We believe all our sales staff should have an intimate knowledge of the projects they look after so they can truly 'experienced it for themselves.' By spending time on the projects Destination managers are able to speak to volunteers from the heart with detailed knowledge about their experiences. Emma Berrisford, Destination manager for the three Conservation Projects, The African Wildlife Photography and Conservation Project and Over 30's project set in South Africa recently shares with us about her African adventure! 'Thanda' means 'love' in Zulu - and over the duration of my week at 'Thanda private game reserve' in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa it became very evident why the name was chosen. I just spent a week at Thanda, immersing myself as much as possible in all the projects and soaking up the vibrant colours of Zululand, the spirit of its' people, the wild calls of nature and the feelings of contentment, passion and inspiration. Having last been at Thanda in 2011, I have seen such positive changes and developments to the projects and I was lucky enough to check out our latest project, the Over 30's Pre School and Community Development Project which operates in some of the rural Zulu communities surrounding Thanda. We currently have 3 'research and conservation projects'; African Wildlife Big 5 Research and Conservation Project, The Large Predators Research and Conservation Project and The Elephant and Rhino Research and Conservation Project at Thanda. There is also the African Wildlife Photography and Conservation Project and the Over 30's Pre School and Community Development Project. I'm incredibly lucky to have such an awesome job, as the perks of getting sent off to check out the different destinations I manage once a year allows me to chat to potential and future volunteers about all aspects of life on the projects and to speak with passion, belief and personal experience. African Wildlife Photography and Conservation Project If you're passionate about wildlife photography, the course is phenomenal - no matter what level you are. We have had complete beginners to intermediates to professionals on the course. You will learn all there is to know about wildlife photography, whilst living right in the middle of a Big 5 Game Reserve and contributing towards vital conservation initiatives, working alongside a team of research volunteers to build up a database of photo's used for educational purposes and to help with funding towards our projects. Over 30's Pre School and Community Development Project If you're over the age of 30 and enjoy working with kids, we would love your help on the community project - and you have the added bonus of living in the heart of a Big 5 Game Reserve and going on 2 game drives a week! The communities we work in are very rural and most of the younger kids speak no english - but there's something different about communicating with children - you don't have to use a particular language, but instead a common 'language' of play, smiles and mental understanding. It's very special to hear how far the communities have come in the short time we have been there (since January 2012) and how much the english of some of the kids and adults has improved! Our local guide, Ziggy, accompanies the volunteers to the communities each day assisting with translations and answering any questions volunteers have about the area, the customs and the culture. I left the communities each day rather exhausted, yet refreshed and was waved off by smiling faces, whilst driving through dusty, dirt roads running through rolling, green hills, free roaming cattle and a sense of accomplishment. African Wildlife Big 5 Research and Conservation Project, The Large Predators Research and Conservation Project and The Elephant and Rhino Research and Conservation Project If you're keen to get involved in research projects vital for assisting with wildlife conservation initiatives, there’s no better place. You can choose to focus on all the Big 5 animals (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino) or narrow it down more and focus on the ‘large predators’ or the ‘elephants and rhinos’. Our local guides are excellent at tracking the animals, reading the bush and have in depth and invaluable knowledge about wildlife and conservation. Conservation initiatives may include things like snare sweeping with the anti poaching unit, removal of alien plantation, setting up and managing vegetable gardens, water projects, erosion projects… On my last afternoon, a few of us were whisked off to get a brief talk from the vet and helicopter pilot about their mission they were doing that weekend - contracepting the lions and elephants! Both lions and elephants need huge living areas per animal and with worldwide human encroachment, our precious, wild and majestic animals are being forced into smaller areas, unsustainable for large numbers – so the conservationists and ecologists have to find solutions to help manage these issues, before it becomes an issue and there are too many animals in one area. The contraception we have issued is reversible. There are so many daily challenges game reserves are faced with, but through hard work and passion for conservation and the help from volunteers collecting data and helping conserve the natural environment, these areas will continue to conserve our wildlife, our heritage and our legacy. One of the highlights has got the be the bush walk we did on Friday morning. I rose to the most beautiful sunrise, with the mist