- Parkin Fellows
by Sara Burr
During my 16 years of life on this planet, I have tried my hardest to learn from the world around me and to incorporate all perspectives into my daily life. It is one thing to put yourself in another human’s shoes and see what life would look like from their perspective, but it is another more complex situation to try and view the world from a different species. I have always been fascinated by animals and strived to help them gain the freedom to live a life unobstructed or harmed by people who cannot fathom what animals feel.
The Journey from Washington D.C. to Shamwari Game Reserve located an hour north of Port Elizabeth, South Africa was one that was well worth the time spent on the reserve. Having never been out of the country, I was not able to fathom 19 hours of flights plus layovers, and that was an experience itself, but immediately when I arrived, all of that was immeasurable. Everyone there was so nice and willing to answer any questions I had. It was not long before the group of volunteers felt like a family due to the teamwork and time we spent together.
In the mornings we would perform maintenance on the reserve having learned that upkeep of the animal’s habitat was just as important as keeping the animals healthy. We would work on projects such as road work to prevent erosion, alien plant eradication to make the reserve as natural as possible, and even construction of a playset for the villages inside of the reserve. In the afternoons we would identify the big five animals of Africa (lions, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephants and leopards) so that we could help the anti-poaching unit ensure none of the animals had interacted with or had been killed by humans.
The aim for this particular reserve was to keep the animals as wild and natural as possible in their habitat and to keep them safe in the process. Of course, to be able to keep the animals safe, there needed to be limited human interaction. While there, the volunteers got to see other groups that work in unison with the reserve to help their conservation goals. One of the groups was the Shamwari Rehabilitation Center where veterinarians aid orphaned or diseased animals back to health with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. The other program that we had the pleasure of visiting was the Born Free Foundation, an international wildlife charity that aims to keep wildlife in the wild. The animals that go to the Born Free sanctuaries are rescued from unhealthy situations such as circuses and illegal personal ownership.
As cheesy as it sounds, the group of volunteers that I worked with really did feel like a family after the short amount of time we spent together. Hearing everyone's stories and learning about their lives gave me multiple perspectives on the world surrounding me and allowed me to re-evaluate my life. Though I met a lot of amazing people during the trip, one of the guides in particular stood out after I talked to him one day during lunch. He asked me about my life, what I did and what it was like growing up in a different country as he was born in South Africa and he now worked there as well. He was extremely fascinated by snow and it was one of his dreams to one day see it in real life. He then asked me about what summer camps were like here. I told him that the summer camps that I had attended were a really cool experience and allowed me to learn through the world. He then shared his aspirations of building a camp to teach local children about wildlife conservation and nature in general. His passion and determination to teach others about wildlife conservation and nature was something that will stay with me forever. It will push me to keep working towards things I aspire to do and that will hopefully leave a lasting impression on others.