If you’re looking for great volunteer abroad opportunities in South Africa, then look no further! Author and former international volunteer, Melissa Haynes, shares her personal story volunteering abroad in South Africa. Since then, her life has been forever changed. She’s gone on to write about her volunteering experience in a book titled “Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles”, which has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen Show. Melissa also discusses several worthwhile projects to consider for those who want to volunteer abroad in South Africa.
It started with a fascination for what lie between the pages of National Geographic magazine from a pre-school age. Fire-blazon sunsets and equally impressive sunrises, pulse-racing photos of prehistoric mammals, graphic predator kill scenes and tribal warriors with painted masks and terrifying spears. These were the images that lay the foundation for dreams I would inevitably chase in adulthood. The dream wasn’t one I easily captured; it would take a major career change and life altering circumstances to make the decision that volunteering was perhaps an important life choice, just as, if not more important than any other. It was necessary.
I found a reputable company and signed up for a Big Five volunteer experience in South Africa, dang, just writing that still gives me chills. I left behind all the creature comforts of home (that I would soon learn were unimportant) and traded in my private office for a pair of butter-yellow leather, work gloves and a canvas tent. Best decision ever. I was lulled to sleep every night by the roar of lions and awoken at dawn by the screech of the Hadeeda bird overhead. My neighbors were elephants, cheetah, rhinoceros, and wildebeest – just to name a few. Every day I had a purpose to fulfill, my work had meaning – meaning that went beyond the bottom line. I wasn’t being paid yet I had never felt wealthier.
Meals were simple yet nourishing, the rangers gracious and eager to share knowledge and ensure I had a life enriching experience. It wasn’t long before I realized I was no longer living life vicariously through the pages of National Geographic magazine, I was writing the words myself, from my daily adventures. A lifetime of nearly forgotten dreams was now a reality and I was the one behind the camera lens, and the one holding the pen.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all that came from volunteering was learning the magic of giving itself. Every day I gave sweat, tears and everything I had of myself – yet the more I gave, the more I received. I tried desperately to even out the balance sheet but I couldn’t, I felt indebted for all I was receiving. I received clarity, knowledge, a deep and profound sense of meaning, important life lessons, and answers to questions that before seemed unanswerable.
Maybe it’s the idea of awakening to the sound of elephant trumpets or falling asleep to the roar of lions that is calling you to South Africa. Or perhaps it’s the genuine smile of a disadvantaged child when you share your compassion and knowledge that has you researching volunteer opportunities. Whatever your insatiable passion is: teaching English abroad, global health care, conservation abroad or international community service, you’ll find a way to quench it in South Africa.
President Nelson Mandela coined this great country as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because it’s diverse and colorful in every way. From white sand beaches with awesome surf to grass plains and tabletop mountains, South Africa has something for everyone. The volunteer organizations allow and even encourage volunteers to take free time to experience it all.
Enjoy your South African volunteering adventure of a lifetime with one of these highly recommended and reputable organizations. For example, our friends at Pod Volunteer offers a wide range of opportunities from rescuing cheetahs to working with active research teams to better understand how to protect elephants.