Exploring and volunteering with African impact at the age of 17

Last year, every time I told someone that my plans for the summer was to volunteer in wildlife reserves and communities in South Africa, they would respond both amazed and concerned. They would look even more worried when I told them that I was travelling alone. “All alone in Africa?” “Aren’t you 17? Is that even allowed?” “And your parents are okay with this?” and “Aren’t you scared?” were the reactions I got most of the time.

I always responded that I was going to volunteer with an organization, African Impact, and I was staying with a group of people that I would meet there. Truth is, I was a little scared. Or rather, I was nervous because I had not traveled alone outside the Netherlands. I hadn’t ever set a foot outside of Europe before in my life! But looking back, there were only 2 moments in which I was nervous. One, running to my flights because my transfer times were a little tight, and two, deciding whether to go. “Am I really going to do this?” When I decided to go and booked my place, (I booked directly through African Impact) my destination manager gave me multiple checklists of actions I needed take & arrange. At that point it was already very easy to go through them step by step and check them off.

Game drive Stephanie

Because I was 17, I had to fill in a couple of extra forms as stipulated by South African Home Affairs such as the parental consent form and I needed to file some extra forms through my municipality, but all in all they were not hard at all to arrange. They did cost a little extra time, perhaps a few weeks to a month of extra preparation because the government needs time to progress requests for certificates and forms.

After organizing everything and running through airports, I arrived in Nelspruit airport in South Africa. The moment I entered the arrivals hall was the moment I was picked up by African Impact guides. I was with (or in the same building as) at least 2 of them at all times during my stay. I could ask them everything and I always got an answer. As a volunteer, I never felt like there wasn’t something I couldn’t talk to the staff about, and they were available 24/7.

The experience itself was absolutely breathtakingly amazing. I wasn’t treated differently because I was young. Frankly, everybody got along with each other and the atmosphere was always positive.  At the project, the locals were kind, the volunteers became your family and the fascinating projects kept you active at any moment of the week.  Every day was different, and made sure you never got bored. That’s not so weird after all, because who would be bored while teaching a lesson on wildlife conservation to a class of local children or helping them with reading? While sitting with the volunteers around a fire, talking about the things they experienced today or about their culture? While being in the African bush, under a clear sky, observing wild lions, elephants, rhinos or even leopards?

Nobody would be.
Volunteers bonding together, despite water restricitons

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