My travelling history is very limited. I’ve never had the travelling bug and my trips outside the country have barely gone past a two week beach holiday. My most adventurous pre-Africa holiday was a trip to visit a friend in Kuwait. But she was waiting for me the other side and looked after me while I was there.
I have always been interested in animals, especially big cats, so when I saw how hands on you could get with the cheetahs on this projects I was instantly excited by the opportunity, not only was it going to be amazing to be close to the animals but it was also working to do good for a charity. I started saving, researching and planning in summer of 2013 and settled on the African Impact – Cheetah Reintroduction Project. I started a fundraising page on gofundme.com and spread the word to friends and family and I started getting donations for the trip. With that and saving I paid for everything a few months before it was time to go. The nerves really started hitting in as 2014 started as I was headed to Africa in mid-February. I was excited and knew the fear was completely irrational! But you can’t help but feel anxious when you’re stepping so far out your comfort zone.
Packing and the journey felt like a dream, it felt bizarre that it was all finally happening after so much preparation and worry! I was waiting for the anxiety to leave. On arrival at Johannesburg Airport I made my way to the meeting point and waited to be collected. Here I started my two week diary so I could look back on all the details for years. I wrote:
“Feelings of the day: anxious, tired, nervous, excited, worried, scared, hungry. Hoping by the end of the two weeks I’m the opposite and don’t wanna go home!”
I couldn’t have been more right! The second I met Estelle, who ran the Cheetah centre, and the other volunteers I felt instantly at ease and there was nothing but excitement. When we arrived and I met the cheetahs I knew I’d made the right decision and this was going to be the best experience of my life – so far! After settling in I felt instantly at home and ready to get stuck into some work. A typical day started early, exercising the cheetahs, collecting dirty food bowls from the cheetah enclosures, changing their water, cleaning the enclosures of any cat poo!
Once the dishes were washed we’d go into the volunteer house for breakfast. Three days of the week we’d have a lovely cooked breakfast and the other two we could help ourselves to cereal and toast. After breakfast we’d do the main bulk of work for the day. There was a wide range of tasks from putting up fences, preparing new enclosures, cleaning out the smaller animals, helping prepare fresh meat on slaughter day, cleaning the cheetah kitchen etc. After Lunch we’d have some down time and then cheetah time. Once a day there’d always make sure we had some supervised time with the cheetahs to hang out, stroke them, take photos and soak in the atmosphere. It was so sweet of them to make sure this happened every day! We’d feed the cheetahs around 5pm and then spend the evenings with the other volunteers and make ourselves dinner. Not only all this but we also went on a trip to Kruger safari park for 4 days and had a day spent at an elephant sanctuary and then a monkey sanctuary. It was great to do so much stuff that involved animals and to see the good that was being done. While at Kruger we went to Moholoholo which is an animal rehab centre outside the park where they rescue, look after, and re introduce animals into the wild.
Every day in South Africa I did or saw something different. I have so many stories I couldn’t write them all in one blog. I met some amazing people and am still in touch with the other volunteers now. The country is beautiful and it felt amazing to be in a different country so far away. The work was hard but it felt good to contribute and do some good. I could have easily not done this project and let the worry stop me but I am so glad I did it and got over the irrational anxiety that was making me crazy before I went. Looking back I have no idea what I was so worried about but I’m so glad I did it. And I feel if I did another, which I’d love to, it would be so much easier. I know lots of people take this sort of thing in stride and find change easy and exciting, but for those like me who worry a lot I really hope this helps you realize you CAN do these things and you’ll finish wondering what you were worrying about in the first place! About the Author Hannah Vernon was always had an interest in big cats! When she was younger she wanted to be a vet but she wasn't so good with blood and dead animals made her cry so somehow she got swallowed up by the shallow world of media! She's a creative producer (which means she make promos, aka the adverts for the programmes) and works for History Channel, H2, CI and Lifetime. She's always been interested in charity and volunteered at her local cattery when she was a teenager. The volunteering project was the perfect opportunity for her to get back to some charity work, see some big cats, do some good and get away from hard work in London and do some travelling! Are you an animal lover like Hannah? This project is one of the many hands-on volunteer opportunities available, including veterinary programs in South Africa and lion rehabilitation in Victoria Falls, Livingstone and Antelope Park.