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Voluntary Work in South Africa with The Leap

Emma enjoys young company on her gap year in South Africa with The LeapI've just returned from spending 6 amazing weeks in South Africa, with some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life!  I went away to South Africa with the Leap, who were so helpful and friendly, unlike other Gap year companies that reel off automated emails, the Leap staff are always at the end of the phone, happy to answer even the silliest of queries, and send you send you personal emails!  Whilst we were away they called our parents to let them know we arrived safely and kept them updated throughout the trip, which definitely gave the parents peace of mind!

Whilst in South Africa I stayed at Kwa Madwala, a private Big 5 Game reserve in Hectorspruit, which is just south of the Kruger National Park, where we really were surrounded by the wildlife.  One evening, we came across 5 Hippos on the lawn at the end of our driveway, with two little babies that were only about a month old!  There were often Giraffes wandering by, warthogs running about and an abundance of impalas!  You only had to drive a few minutes into the bush and we were encountering the Big 5 and more!

Half of our time was spend on the game reserve, carrying out conservationEmma (white top) with fellow Leap volunteers gets acquainted with an orphaned elephant work, which consisted of taking part in anti poaching walks to look for snares and traps hidden by intruders; cutting back trees and bushes that were obstructing the roads, so that the Game Drive vehicles could pass down them more easily and also repairing the road surfaces!  As well as this we were able to go on many game drives and bush walks, where we were tracking animals, and going in search of the lions!  The other half of our time was spent at the local township, where we built a room onto the side of an orphanage, did some teaching, and played sport with the children at the school.

Within my 6 weeks I had a microlite flight over the game reserve, and elephant interaction day with the two tame orphaned elephant that live in the reserve, took a trip to see traditional tribes in Swaziland, went on safari to the Kruger National Park, and spent 5 days on the beaches in Mozambique where we were able to do Whale Shark diving!  On Sunday afternoons we played football against the locals, which was so fun and a great way to meet the community.

Emma volunteers at the orphanage on her gap year in South Africa with The LeapI think by far the most rewarding and inspiring thing of the trip was spending my time at the local orphanage in the Hectorspruit Township.  As soon as you arrive and step out of the 4x4 you are instantly surrounded by children, who grab your hand and lead you off to play.  You become a human climbing frame for the day, as they all want to be picked up and played with!

The thing that shocked me most when I first visited the orphanage is that none of the children had shoes, and the majority were wearing the same clothes each time I saw them.  But these were the happiest children I have ever met, always smiling and laughing and so excited to see us- when they saw us coming they would be running from all directions to greet us.

Our job at the orphanage was to complete one of the rooms that had been built by one of the previous groups, so what started as just the brick wall skeleton, had to be plastered, a floor put in and a roof!  I can honestly say that I have never worked so hard in my whole entire life- mixing 5 bags of cement with 25 wheelbarrows of sand, is something I wouldn't usually be doing at 7:30 in the morning!

The most inspiring thing about the township is the children.  They are so content with the little that they have- the porridge they get for breakfast at the school, and the rice or pap they get for lunch at the orphanage.  They loved being at school and wanted so much to learn.  The children were packed into colourful classes, with little tables and chairs, and each class I went into I saw only smiling and enthusiastic faces!

The children at the orphanage have taught me so much about life.  They just wanted to be loved, and to have attention, and that's what I've realised is important in life, to be around those that you love, it's not about material possessions, or clothes or money, it's about friends and family.

I noticed a huge change in myself as the weeks went by whilst I was away, and I definitely became a lot braver, and gained much more self confidence-  I was holding snakes, spiders, frogs and beetles, where as before I would have just screamed and run a mile!

I've now realised that there is so much that I can do with my life, I don't just have to be stuck in the normal 9-5 office job; I could actually make a real difference to individuals, families and communities.  I'm already starting to plan my next trip away!  I would love to go back and do some more teaching and work at an orphanage.

I would 150% recommend anyone on a gap year, to consider choosing one of the Leaps placements. I had the best 6 weeks of my life, made the most amazing friends, and have memories that I will treasure for a lifetime!

Emma Shepard placement in South Africa was arranged with The Leap