalo, impala and zebra.

We had chances to glimpse hippos in the dams and river and caught a rare day sightings of a pair of civets and the list could go on and one. aviva-volunteer-balule-conservation-21

There are many things that I will miss about Balule and Paradise Camp, that will forever stick in my mind such as hearing the leopards and lions calling whilst we sat around the camp fire, the spectacular storms, the millions of stars on a clear night, the wildlife and of course my baby squirrel.  But what will really last a lifetime is the education provided by Spencer and his team and the dedication they offer to keeping wild areas wild, protecting the creatures that live there. 12234992_996786050377984_5857198991547250773_nSadly man can destroy an area in a matter of days but to conserve it takes lifetimes. Thankfully there are people like Craig Spencer and his team doing such work. Thank you guys for an unforgettable three weeks.

Nikki Williams

 

Balule Wildlife Conservation Project Part 1

Testimonial by Guest Blogger, Nicola Williams ….

Located in the Balule Nature Reserve, the aptly named Paradise Camp is a slightly rustic but comfy, camp, it even has flushing toilets and showers, open air of course; no doors or walls but a stick screen to provide a degree of modesty from human eyes, the wildlife on the other hand are free to stop and stare or you’ll be joined by a millipede or two or some other creature as you go about your business! There is also electricity when the sun shines (which thankfully was often during my stay) thanks to the odd solar panel, what more do you need in paradise? 13731781_1146047932118461_7192078559983034925_o

Paradise Camp is proud to claim that it is one of the only camps to not have a fence surrounding it, meaning that all creatures great and small, friendly or fierce are free to roam where ever they please (quite rightly too!). One evening, after returning from an excursion into the local town of Hoedspruit, we discovered that the creatures of the area certainly do exercise their right to roam.

As we got out of the Landrover we could see a light from the game viewing tower. The Research Assistant called to us to warn us that the camp appeared to have some new guests.  We all made it up the tower and listened and sure enough you could hear the tell tale sound of branches being broken punctuated by the deep tummy rumbles of an elephant located just behind the left hand toilet (why, oh why hadn’t I gone to the loo in town???).12485991_1025306984192557_7547421732433862336_o

As we continued to listen we could another elephant, this time near one of the cabins, so going to bed AND going to the toilet were both out of the question, may as well make ourselves comfy on the tower.  Another elephant could then be heard near the car park. They had obviously heard about Craig Spencer’s fabulous cooking skills over the camp fire (he’s won awards for his skills so I’m told), or maybe they felt sorry for the Research Assistant whom we had abandoned in camp, or maybe it was those irresistible marula trees that had brought them into camp either way the weren’t in a hurry to move so we sat and enjoyed their company.

I stayed in one of the five wooden cabins on stilts that are scattered in the bush and made sure that every evening I monitored my intake of water due to the proximity of my hut to the toilets and all creatures great and small right to roam rule. The other two main buildings (very open and wooden sums them up best) are the game viewing tower, the perfect location for a drink as the sun goes down and it provides a stunning 360 degree view over the bushveld out towards the Drakensberg Mountains, and which accommodates the kitchen beneath it. Then there is the office where the ever so slightly eccentric scientists, rangers, researchers get their work done.

I should really make a formal introduction of Craig Spencer who heads up the team of highly qualified people.  Craig is the scientist (yes a slightly mad one) who analyses the data, writes the papers and does other important scientific things.  He has a number of degrees behind him a wealth of experience in the conservation of wildlife that is best explained by the man himself.  12374774_10153651663279473_6397391258382530311_o

Spencer is a lean, tanned, enchanting eyed, charismatic character who is passionate about the protection of wildlife. In my opinion the world needs more people like him to ensure a secure future for our wildlife.

There are a number of aspects to the research and work that goes on at Balule.  There are basic things such as maintaining roads (put a saw in my hand and I am a happy woman removing trees from our path!); erosion work; monitoring boreholes to check ground water levels are not being affected by the various lodges; monitoring the need (or lack thereof) of water holes, to more in depth research such as identifying elephants in the area which they collaborate with other researchers to establish movement patterns, herd sizes etc; tree monitoring to establish how much damage to trees is done by elephants which will hopefully prove the idea that elephants are environmental moulders 15895716_1311735108883075_8744824296453161362_orather than environmental destroyers; and finally game counts which are carried out almost daily and will hopefully cut out the need for disruptive and expensive aerial game counts and give more accurate information on the number and composition of mammals of Balule, and then can be used as a future way for counting game in other areas.  This data will be given to the head warden so he has hard facts behind future management policies.  Spencer says it will take five years to collect all the data he needs.

