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Published: March 6th 2008
Gavin and I spent an amazing 4 weeks volunteering at the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa. We booked with Global Vision International (GVI) but you can now book directly with the project which works out cheaper!
We landed in Johannesburg very early on a sunny Monday morning and took a taxi to the bus station in Midrand to catch the Translux bus service up to Tzaneen. After a few hours wait sat on our backpacks on the pavement outside the office we hopped on our bus and fell fast asleep! The bus journey from Jo’burg to Tzaneen is roughly 6 hours and as we thought we were just an hour away from our final destination our bus pulled over on to the side of the road… after about 10 minutes passengers started getting off the bus for some fresh air. After about half an hour the bus driver confirmed to us that the bus had broken down and that they were sending another bus. Many passengers were making phone calls on their mobile phones and one by one their friends and family turned up in cars to give them a lift home. This made us think that
we were going to be in for a LONG wait and that this was a regular occurrence in Africa! Unfortunately we didn’t have a mobile phone but the bus driver let us make a call to VMF but we couldn’t get hold of them so we had no choice but to sit it out! This turned out to be a good thing though as we got to know Sue, a Canadian nurse who was sat in front of us and just so happened to be going to VMF too!
After nearly 4 hours of waiting on the road side another bus came along to give us a lift in to Tzaneen. We arrived exhausted and hungry to be greeted by Heather, Liz and Kelly in the car park . Heather had got somewhat hyper active through the extreme boredom of being stuck in the combi in for so many hours so gave us a very animated welcome when we finally arrived! We piled all our stuff in to the combi and headed off in the dark to VMF. We were literally ready to fall in to bed that first night so Heather gave us a quick tour of tent
village and some tea before we passed out in our tent.
All volunteers at VMF live in “Tent Village”. A really cool little community of tents! The tents are various sizes but each one includes a very comfy mattress, a plastic box and a small table. Our tent was fab because you could stand up in it and it was really nice a spacious! The facilities in tent village were described as basic but having experienced a real range of toilets and bathroom facilities throughout our trip for us just having hot showers and constant access to water was a real luxury!
All meals at VMF are provided. You get to help yourself to cereal for breakfast. Bread, sandwich fillings and salad are provided for lunch and a fully cooked meal is prepared in the evenings. All meals were vegetarian and the food was so yummy I didn’t even notice that there was no meat. I really loved Saturdays - you got a pizza base out to of the freezer and made your own pizza!
VMF was by far the best organised project we worked at. We had an induction on our first morning explaining the
roles of the volunteers and given a tour of the Foundation and by the afternoon we were ready to start working! Each day there is a rota drawn up to allocate volunteers to jobs. You generally work from about 8-5pm with a short break in the morning and an hour for lunch. I really enjoyed the variety of jobs you could do and every day felt interesting and different. A typical day might be starting with a 3 or 4 hour baby shift (bottle feeding and looking after the orphaned new babies), blanket washing, monitoring and working in sick bay.
I got to work in Sick bay with Lisa (a long term volunteer from the UK) quite a bit which I really enjoyed. You get to spend time with the monkeys that are in there, giving them water, changing blankets and cleaning etc.
My all time favourite job was definitely baby shift. I absolutely fell in love with the little guys who were just a few months old in most cases. Jonty, Madam, Sabie, Jack, Ritchie, Mija, Makuzi and Letsi. It was like looking after human babies! They sucked their thumbs, loved snuggling in the fleecy blankets, got
cranky when tired, played and needed amusing all the time. The babies needed around the clock care so there were two volunteers with them 24/7 including through the night! Baby night shifts ran from 7pm to 6 am and involved sleeping in the “baby tent” with the little lovies! Very cute but really smelly by morning.
At first all the monkeys looked the same but very quickly you begin to get the know their personalities and distinguishing features and each monkey becomes an individual. Gavin and I learnt a lot about Vervet monkeys from working alongside the long term volunteers and Arthur at VMF. I felt quite privileged to share their knowledge and learn from them and admired their commitment and love for what they are doing.
Gavin did a lot of driving whilst at VMF as they were short of drivers whilst we were there. As it was the end of the dry season and all the bore holes were dried up all the water for the Foundation had to be collected by volunteers from a local town several times a day so water fetching was a regular work shift on the volunteer rota.
volunteer at VMF for 4 weeks or more you are allowed 1 “touring day” off per week you work so you can accumulate your days off and take some time to explore the local area. See our VMF touring days blog to find out what we did in our time off work!
Our 4 weeks at VMF went so fast and we were really sad to leave. We met some great people and would recommend this project to anyone! Never a dull moment when you’re working with monkeys!
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