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Tatiana and Bridget’s trip up the Garden Route

We left on a Sunday morning, as the first stop was at the Game Reserve Conservation project which is approximately a 4.5-hour drive from our Newlands campus. Our volunteers fly into nearby local airports so they do not have to take the longer car journey. The everchanging landscapes on the drive were beautiful to see and offered some spectacular photo opportunities. After a quick stop-off at one of the local farmstalls on route for a cup of coffee, we arrived at the project.

Here we got to meet Michael (our volunteer from France), who had only been at the project for one week, yet mentioned that he had settled in well and was learning a lot from the project supervisors and other staff that worked there. We noticed quite quickly ourselves, that the staff treat everyone like family and are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience. They are also building on and adding to the project to benefit the reserves and animals that they work with, yet would also like to focus on the larger community surrounding the reserves in the future.

After an evening drive, where the supervisors showed us the expansive land they work on, a delicious braai (South African barbeque) was prepared for us and we then headed to bed for a good night’s rest with no traffic noises to be heard and only the sounds of crickets to put us to sleep.

We continued our journey on Monday morning from Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay where we met up with our colleague, the Volunteer Support Coordinator for the Garden Route, Meg and for the next two days we visited the projects in the area.

The Community Children’s Project is based in Kurland Village, Plettenberg Bay and has a wonderful highly-motivated teacher that runs the day-to-day schedule for the almost 60 children that come to her class. She does have an assistant who helps her, but could really do with the support of exceptional volunteers that have a passion for working with children, are not shy to get involved and make a meaningful difference and ideally have some teaching experience though this is not a requirement. Ideas for activities and a proactive & outgoing nature would be welcomed as the children at this project often speak English as a second language.

We then went to visit the Horse Trail Experience in the Crags which looks after about 36 horses that have been rescued and are being rehabilitated. This project offers volunteers the chance to experience working on a horse farm, as well as giving them the opportunity to get involved with all of the day-to-day work such as cleaning stables, repairing leads and saddles, feeding & grooming the horses and learning to ride if you haven’t done so before.

After spending some time with the horses, we drove to visit the Family Dairy Farm Experience in the Crags. This small dairy farm, produces its own milk, cheese and ice cream, so if you’ve always wanted to know what it is like to get involved in all aspects of a farm from milking cows, to looking after calves and helping out with a nursery filled with delicious vegetables and incredibly beautiful flowers and plants then this is the right project for you.

On our second day in Plettenberg Bay, we headed to the Ocean Conservation project in the morning but sadly didn’t get to meet our volunteers, Dana and Melanie (both Swiss), as they were out at sea. We did however have the opportunity to do a boat trip after speaking with the project supervisor about the different kinds of work that the volunteers are currently getting involved in. The project does a lot of ocean conservation work and has qualified biologists and conservationists on staff who work with and teach the volunteers various techniques, but also focuses on educating the local community about taking care of the ocean.

The boat trip resulted in us getting a little soaked, so after a quick shower to warm up again and a change of clothes we made our way to Protecting Children. This project is currently undergoing some renovations to the buildings where the children are accommodated and we can’t wait to see the final product, as this will offer them a more comfortable homely environment to spend their free-time after school and evenings.  Volunteers have lots they can help out with at the project, including helping with homework, cooking meals, putting together an afternoon activities schedule, as well as coaching sports or doing creative and educational activities with the children.

We ended our last afternoon in Plettenberg Bay by visiting our Wine Farm Experience. As part of this project, volunteers have the chance to see what life is like on a wine farm. A winding dirt road led us to this gorgeous winery where we got to see some of the vineyards, have a look at the tasting room and restaurant and meet the resident chickens before heading back to our accommodation.

Wednesday was spent in Jeffrey’s Bay. Here we popped in at the Jeffrey’s Bay Kindergarten and were met by many big smiles from children at the creche. We could see that the ladies that run this project are very passionate for the work that they do and transfer this passion to the volunteers that join. Lots of energy and initiative is required when joining this project, as the children like to keep busy and are eager to learn from you.

It was hard to leave the children at the project and we would have loved to spend more time with them, but we needed to make the drive to the Eastern Cape to visit our Conservation & Community project. This project offers volunteers the chance to go on regular game drives in the reserve to conduct research and animal observations, as well as maintenance work such as repairing fences and the removal of alien vegetation. Volunteers also help out within the local community by teaching local school groups about conservation and educating the community about caring for the environment.

On Thursday, we stopped off at African Horizon where we got to see most of the animals that are cared for by our volunteers in this sanctuary. It is a large space and there is lots of work to be done, but volunteers share the workload which includes cleaning enclosures, feeding the birds and wildlife, as well as taking care of any other day-to-day tasks that may arise. The project also regularly accepts infants or adult birds that have been injured, so you will get to experience their rehabilitation and hopeful release.

Before heading back to Cape Town on Friday, we took the chance to visit the Surfing with Kids project. Unfortunately, we arrived too early to meet some of the kids that receive surf lessons from the staff and volunteers, however we did get to see the awesome space they are based from, with the inside walls covered in pictures of surfing legends and amazing waves. We also go to see the new swimming pool which has been added to the property so volunteers can help out with swim lessons for the beginners, as well as the start of the new skateboard park which will offer the children an alternative activity when the weather conditions are not great to go out for a surf. Our volunteer, Sebastian (from Denmark) told us that he has been having a great time with the kids.

The trip was a great opportunity for both of us to learn more about the projects first-hand and we know that no matter what type of person joins us, we will definitely be able to find them a suitable project along the Garden route or in any of our other locations.

Bridget & Tatiana

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