Preparing to be a Volunteer
Volunteering with the Vervet Monkey Foundation (VMF) is a unique and fulfilling experience, and it will be all the more rewarding if you are prepared before travelling. Having everything organised early on will leave time to get excited without having to worry about the logistics, and will ensure that you can get maximum enjoyment once you arrive.
Preparing to travel
Booking travel arrangements in advance is essential for an easy journey to the VMF and will also ensure the best deals on flights. The nearest airport is OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, and it is best to book a flight that lands before 8am – this will ensure that you can catch a bus from Pretoria that day rather than finding somewhere to sleep for the night. You can catch the Gautrain from the airport that will go to Pretoria, from where a bus will take you to Tzaneen. This will need to be booked in advance, and can be done through the VMF. The bus leaves at 10:30am, but if the flight lands too late, Pretoria Backpackers is a suitable place to stay for the night before catching the bus the following morning. From Tzaneen, there will be a lift to the VMF.
In the lead up to your departure, you will need to consult the doctor about any vaccinations that will be necessary for the trip. These sometimes need to be carried out a few weeks or even months before your departure, so check straight away to be sure that they are done on time.
What to pack
The amenities at the VMF are basic but comfortable and this may influence your packing decisions. For example, the volunteer village has no electricity and although there are opportunities to charge accessories at the cottage, items such as hairdryers and tablets may not be necessary. On the other hand, a re-chargeable or solar-powered lamp would be useful in the cabin. For storage there is a small box for each volunteer but that is all, so bringing as little as possible is sensible, particularly when it comes to valuables.
For detailed information on what to bring, there is a kit list on page 12 of the volunteer information pack. However, there are shops in nearby Tzaneen that should stock anything that you may have left behind. Volunteers are given a day off each week during which they can go into Tzaneen to buy anything that they need or to explore the town, and it is advisable to bring some cash as paying with card is not possible everywhere and can incur charges. Organising your currency before you travel allows you to compare exchange rates to find the best deal, and will give you more for your money than waiting until you are at the airport. It is also advisable to store cash in two or three different parts of luggage; this will ensure that if your hand luggage is lost or stolen, for example, there will still be some cash for emergencies. In such events it is helpful to have travel insurance as it could dramatically reduce any costs caused by accidents or emergencies. Government websites provide advice on what cover is suitable for what type of travel and can help to ensure you are correctly insured. You must be able to prove to the VMF that you have medical insurance before you depart, and they must be provided with a copy of the details.
Staying safe in South Africa
It is important to remember that different countries have different laws and social habits, and it is essential to check before travelling in order to check them upon arrival. South Africa, for example, prohibits smoking in public areas. If you are a smoker, therefore, check before you leave where it is permissible to smoke. It is also advised that you practice caution for your personal security – by using common sense and not flashing cash or expensive gadgets around, for example, you should be able to avoid any incidents. You may also be required to do some driving while at the VMF but be sure to take care on the roads as the UK Government website suggests that the standard of driving ability is variable in South Africa.
Working with primates
While the vervet monkey population are used to having volunteers around, they are still wild animals and are not tame. Understanding and remembering this is key to your safety, and volunteers are required to sign an indemnity form at the start of their placement that states that you understand you are working at your own risk. This is a precaution, and as long as you listen to the advice given to you by the VMF there should be no problems for the duration of your placement.
When you visit the doctor before you travel to ask about vaccinations that you will need, you must ask for an anti-tetanus jab before you are allowed to work with the monkeys and a test for tuberculosis. These are essential and failure to prove that you have had either or these will result in you not being able to work with the primates.
Once all of the technical details and arrangements have been made, you will be able to get the most out of your volunteering placement with the Vervet Monkey Foundation. It really is a wonderful experience that you will never forget, and you will be helping to protect one of Africa's most intelligent and beautiful species.