The reality of volunteering

I’ve gotten a few questions about how it feels to volunteer. Do I feel isolated? How is it to constantly be around other people? Do I get along with them? Are the cultural differences a problem?

My first days at Harnas Wildlife Foundation were horrible. This place was not how I expected it to be at all. I missed home so much.

You eat three times a day. Work in a blazing heat for seven hours. Your feet are never clean. And you’re never alone.

Welcome to Harnas!

People often only tell about the good part of volunteering. They tell you about how amazing it was to meet new people, to see another culture up close. There is however a difficult side to volunteering as well.

After soon to be four weeks, I have both good and bad days. Some days it feels like I fail at everything. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed because I know that when I lay back down in it, I’ll have new cuts and bruises. Some days I just want to go home.

Nobody told me about this part…

Other days though, it doesn’t matter if I have been pooped, peed and puked on. It doesn’t matter if I’m on farmwork the whole day. It doesn’t matter if there is only enough food for one portion at lunch. Because some days it is all worth it. The days when I am reminded why I am here; that I am needed.

This view isn’t too bad either 😉

I’ll tell you about one day that started bad, but turned out good. The breakfast consisted of one piece of dry bread with jam. Your water kind of smells. At work today you’ll have to feed the Baboon Bullies again. Oh, and kill a rat. You don’t want to. You really don’t want to. But you walk with the others to the morning meeting and you nod when you’re told what you have to do that day.

A sign you won’t see in Norway!

It turns out though, that you have a newbie to teach. This means that you won’t work with the rest of your team today, which means that you’ll have to feed the baboons alone. Which is not possible. Which means you can ask a coordinator to do it for you. The world is a nice place again.

The rat. The damn rat. What are you going to do about the rat. You have to feed the blind owl, but you don’t want to kill a rat. As with most uncomfortable things, you procrastinate. You take your newbie to the merecats, the blind vervet, the vultures and teach her the ropes.

Wild, wild world ❤

When you can’t avoid it anymore, you head back to the rat cages. And there, there stands an angel with a dead rat. The angel happens to be another volunteer that has killed rats before. Now he is smiling at the intense relief in your face. “You’ll have to learn this some day you know,” “Yeah, but not today. Not today.”

It’s five minutes before you can leave The Farm. You’re on your way to pick up your backpack when the vetrinerian sees you. She has a screaming baboon in her arms. Oh no. Please no. “Hey, can you help me? He has a cut on his arm, it needs to be rinsed and treated.” Before you can answer that you are really not a baboon person, that she should ask someone else, the baboon is in your hands – still screaming. Clawing desperately to get loose. Why, you think, why. However, you fasten your arms around the creature and follow the vet. You try to keep calm, even as you feel nails digging into your skin. You whisper soothing words: “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got you.” People turn their heads and stare. It’s the animal mistreating you, not the other way around. Thankfully another person gets up and says she’ll help.

In the clinic you’re ready to hand the baboon over. But the baboon doesn’t want to be handed over. Without knowing it, by not giving in, you’ve earned his trust. He’s not hurting you anymore, just whimpering and shaking.

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When you’re like this you’re not too bad.

It takes half an hour. It takes half an hour to make your day. You’re dirty, smell like baboon pee, but you have the biggest smile on your face when you walk back to The Village. You can stay here for weeks and weeks.

Volunteering changes people. It changes me. My boundaries are not the same as when I left home. I’ve learned a lot about both animals and people.

Are we friends now?

If, no, when, I do another project I won’t sign up for eight weeks. I think it’s too long. Yes, I’ve adapted and like the place better now, but it’s still hard. We don’t leave here, and the wifi sucks. So I do feel isolated. Being isolated with 50 other volunteers? Some that are really different from you? Yeah, I find that challenging. I miss privacy. I miss a whole lot of things. Like a bathroom, inside, that can be locked. Like my friends and family.

But I knew what I was doing when I left, and you will never hear me say that I reget this. Never.

I’ll never forget this.

13 thoughts on “The reality of volunteering

  1. Really intresting to read and hear about a day in your life down there. I do not doubt it’s hard and isolating, and definitly a completly new experience. Not everyone could travel down there without knowing anyone, and certainly not stay there for 8 weeks. But I’m glad you’re having the time of your life as well 🙂

    (The bruise on your foot looks really bad!)


    1. Yeah, some days are more difficult than others. It helps to write about it 🙂

      Actually, lots of people leave early from this place. I considered it myself as well. It would be nice to see more of Namibia. However, it’s quite expensive and I do like it here. I believe that what I do matter 🙂

      That bruise is one of many that the teenage baboons have given me. The weird part is that their scratches hurt more than their bites – at least when they heal. Oh well, that’s part of the job here 😉


  2. Kjipt å høre at alt iche bare er lett. Skjønner at to måneder hvor du er forholdvis alene i et land såå langt vekke må være utrolig utfordrene, men du er heldigvis halveis nå og blir sikkert utrolig deilig å komme hjem etter denne helt unike opplevelsen. Uansett gjør du iallefall utrolig bra arbeid, som du kan vær veldig stolt av å ha gjennomført, og så får du stå på masse videre ❤


    1. Kjekt å høre fra deg Marthe! Ja, noen ganger er det virkelig utfordrende her. Det komme til å bli ufattelig deilig å komma hjem igjen! Kaldt, reint vann i springen :O 🙂

      Tusen takk! Glede meg til å se deg til jul 🙂


  3. Just you wait, within a month or two of coming home, all you will remember are the good things. If you remember the bad, t will be with a smile.

    It does sound like you are having amazing experiences!


    1. You’re probably right 🙂 I’m looking forward to that. Already, when I go through pictures from the first weeks, I smile.

      The bad stuff have taught me so much, so even if it stays bad, it will have been worth it I believe.

      Thank you for your support! And I am definitely having lots of great experiences too! 😀


  4. Think of all the stories you will have to share after this journey… 🙂 About the baboons, and the lions, and cheetahs, and monkeys, and baboons. It seems like it will be mostly about baboons! 😛 Can’t wait to see you in about a months’ time ❤


    1. Yeah, I’ll have many stories! I’m looking forward to sharing more of my pictures and showing some of the videos I’ve taken here. Although, even if pictures really do say more than a thousand words, Harnas Wildlife Foundation can never be shown. It must be experienced:) I miss you, and am glad I am going to see you in three weeks!!


    1. I love sleepouts! The one I did with the baby baboons was sooooo cold though! Four of them went together and stole my sleepingbag. Seriously, I think they planned it beforehand;)

      Which did you do?:)


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