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This is a guest blog by Eduard, a Romanian, UK resident studying Geography at Bournemouth University. Eduard shares their experience of the Turing Scheme.

I chose to study geography because I have always been interested in how humans interact with nature and how different cultures and beliefs interact with each other. As my university life came to an end, I got out in nature to gain some hands-on geography experience abroad.

Choosing my placement

An overseas placement enabled me to learn about a different culture and people’s interactions within their environments. When researching overseas opportunities, I found the Hamba Africa organisation which supports conservation projects around Kruger National Park, South Africa. They offer wildlife volunteering opportunities for students who want to create a positive impact.

Planning my trip

I initially had second thoughts about this opportunity due to the expense of travelling overseas. However, I found funding opportunities through the government’s Turing Scheme available to BU students which covered most of my travelling expenses and living costs.
Travel arrangements required time commitment as I needed to obtain a visa and travel vaccines, but the time spent planning was worth it in the end. after five weeks spent in South Africa, I’m proud to say that I made it!

Where I volunteered

I volunteered at an eco-village based in the rural community of Sigagule. The community is supported by Nourish, an organisation focused on community-based conservation and growing resilient wildlife communities. The organisation helps run after-school education programmes for kids, provides jobs in the area and guidance to support the development of new businesses amongst other community needs. They also encourage recycling by reusing material for the infrastructure in the eco-village such as eco-bricks made from bottles. Nourish aims to change local mindsets on the environment and teach locals how to protect it.

room at Shik Shak accommodation, Nourish

My room at Shik Shak accommodation, Nourish

Accommodation on placement

I stayed in accommodation in an eco-village called Shik Shak, which is used to accommodate tourists and volunteers. All the rooms were single huts built in the traditional African way, I was able to hear all kinds of animals, including hyenas and lions during the night.

Community spirit

The eco-village was a positive example of what a community should be. Everyone said “Hi” to each other in the mornings and helped each other. I was introduced to the Ubuntu concept, a Zulu term which expresses that the idea and compassion for the community should always be one of the core building blocks of a society.
Staff from Nourish and other volunteers hung out together after work playing games or just sitting around the fire. We were able to share stories and cultural practices.

Weekend excursionsStudent Eduard sat on a rock overlooking a valley and mountains

Over the weekends we visited places of interest in the area. The image below shows a guided tour we went on which starts with an optional but scary, exciting rope swing in the gorge and then covers the most stunning viewpoints over the Blyde River Canyon, such as God’s Window and Three Rondavels.

Utilising my skills

I was offered the opportunity to come up with my own project which would have a long-term benefit for the community. So, I decided to hone my skills and apply what I had learned in geography by mapping out the entire eco-village and turning it into a digital map.
During working hours, I was getting involved in so many things and everything was so interesting and exciting that it never felt like working. Watering the crops every morning was always relaxing and playing with the kids or assisting them with the learning materials during the afterschool program was always fun.

Takeaways from the experience

I have realised how important African wildlife is to the ecosystem and this has encouraged me to get more involved in conservation projects or potentially pursue a career in the field.
Volunteering was very rewarding and made me happier every day knowing that my contribution was benefiting others in need. Whatever skills you have, there are always people out there who need a helping hand.

The Turing Scheme supported my travel experiences. I wouldn’t have been able to go on the trip without the funding support.

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