Community volunteering is a very broad term. It covers everything from sports coaching to working in hospitals. Of course, this being Africa, that's not to say you won't encounter a few lions as well! Ann Gagan spent a month on our Over 30's Rural Pre-school and Community Support Program at Thanda Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
The African Impact Thanda Community Project provides volunteers opportunities that are difficult to match. Where else can you work with amazing local people trying to make a difference in their communities, play with adorable children, learn Zulu, meet and travel with volunteers and staff from around the world all while living where you can hear lions roar, become complacent about seeing giraffes and have close encounters with elephants?! These are just some of the highlights of my four weeks working in the local communities and living at Intebane on Thanda Private Game Reserve.
This is not a five star, resort holiday. Travelers who want much more than the tourist experience of South Africa and who are willing to live and work, as part of a community, will find themselves wishing they had more time at Thanda and wondering how they can organize to return.
During my four weeks at Thanda, the Over 30's Community and Teaching Project included working in a community garden, an adult reading group, working with teachers at two local crèches to plan and implement activities, and running an under 16 youth group. While all of these activities were interesting and rewarding, it was working the children that meant the most to me. The Youth Group kids are amazing. The boys love the opportunity to practice their English and show off their football skills! The girls may be much more quiet, but are just as enthusiastic to join in all of the activities and have the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. The little children at the crèches will steal your heart. It was amazing to see how many English words they could learn in such a short time and how attached I could become to them.
Just the drive to the communities could be an adventure. The scenery is beautiful. Not-to-mention the Thanda wildlife are apt to wander by or, as the North Pride did one morning, just take up the entire road. Once out of the Reserve it is the farm animals you have to watch out for as the donkeys and cattle wander along and on the road.
Living on the Game Reserve, along side the Photography and Conservation volunteers, means that you have the opportunity to participate in bush walks and game drives. My game drives included getting really close to the elephant herd – so close we momentarily thought one was going to reach out his trunk and touch us, and seeing both North and South prides of lions up close.
The most memorable moment however, came on our way back, in the dark, from my last game drive. We were coming back in the road from the South Gate and the North Pride were lying along the road. As we approached they started to run. We thought that perhaps we were being too noisy and quickly quieted down. All-of-a-sudden we heard a very loud noise and a male elephant came trumpeting across the road right in front of us – chasing the lions! After our hearts returned to our chests we all agreed it was a truly amazing, truly African experience and a wonderful way to end our last game drive at Thanda."
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