By Kim Shaw

There comes a time when you know you need to push the boundaries, climb out of that comfortable rut, and do something that stretches you. My weekend volunteering at the Pilanesberg National Park with some of the Pecanwood Pre-Primary teachers was bucket list material!

The teachers have been part of the Wilderness Leadership School’s volunteer work parties since 2014, travelling to Pilanesberg almost monthly to do their bit for the reserve. The year before, their incredible little learners raised a whopping R94 700 for the park’s anti-poaching unit, one of the littlies even handing over all his birthday money to look after the rhinos.

Joan Coetzee, principal of the pre-primary, and several teachers at the school have been regulars ever since, joining WLS’s Uli Goebel on work projects that involve anything from clearing alien vegetation to collecting metal that’s resurfacing on this old farmland. I was privileged to join them last weekend (1-2 April 2017).

We arrived late on Friday afternoon at the boma where they keep sick or injured animals in need of attention. I was quite relieved that my first experience didn’t involve sleeping in the wilderness with no fence between the Big 5 and me, and felt fortunate to be dipping my toes into this experience slowly rather than being tossed in at the deep end! For this city girl, it was a huge eye opener: from the stories around the fire and sharing the passion of the rangers to the depth of the darkness when the camp dies down at night. Watching the Milky Way overhead as it slips gently off into someone else’s world was a soothing escape from the madness of Jozi. And the distant roar of a lion had us all grinning from ear to ear.

We spent a busy – and incredibly hot! – Saturday clearing rocks chain-gang style in the buffer zone near the perimeter of the park, before patching up holes in the fence (and removing a deadly little snare), then heading off to collect incredibly thorny brush cuttings. These were spread out to prevent soil erosion at the back of the shiny new hangar that houses the gorgeous Bat Hawk, a donation from the Copenhagen Zoo for the anti-poaching operations. Our team was also fortunate to meet the pilot of the Bat Hawk, as Gavin Stewart arrived while we were settling in for lunch. Of course we invited him to join us! What an impressive young man – he’s a calm and balanced asset to the team.

The camaraderie on a work party weekend is just as nurturing as the peaceful environment, and our team of five women and three men worked easily alongside one another. Enjoying sundowners at Mankwe Dam was a peaceful end to a busy day.

Sunday morning brought its own strange sounds as two huge hot air balloons soared overhead, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy a different view of the wild life. Down on the ground, Uli was leading us on an informative walk. He’s an excellent teacher and storyteller, and information covered everything from the mighty little dung beetle that pushes around over 13kg of dung during its lifetime, to different types of grass, and the differences between animal dung.

It was an absolute privilege to be part of the Pecanwood College work party weekend, and I encourage more people to gather like-minded colleagues and get involved. Sharing in an experience like this not only helps the park – it’s really good for your soul!

To find out about volunteering, contact us here

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