My adventures in Camp Paradise will continue …..

 

In Search of an Answer

The full moon brightened the African plain

And slivers of moonlight danced

The poachers were up to their old tricks once more

With a bunch of money to gain.

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The Rhino was unaware of her fate that night

While grazing on the grass

Her baby laid cocooned in her womb

Until the bad men came to fight.

 

They shot her once and then once more

With no feelings of remorse

They worried not whether she suffered from pain

As they watched her fall like many before.

 

They severed her horn and half of her face

Whilst she lay in the darkness in pain

They moved quite fast leaving nothing behind

But bloodshed and shame on the human race.

 

As she took her last breath on that fateful night

People raced to her side to help

But she had died and her baby had too

They were greeted by a saddening sight.

 

We cannot continue to let this go on

We certainly can’t do it alone

We need the world to help us fight

And continue till the battle’s been won.

 

Mother Africa bowed her head, and wept …….

by Michelle du Plessis

 

Super Sunsets in Sizzling Summer

I was listening to experts last night, giving their advice of the El Nino effect on the world – some are mild and some are severe. Apparently they know when a severe occurrence will happen. So why no warning? Why could I have not been told to expect one of the hottest summers we have experienced in Cape Town for the last number of decades in order to prepare a wardrobe befitting to the unforgiving African sun and heat as well as to stock up with a dozen fans all aimed at my body to keep me cool? Seriously, one fan does not cut it for me. I have so far, gone to great lengths to keep my body temperature chilled from time to time:

  1. I store my wet wipes in the fridge. They are so cold when I wipe the gazillion beads of sweat on my forehead, I am in my element. Downfall is that I go through enough packets to keep the manufacturers happy.
  2. I freeze a face cloth to wrap around my neck.
  3. I top up my hot water bottle with cold water and freeze it. One would think I had just invented the most ideal ice pack – it is that good.

The only blessing is that we have water in Cape Town to do such things and make ice. Other parts of the country are not so fortunate and though I feel for those people in the small towns where the taps have run dry, I feel for the horses, donkeys and livestock the most. They are dropping like mosquitoes who have flown into a room recently sprayed with Raid. It is tragic. I wish I could buy feed and make sure their water troughs are filled to capacity every day. I wish I could hose them down to keep their bodies cool. I wish it would rain.

Before getting off track even further, back to Cape Town. One cannot concentrate in such heat and that is a sad state of affairs as who does not want to work! With the volunteers out of the house, I thought of moving my computer to the edge of the pool and working from there. Note to self: bring laptop to work tomorrow. I wonder if someone would be so kind as to invent a waterproof laptop with an attachable Go Pro?

The only good thing about this hot weather is that we have the most beautiful aviva.cptsunset.1sunsets and watching the sun slip down into the sea whilst socialising at one of the various restaurants at Eden on the Bay, sipping chilled wine or beer or fancy cocktails with brightly coloured umbrellas, is just another superb evening in paradise.

Barcode: 01301968  Title: Table Mountain at sunset  Province: Western Cape  Location: Cape Town  Notes: Copyright by South African Tourism (1/713) Table Mountain Pristine beaches, sheltered by bays and secluded coves encircle the majestic might of Table Mountain which towers 1086 m above the Mother City. Table Mountain is also a World Heritage Site which boasts 8 500 species of wildflowers  Keywords: Western Cape, Table Mountain, Places of Interest, Mountains, Sea and Beaches, Large Formats  Photographer: Hein von Hšrsten  Original File Name: CF70083C.JPG  Copyright Owner: Copyright SOUTH AFRICAN TOURISM

And I hear some of you say “But I am not volunteering in Cape Town, so it does not affect me”, to which I will remind you that all our volunteers, no matter where you are volunteering can experience staying at the AVIVA Volunteer House and enjoy the sights and sounds of Cape Town. All you need to do is pick the option Cape Town Week …. and your wish will be our command.