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Featured Participant Story: Namibia

Elephant & Community Water Access Volunteering in Namibia

In 2021, I was fortunate enough to participate on a program with Kaya Responsible Travel, working with a nonprofit that tracks elephant activity along the Ugab River in Namibia, Africa. Since I was young, I have always been motivated by serving others. I thought there was no better way to do that than to be in the field. Then I stumbled across Kaya Responsible Travel online. The locations featured on the website made it feel possible to explore the places I have always wanted to explore. As I scrolled through the website and read the bios of each trip, I fantasized about being there and being a part of a volunteer experience.

I was so interested in Africa as a whole, each country, each culture, history, native animals, etc. I would watch documentaries about Africa and try to teach myself as much as I could. One night I had a very vivid dream that I went to Africa, that next morning, I woke up and applied for the trip on the Kaya website. The prompt response from the Kaya team allowed them to build credibility, knowing this could be a trusted company. I went forward to work with Kaya, and after months of planning, it was time to fly solo to Namibia Africa. Just the flights there lit a flame for me finding my new passion of traveling.

 

Arriving in Namibia

I landed in Namibia just before sunrise. I remember thinking my physical body was in Africa, but I had finally made it. I sat in the back of the plane and luckily enough had the entire row to myself. I slept the entire flight! The flight attendant opened the back door and a breathtaking 360 sunrise welcomed me. All I wanted to do was get out and explore. I was so excited and the flight attendant knew where I was going on my endeavors. She let me peek my camera outside so I could take the most blurry off-centered photo of the sunrise, which brought me the most joy.

The next day after I finally arrived at Basecamp, it looked just like the pictures I saw online and I couldn’t believe I was there in person. I had to unload my bags and then I was off to go explore. I was the only person with hot pink suitcases which naturally gave me the nickname of pinky, suitcase, and Miss America. Everyone else had hiking backpacks. The first night we settled in by going over rules, getting familiar with the area, and setting up our sleeping bags and bug nets. The guides Herman and Andres made us dinner the first night and explained how the next two weeks would go.

A ‘Typical’ Day in Namibia

After a full night of sleeping under the Milky Way, I would awaken before the sun. The “Duty Team” is the group of the day that would prepare each meal and clean up breakfast and lunch until the next team took over for dinner clean up until the following day. A typical day during build week was waking up around 6 am, enjoying oatmeal, peanut butter, and coffee for breakfast then hopping into the safari car and heading to the area where we would dig the pipeline for the elephant watering hole during dig week. During conservation week we would drive around, follow the animals, take notes of their behavior, and set up camp for the night wherever it was safe.

Experiencing the True Namibia

It is so difficult to pick my favorite day, each day felt like a dream and there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. One day that comes to mind as a great memory is the first day of seeing elephants. It was on a weekend we had off, and it was the first of the two nights we would be sleeping back at base camp. We were allowed a beer or wine in moderation so a few of us took a bottle of wine on a hike to enjoy at the top while watching the sunset. After our trek to the top of the mountain, we found rocks warmed by the sun to cozy up on and pour cups of wine. While sipping and enjoying the sunset along the then-dried-up Ugab river, the “Mama Africa” heard of elephants came strutting down the river munching on branches that hugged the river bed. Watching from a birds-eye view, I couldn’t believe I was seeing such beautiful animals in the wild, I was itching to get closer. We quietly scurried down the mountain to stand on the same ground as the elephants to watch them munch and drink from the well at base camp.

Cultural Exchange with Namibian Locals

Aside from the first day of seeing elephants at the base camp. I loved interacting with the locals and exchanging culture. One young boy named Noah who was a local in one of the villages we visited loved to run, play soccer, go to school, and ride his donkey. He was always ready to learn, he looked forward to school and dreamed of becoming an Olympic runner one day. He had a lot of questions about America and hoped to go to New York City one day, being from New York he was interested in my stories.

One day he came to camp wearing a New York City shirt that was donated to him so he could show me. He and I engaged in conversation and shared stories, hobbies, and favorite food recipes. Noah asked about S’mores, saying he has always wanted to try roasting a marshmallow to make a s’more. One of the days the guides spent the day at the store I asked them to get marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. Earlier that day I told Noah to come to camp after dinner for a surprise. Noah arrived and he had a s’more station waiting for him, he was so happy he didn’t say anything and ran away to get his friends. He came back with three friends, happy as could be. We gathered sticks for roasting and I began to show Noah and his friends how to roast a marshmallow, and made him try a golden brown one and a burnt one to see what he would like better, but he truly had no preference. We went through the entire bag of marshmallows that night. It was the best stomach ache I’ve ever had.

If you’re interested in learning more about or applying to the Elephant & Community Water Access Volunteering Program in Namibia – check out our links!

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