Sunday, March 21, 2010

Volunteering

By now some of you are wondering, "Hey, how can I get a piece of this action?" (The rest of you are muttering, "Hey, how crazy IS Barbara?")

Well, of course, you can always come to Harnas as a guest and stay in one of the bungalows. You'd get to take the feeding tours, see lots of wild animals, and even touch a few. But because of liability issues that always rear their ugly heads--even in Namibia--guests have limited contact with the wild animals. But for many people, that's okay. Petting a tame cheetah, playing with baby warthogs and jackals, maybe holding a baby baboon might be enough for you.

But if you want the real deal, getting dirty and involved, working harder than you've ever worked before and loving it--then you should consider becoming a volunteer.

Most of the volunteers are between 18-30, but Harnas also has special weeks set aside twice a year for "Mature" volunteers--the over-40 crowd. (Not to imply that the other volunteers are "immature.") They've also had sessions exclusively for couples who want to come together.

As a volunteer, you stay in a cabin with three other people, sleep on a cot, eat with the other volunteers, and work in groups to prepare food, feed animals, clean enclosures, take walks with animals, and do what is called "farm work"--which includes anything from picking up bones from the Wild Dog enclosures to raking weeds to putting up fences. You'll sweat and bleed and get great satisfaction for doing more physical work than you've probably done in a long time--if ever.

It's how I started at Harnas. I was definitely in the "mature" category, but back in 2007 there wasn't a special session for us Oldies. I just worked alongside the 20-somethings. Sure I had to go to bed earlier so that I could maintain my energy level, but it was worth every drop of sweat.

One of the things that a volunteer group did recently was empty, clean, and refill one of the big waterholes in a baboon enclosure. I watched these guys at work--and play (because, let's face it, it's hard not to stop work and play with baboons every once in a while--especially when they jump on you, swing from you, and generally drag you into their games).

They worked hard all day emptying the hole and scrubbing it out. The real fun began when they started filling it again. Baboons love water. They jump in it, swim in it, slide into it, drink from the hose, and act just like we all did when we were kids playing in the front yard sprinklers.

The sense of accomplishment the volunteers felt at the end of the day was palpable--something you don't feel after winning a video game, watching sports, or just hanging out, as so many people spend their time doing these days. This was old-fashioned work, and there was plenty of old-fashioned pride to go around when the deed was done. They all took pictures of their work. When was the last time that you felt so proud of something you had done that you wanted a picture to remember it? (Yeah, let's take a picture of that report for work. How about a photo of your tax forms all filled out?)

And the real sense of accomplishment came when they saw how the animals appreciate what they had done, such as the baboon in this clip enjoying a leisurely swim--and then a not-so leisurely run around the enclosure (where you can see all their "toys").

Volunteers can stay from 2 weeks to 3 months. But no matter how long they stay, they all say the same thing: Harnas changes them in good ways they never imagined.And with their good work, they help Harnas.

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