So far, I have been lucky enough to volunteer twice with GVI. The first time was in Phang Nga, Thailand, in April 2015, the second time only this June/July in Karongwe, South Africa.
Before I get into my two testimonials, I have to mention that I had booked Phang Nga for a month, but I had to leave after two weeks as I broke my foot one evening. Therefore, I spent two weeks volunteering in each project. My main focus was always conservation, in Thailand more specifically marine conservation and in South Africa wildlife conservation.
My time in Phang Nga was my first volunteering experience and I made one crucial mistake with it. I booked with STA travel Switzerland and my advisor suggested the more expensive private room option with airconditioning and a proper bathroom. Even though that was obviously quite agreeable, it made it difficult to bond with everyone as that room was a bit away from base and I had to leave by some point at night. If that option is still available, I definitely would not recommend it. After I had broken my foot a bit less than two weeks into the project, I moved to the base for a couple of days and I got along very well with the basic conditions.
There are no flushing toilets or and cold showers, but with the heat that is perfectly fine. As there is no airconditioning, I would not recommend going at the hottest time of the year, but there are fans you can snatch to sleep and that is just fine. Dinner is provided for by a Thai cook from the village and is delicious. Moreover, GVI volunteers and staff are an amazing crowd of open-minded people and great fun to be with.
As the base is located in an authentic Thai village, we were taught some basic Thai to interact with the community. Naturally, you have to adjust the way you dress and respect their rules in order to fit in. That done, the Thai people are amazingly welcoming and always happy to see volunteers around the village which gives the project a great vibe.
Project work involved biodiversity surveys in the jungle and on an island close to the village. Even though that was great fun, I felt that those surveys were lacking strategy and thus professionality and I was not sure how useful they could ever be for research.
Additionally, we went to sea turtle centres once a week to clean the turtles and their pools which I enjoyed the most. Furthermore, we did beach cleans, collected seaweed for the sea turtles and were responsible for data entry collected by divers on sharks and rays.
Moreover, we taught about conservation and natural phenomena at the local school.
Needless to say, I enjoyed every single task on the programme. We also had two and a half days off at the weekend, which made travelling the region as a group of volunteers an amazing experience. Overall, I had a great time despite my broken foot and I would love to go back to Phang Nga one day and see what has become of the project since I later found out that it was fairly new when I volunteered there.
South Africa absolutely stole my heart. The GVI base is located within a game reserve making it a unique experience to live with wildlife at your doorstep and in an ecological way which restricted power use.
There is solar power so naturally, more light was available if there were clear skies during the day. GVI base has their own water source which even makes it possible to drink the tap water and renders hot water.
However, Elephants are smart and sneaky. One night they travelled though our garden and we could watch them tear down trees next to our volleyball pit. They also drank our water resources that night which meant scarce water the next day for us and some time without hot showers.
That experience was absolutely amazing as you learn to live with nature in an exceptional way. Otherwise, the base is more luxurious than I would have imagined, there are bathrooms with real toilets and showers and the kitchen offers everything you need.
As there is no airconditioning, I would definitely recommend going in the dry season (which is actually fairly cold as it is South African winter). Additionally, there are not mosquitos during that time which makes life a lot easier.
The GVI staff are amazing and very well trained and my fellow volunteers and interns were the most amazing international crowd. Project work usually consists of general research drives which go out at least twice a day to find the cheetahs and other species.
Moreover, some drives go out for transecting which means counting prey species in a certain area of the reserve. There are also hippo count drives, fence line patrols to collect litter and on a voluntary basis community work such as teaching in local schools.
Once a week, there is the opportunity to go to town and Sunday is usually the only day off and tours to Kruger or the Panorama route are offered by GVI.
Each person is regularly on base duty which means that two people per day stay in base to do their fair share of cooking and cleaning, but also to sleep in. This is the case as the daily routine for drives involves leaving promptly at 5.30 am, then coming back for an extended lunch break and leaving again at 3 pm for the second drive. That makes it normal for everyone to go to bed right after dinner around 8 or 9 pm.
Generally, the rule appears to be the later a drive returns the more exciting things they are seeing. I have had the luck to come very close to the Big Five as well as to Karongwe’s cheetahs Khwezi and the three boys as well as many other amazing animals, but I have not nearly had enough and I am already planning on returning to that magical place next year.