sinking softly into the valley below and the sun gently peaking through behind the soft mist. It was a gentle sunrise of pastel pinks and oranges, reminding me to slow down and appreciate my surroundings in the African bush. Morning dew drops sprinkled the blades of long, green grass, bringing a fresh start to the new day and a crisp essence to the earthy air; birds tweeted and sang to each other as they woke up after a dark night and the footsteps of volunteers making their way across from their cabins to the meeting point at Intibane Lodge lead to a scented trail of fresh coffee and anxious excitement. Having been slightly apprehensive about the early 5h30 start, I was awake and rejuvenated in no time and our trails guide, David, started off with a safety briefing before beginning our trek into 'Big 5' territory - armed with a rifle for protection and a lifetime of experience and bush knowledge. Having grown up on his Grandparents farm in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, David was a natural outdoors enthusiast and I don't think there was a single bird call, animal track, insect or plant he could not identify. For me personally, I find all the small little ecosystems fascinating - as you get to see up close how important each and every species/plant/rock/termite mound/little ecosystem is, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. The bush walk lasted 4 hours that morning and we were back safely before the strong sunshine came out. We had managed to see zebras, wildebeest, fresh black rhino tracks, loads of other animal tracks, all kinds of fascinating birds and insects and even managed to fit in a 20 minute pilates session in the middle of the bush! What a unique setting for your early morning exercise! Waving goodbye to the volunteers as they excitedly set off in high spirits on a weekend trip to explore the coastline at Rocktail Bay, made me feel a sense of accomplishment as I have done my little bit to bring volunteers here so they can see for themselves what a beautiful and fascinating country this is. I felt proud to be South African and happy to see such enjoyment amongst a group of international volunteers from all corners of the globe, all backgrounds and ages - laughing, smiling and forming such special bonds whilst living in paradise. While it certainly does have its challenges and there may be days with no water to wash, new ethnic eating experiences, early mornings, unusual insects and new challenges – when you step back and look at your surroundings, you will learn to appreciate all the things we so often take for granted each day – from turning a tap, to ordering a steak! Each day at Thanda presents a new challenge and you will come to realize just how lucky you are to be a part of that challenge and to get ‘back to basics’ and in touch with a side of yourself you so often forget living in the hub of society. It puts you in touch with your inner self and human survival instincts again and makes you remember patience and peace. You are a part of a very special process of the vital change we are making in the communities and towards conservation. South Africa as a whole is an incredibly diverse country with vast space, wild animals, complex history, rainbow colours, electric sunsets and endless stretching skies. It’s a place you could never confuse with anywhere else. There’s an indescribable feeling in the atmosphere when you are here. Even the migrating birds sound different here. Whenever I arrive back home from being abroad, I can smell the fresh South African air, feel the warm sun on my back or watch an electric storm across oceans or mountains and even in the stillness of the night of the calmness of the day, if you listen carefully, you will hear the singing of an insect, the croaking of a toad and the calls from the wise ancestors resonating through the earth. It’s a country that will continue to surprise you each time you visit. if you chat to the locals and really get to understand our history and our people, you will see a lifetime of stories and journeys in the eyes of its inhabitants, the patterns on the rocks, the colours in the soil and the smiles from those who have so little yet will teach you so much. If there's anything I take away with me after just a week there, it's a reminder to slow down, listen, appreciate the small things in life which we so often just take for granted and to follow your dreams and always have hope. Never stop believing. The earth is a magical place – remember to stop and look around once in a while. You are in charge of your own destiny… It's a place you will fall in love with and it will leave you with unforgettable memories from an incredible African adventure! If you're contemplating volunteering at Thanda, stop waiting to make a decision - follow your passion and the rest will fall into place naturally. It may just change your life...and in turn touch so many others lives... “It always seems impossible until it's done.” Nelson Mandela. Emma was lucky enough to taste all 5 projects that African Impact have to offer at the 'Thanda private game reserve' in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa; African Wildlife Photography and Conservation Project , Over 30's Pre School and Community Development Project , African Wildlife Big 5 Conservation Project ,The Large Predators Research and Conservation Project and The Elephant and Rhino Research and Conservation Project . If you want to make your own African adventure and experience what Africa has to offer then click HERE.