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Wildlife Orphanange / Community project

Summary of Mattia's experience (translated by Linda)

I'm having an awesome time here at the project. It's a totally different world out here. After a long trip from Amsterdam-London-Jo'burg to Hoedspruit, I was met at an airport situated in the bush. I ended up sitting in the back of a Jeep and straight away noticed I was indeed in the middle of nowhere.

The project is situated between several private nature reserves, where the big 5 roam free. The animals currently at the project are: four mongoose, (see photo on the right - they really crawl everywhere!), a very old serval, two genets (one escaped though), tortoises, rock monitor, a blind donkey that walks around the camp, three owls, two raptors, three other donkeys, three horses, squirrels, four dogs, a bushbaby (jumps everywhere at night and is the cutest and funniest little animal I've ever seen), and soon a leopard will arrive as well, which is quite unique. At night porcupines and honey badgers come to the camp looking for food. One porcupine is tame and lies in the communal area, preferably under somebody's feet. He will only erect his quills when feeling threatened. There are also various duikers and other small antelope species walking around.

As soon as we are in the reserve we often encounter giraffe (with babies), impala, kudu, etc. We truly are in the bush and I can hardly explain what it is like.

During the week there is a strict programme. On Monday we go to a nearby township to fetch the children (the project is working together with 3 schools). The children are so quiet and shy when they arrive at the project. We have breakfast and then the lessons start. We teach them English and Maths, we teach them about politeness and how to make South Africa a better place. You can't compare the level of knowledge these children have to our Western/European standards, so we teach them basic Maths and basic English, like the verbs 'to be' and 'to have'. The classroom is outside of course. At night we usually play games such as bingo, trivial pursuit and pictionary, based on the project and nature. On Wednesday the children go to a game lodge in the area. They do a game drive and besides learning about the bush and looking at the animals, they learn about future job opportunities in the tourism industry. Awesome!
As we were driving, I saw this black spot far away in the bush and said 'STOP'! As we approached it turned out to be an elephant behind some bushes. After checking us out, he offered us a better view of himself. We also saw many giraffe, impala and zebra.

It's weekend now. The children left on Friday. They were not the same children as when they arrived on Monday. They were singing and clapping their hands. Fantastic! They know so many wonderful African songs and seem to have a natural talent for rhythm, dance and music. Amazing! They proved this on Thursday night, when we were all sitting around the fire. The children sang and danced and just had a great time. I wish us Europeans were more like that. I was truly amazed!

By the way, the food is delicious.
Every day we are getting a different
lunch and supper.
They sure know how to cook!
During the weekend, when there are no children at the project, us volunteers get to have some more leisure time. On Friday we went to Leopard Rock for sundowners. This is a huge boulder overlooking the bush and the Drakensberg mountain range in the distance.
On Saturday we went to Hoedspruit at 8am, to do some shopping for ourselves for the rest of the week. Usually this consists of some beers and a packet of crisps. After lunch in Hoedspruit we went to a restaurant/pub called 'Three Bridges'. There's a beautiful view of the Olifantsriver (Elephants river), and at sunset the hippo's come out of the water to graze the river banks.
At night I had my first African braai (bbq) as we were invited by the neighbours. Well, the neighbours are about 5 km's away... Anyway, driving in a open vehicle it was really cold (it is winter). But there is always the good old campfire to warm us up again.
By the way, I can't believe how much meat the average South African eats.

The first lessons I taught independently were Maths and Politeness! I really enjoyed teaching. The lessons are prepared and developed by the project, so you don't have to invent something yourself. With Maths we really do the basic add-substract-etc methods. With Politeness we teach the children for example to say 'thank you' when you receive something, and to say 'pleasure' as a reply (The whole day and every day everybody is saying this, quite funny as well as tireing). We also teach them not to pile too much food on their plates at meal times, and to look at a person that is talking to you. The morals and values that we have, and that they have differ quite a bit.
Then one day it was time to do the sex talk, and I was the chosen one this time. We teach them about safe sex and we practise with condoms and bananas.

On Wednesday, myself and 4 other volunteers went to Kruger National Park. The day started with an amazing sunrise. Initially we stopped for every animal that we saw, every impala and warthog. Later on we focussed more on the bigger animals. We saw elephant, hippo (looked like rocks in the water), giraffe, buffalo, ostrich and a pack of lions! That was amazing. You could hardly see them lying down in the grass, very well camouflaged. Every now and then a cub would get up, a tail would move, or Mr. Lion showed of his beautiful manes. It was a fantastic day.

On Friday news reached us that someone tried to sell a pangolin (ant eater), and got arrested because of it. The pangolin was brought to us for release in the bush. What an amazing creature, it is really special to see one. The pangolin received 2 injections and was kept for a little while to monitor it. On Sunday we let him go in the bush. 25 people (family and friends) pitched up to witness this special occassion. The pangolin is a fascinating creature, it can walk on its hind legs and curl itself up into a ball as to protect itself.

The project leader organized for us to come with and fetch the leopard on Saturday. After the vet had darted the leopard, we all went into its enclosure to watch. The vet microchipped the leopard. I had a chance to touch him for a bit. The fur is so soft and beautiful. What a spectacular animal!

After a quick check up from the vet, the leopard was put in the Jeep. We hurried to get it to the project before the drugs wore off. The leopard woke up slowly in his new enclosure. By the way, the leopard was brought to the project, because he lost his canines. He would not survive in the wild. It was quite an amazing experience!

On Monday we welcomed 6 new children (orphans) at the project. Such lovely kids, and so shy. During their stay with us, the children learn so much, it is very rewarding to see them change from quiet and shy to happy and outgoing. Each Friday we give the child that progressed the most a small tree which can be planted at the school. And all the children receive a certificate with their 5 promises in terms of the environment and the conservation thereof.

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