We recently checked in with Noelle Hamoen, one of our incredible wildlife photography volunteers who joined us in the Greater Kruger Area, about her experience with African Impact. If you are curious to learn more about what the day-to-day life of a wildlife photography volunteer is like and all the unique experiences to expect volunteering in Africa, we encourage you to read on!
Hey Noelle! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. How many times have you joined African Impact?
I have joined African Impact twice. Both times I stayed with African Impact in the Greater Kruger Area with the wildlife photography project. The first time I went as a volunteer for a month, and the second time I went as an intern for my own project.
Amazing! What were the highlights of your experience?
I think the best highlight from my first trip was spotting my very first leopard in a tree. But the time I cried happy tears was during my second stay. I already had had multiple hyena encounters, but I always was in the position that I couldn’t take any pictures. It was frustrating because my project was about animals that needed better public representation. Hyenas were one of those animals. After two months, I finally managed to photograph one. I was so happy that by the time he disappeared, I was crying, a lot.
That’s incredible! How did you feel you made a difference on your project?
I think that if I helped make a difference, it was with photography. Helping the research team identify animals by the pictures and by posting about them as much as possible so that more people would consider volunteering.
Let’s discuss the logistics of your trip. What was your accommodation like?
My accommodation was amazing. I stayed in a shared room with multiple girls, and we had bunk beds. You get to look outside, where you will be able to see the vervet monkeys and some impalas every now and then. Due to load shedding, you will have times where you don’t have water in your shower or toilet, and the electricity will leave too. But that is a great time to jump into the pool or to play board games with the other volunteers. Your room would get cleaned every day, and I always had the greatest time with our cleaning team!
How was the food?
The food was always very delicious. You have an amazing and sweet cooking team working for you. They will keep in check if you have any allergies or when you are a vegetarian. They will make an extra batch of food for you so you can eat well, taking care of your lunch and dinner. Breakfast is self-served, so you can make your own toast and grab an apple if you want.
That’s great to hear! What did you do when not volunteering?
I was always busy, I think! Walking around, playing volleyball in the pool or just tanning, playing card games or editing pictures. On Friday, we would go to the town nearby, and I would get myself some extra fruit from the supermarket and some other snacks. And we would always end our town trip with some milkshakes at the local cafe.
It sounds like you had a ton of unique experiences on your project. What advice, if any, would you give to future volunteers?
Have an open mind. I learned a lot about myself and how to work with other people. It isn’t always easy, but if you stay open-minded and kind, it is an amazing experience.
If you are going to a place where you go on many safaris, remind yourself that animals are wild. They will not come to a perfect place for you so you can do your research or take pictures. It takes a lot of patience and sometimes also disappointed moments. I had a lot of luck spotting a leopard and seeing a cheetah during my first stay, but I didn’t see a single cheetah during my second stay, and that is when I was there for three months. It is all about luck, so really, be happy with any animal you can get your hands on!
(Also, pack your clothes well, haha! Bring clothes for warm and cold days. Sweaters are always welcome, but a cute dress – that is still modest – is also nice for when you are going out to a restaurant!)
Thank you for sharing. Those are some really valuable points! Did you have any specific fears heading into your project? What was the reality of facing those fears like?
I was nervous about meeting new people. I can be really extroverted, but I’m also a bit insecure, and I’m scared that people won’t like me. Thankfully people will accept you and welcome you with open arms. They will be honest with you, of course, so I learned a lot about myself and how to deal with that part of myself.
That’s a concern many volunteers have heading into their first project, so thank you for shedding a bit of light on facing your fears in that. What, in your experience, were the other volunteers like then?
I am still in contact with a lot of people! I even got to visit some over the past two years. Everyone was always very curious and very excited to go on drives. We always had the greatest fun, and you would have your own little inside jokes with each individual group. You become a family, and I think that’s what I loved the absolute most. There were always tears when volunteers had to go.
Okay, last question! What is one thing you gained out of your volunteer experience that you didn’t expect?
A future. I always knew I would love to photograph wildlife and to be in Africa, but actually being there made it real. I knew what I wanted to do. It also gave me a brand-new family. I made friends for a lifetime, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thank you for sharing, Noelle! Keen to learn more about our Wildlife Photography projects in the Greater Kruger Area? Visit the link below to learn more about how you can start your photography volunteer adventure with us.