Volunteering Namibia – Tobias
Volunteering in Africa: For four weeks Tobias made an active contribution to protecting endangered desert elephants in Namibia. In his report he reveals more about his time in Damaraland.
Volunteering in Namibia
In August 2016, I participated at a volunteer project in Nambia for one month. I am 18 years old and graduated from High School in 2016 and started my gap year with this project in Namibia. Till now my time at the project has been the best time I have ever had and I recommend it to everyone who is asking me, or to put it in different words I am annoying my friends with stories and memories about it.
The project consists of two blocks, which are organized the same way every time. First you meet up in Swakopmund and get to know the rest of the group. When I was there for my first block, our group had 15 participants and for the second block we were a group of 12 people. Groups are generally not larger than 12 to 15 participants. The groups are mixed regarding age, which means it ranges from 15 to 60 years, but as a team of like-minded people the group members connect pretty quickly. The following day the group is leaving for a night at the basecamp, a well-built camp at the side of a riverbed. If you are lucky, elephants come around for a short visit. Even though the camp is a very basic accommodation, you feel comfortable straight away.
Then you start right away, by taking a 4x4 vehicle to Damaraland wherever our help is needed. In my case I was close to a school and we constructed walls around a water tank for the local farmers, which were not able to use this tank, as the pipe was destroyed regularly by elephants passing through the village. It’s hard physical work but with a motivated group and a goal in mind the four working days pass by quickly. We started working at 7 o'clock in the morning, till 5 o'clock in the evening, with two breaks in between – one of them from 12 AM till 2 PM, because it was just too hot and everyone was getting hungry by then. In the evening, the group gets together and spends time together. At the self-constructed camp, everyone sleeps next to each other on a canvas cover.
Every day there are two people of the group, who are responsible for all the tasks over the day, they are also in charge for cooking over the fire. Like this everyone gets his or her turn within the two weeks, which means that the rest of the time you wake up with a fresh tea or coffee every morning – with a Namibian sunrise, it does not get any better! For the weekend, the group gets back to the basecamp and next to some daily routines at the camp you have time to wander around or do what you like. It will definitely never get boring with so many nice people and such beautiful nature around you!
The second weeks bring you the reward for the hard work of the last days. You are going to track different elephant herds to collect data for research, which means you are driving around different landscapes which Namibia has to offer spotting zebras, giraffes, tracks of lions and hyenas and elephants. Together with the experienced team leaders which guide you it is almost certain that you will see elephants, in my case I got to see elephants every day except for two. To spot these impressive animals in the wild is an incredible moment, which will take your breath away every time you see them. To set up camp at a different location every day and to sleep on the ground gives you the most unique and authentic experience and impression of Namibia, at least from my point of view. At noon and in the evenings, we used to climb up a nearby hill to enjoy the amazing view and sunset with a beer we brought with us.
After the last night at the basecamp the group returns to Swakopmund and the people who will spend two more weeks at the project – like me – will change the group. At first, I thought repeating the whole procedure would be boring, but with a cool, new group and unpredictable nature on the other side, you will always experience new things and it will never get boring. Chris, the guide of the project and Old Matthias have an incredible knowledge, so that you will learn a lot about elephants and Namibia in general and feel safe at any moment.
For many Germans, this is probably a big deal, as you are sleeping outdoors in Namibia, where there are snakes, spiders, scorpions, predators and elephants, whose strength is beyond imagination. In Germany, we are not used to these circumstances, but here in Namibia you will learn and understand quickly how to live in harmony with nature and I did not meet one person who did not feel safe or to whom anything had happened. Personally, I experienced saying goodbye to the group as very difficult, as you grow a very strong bond together within the 14 days, where you spent 24/7 together. But especially this point is an essential part of the project which makes it so special. And afterwards you have many new friends all over the world, which is always good!
NATUCATE did recommend this project to me and I want to thank NATUCATE for this! As it was the start to my gap year I had no experience regarding going abroad and did do a lot of research on projects which are only making profit, without thinking of conservation. In my opinion, you can be certain that with NATUCATE you will support a good and a sustainable project and the support they gave me was unbelievable. During several phone calls they explained the project to me very clearly and I received answers to all my questions regarding flights, packing, vaccination etc.
Even while I was already in Namibia Daniel did check on me from time to time to see if everything was okay, and I felt comfortable, so that I was able to get in touch with him quickly if I had a question and got a detailed response from him. Overall, I can only recommend this project to everyone. I will never forget my time there and I hope that I will be able to take part in the project again. The impressions are so overwhelming, that it was difficult for me to put them in word, which is why I am happy to answer any questions to people who are interested.