Volunteering: the ultimate in authentic life experience

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By Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius

Be warned though.  It can blow your mind and humble your heart.

Imagine finishing up work on Friday afternoon, boarding a plane on Saturday morning and waking up on a big 5 game reserve in remote South Africa on Monday?!

I did this and so can you!!

I would love for everybody to experience this kind of freedom, but I also know first hand that there are obstacles to overcome to get there.  What about your job?  Your family?  Your friends?  Your house?  Your stuff?  Your finances?

Experience wildlife up close.
Experience wildlife up close.


But then, there’s that old cliché: “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.  And my “will” was that hunger to EXPERIENCE a culture by living within its buildings (or sometimes lack thereof!) amongst its native people.  I knew there had to be more to travel than just catching that obligatory glimpse of pretty buildings as they zoomed by through an airconditioned tour bus window.  Surprisingly, when my “will” was strong enough, the “way”, with a little effort (and trust!), just fell into place, and I never looked back!

After a decade of caring for people in my day job as a nurse, I decided to volunteer with wildlife, just for something different.  So, I started researching volunteering companies in Africa and spent more time on Google than I care to admit!  I also read books and independent reviews and testimonials about projects that interested me (and not just on the company’s website either as these can be selectively biased!) and carefully compared their ethos with my own volunteering objectives.

Magical photos and memories to match.
Magical photos and memories to match.

I became wary of companies promising up close and personal encounters with their animals.  Some wildlife reserves are literally bred for “voluntourism” where you can go and pat a lion or cuddle a cheetah.  If this floats your boat, then sail away.  But, I wanted an authentic life experience where I could contribute to a bigger picture.  So, I was drawn towards projects that aimed to rehabilitate animals and then release them back into the wild.  These were the projects that earned my respect and who I ultimately volunteered with.  However, despite knowing there would be no intentional human-animal interactions, it made the unintentional, surprising wildlife encounters I did have even more wildly exhilarating!

Remember, anyone can volunteer, anywhere!

You don’t need any special qualifications, skills, knowledge or experience.  (You don’t even need to jump on a plane if you don’t want to!  You can always look around locally!)  You just need a “can-do” attitude, some get-up-and-go and be willing to step out of your comfort zone with an open mind.  Take this with you and you will see beautiful landscapes and be mesmerised by nature.  You will have to pinch yourself so often you will leave little bruises!  You will learn to improvise and “make do” with what you have.  You will make peace with dirt.  You will stop and smell the roses, and learn to appreciate the small things, the random things, the simple things that teach you to put the big things into perspective.  You’ll learn new skills, such as building fences, worming cheetahs, and alien plant control, all of which you’ll likely never need to use again.  But, you’ll be incredibly grateful for the experience and the amazing people you meet along the way.   And I’ll tell you this for certain:  you will learn a WHOLE LOT more about yourself and seal the entire adventure forever with the most amazing memories.

Have experiences not things. Have stories not stuff.
Have experiences not things. Have stories not stuff.

Check back soon as I’ll be sharing glimpses into my day-to-day experiences during my seven month adventure as a wildlife conservation volunteer on African soil!

Lauren Dionysius is a 30-something Registered Nurse chasing bigger dreams.  She’s passionate about writing, bikram yoga and wholefood nutrition and is in the process of combining these into her dream career.  She lives in Bundaberg, Queensland but travels regularly overseas seeking new life experiences, from volunteering in Africa, or a writing retreat in Italy, to yoga in Bali, and studying nutritional healing in the USA.  She thrives on growth and deepening her awareness of world we live in.  She is a writer, an editor & a hungry soul searcher.
Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.
Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.



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