Former volunteer, Mengjiao Huang, joined us for a couple of weeks earlier this year. One of our aims is to protect and promote the Cape West Coast as an ecotourism destination, and it is truly satisfying to see our volunteers leave with the same aim.
“My name is Mengjiao Huang. I come from China. I’m now a college student and studying in Ocean University of China. Last year, my friend asked me if I wanted to volunteer abroad with her. I said yes without hesitation. I’ve never heard of IVHQ before. After I browsed the website, I thought it was a reliable organization with many volunteers. Because our major is ecology, we applied for Coastal and Biosphere Conservation in South Africa, which is related to ecology. After accepted by IVHQ, I was very excited, because this is my first time to volunteer abroad. At the same time, before departure, I was a bit worried about the difficulties we would meet.
Before departure, we met a big problem. We didn’t get our visa for a long time since we submitted our application because of a long time stay in South Africa. We waited for a long time with disappointment. At the time when I thought I would lost the chance for volunteer just the day before departure, luckily, our visas arrived. I think we are lucky enough.
We are picked up in the morning the day when our program began, and transferred to our destination, Langebaan. Our house is clean and tidy with good environment and can satisfy my daily life. We live with the staff, Alice, Caitlin and Genevieve. They are friendly and help us a lot. I used to worry about security, because I heard that South Africa is not as safe as China. In fact, it’s safe in Langebaan. The house has a good safeguard. When we go out, we are given a phone to keep in touch with staff. Food there is delicious. Although it is different from Chinese food, I really like it. There are another three volunteers working with me. Three of us are Chinese, and one comes from Canada. All of us will stay for two weeks. It’s nice for me to meet new people.
The program began with Alice’s introduction of South Africa and the program. In the afternoon, we went to Langebaan beach which was close to our house, and did bird survey, including identifying and counting birds, recorded their name, number, behaviour location, disturbance and some other information for further research. Through binoculars, I could see birds far away. They were flying over water, walking or feeding on the beach or diving into water. Blue sky, limpid ocean and flying birds, everywhere is a beautiful picture. South Africa has a high biodiversity. And I could identify several birds in a short afternoon.
On Tuesday, also the second day, in the morning, we set out early at 7:30 and drove for a long time to Fossil Park for bird survey and camera traps. At there, I saw the nests of weaver hanging on the tree. They are very special. We went to several wetlands in the park for bird survey. Vegetation there is short fynbos, which is quite different from that in China. When I got out of the car, I was shocked by the beautiful view in front of me. Amazing! Birds living here can be very happy, I think. We did the same work as before. There were many kinds of birds and we used a bird book to help identify them. Camera trap is a camera with a sensor and used to take picture of wild animals to study their behaviour and species richness. We set a camera trap in the place where we found footprints and porcupine spines. Animals might often walk down this road. We set another camera trap on a slope where there were many holes to see what animal lived in them. It’s a wise and interesting method.
On Wednesday, we went to Khwa Ttu, another reserve and did bird survey and game counts. I saw many animals here, such as springbok, zebra and ostrich. I was very excited because I only saw them on TV before. Some of them were hidden behind bushes and it’ was difficult to find them. And some ran away fast. Some just stood and looked at us. Maybe this is why they’re usually caught by people. When we found an animal, we would be glad to shout loudly.
On Thursday morning, we went to another place called Elandsfontein to put in camera traps and did bird survey. In the afternoon, we went to local kindergarten and played with children. We taught them to play games and painting with them. I had fun staying with children. I’m glad I can do something for them.
On Friday, we went to different beaches for bird survey. Then we did beach clean. There were a lot of garbage on the beach, like plastic and cigarette end. Most of them came from human activities and did great harm to ocean animals, because animals may mistake them for food and eat them. So beach clean is necessary. I saw someone else also doing this work, which made me feel pleasant. However, I believe cleaning can’t remove all the garbage. They can be produced by people constantly. And the best way is to prevent people from dropping litter on beach. In the afternoon, we stayed in house and put data in computer which was recorded in the wild. I saw pictures taken by camera traps. They recorded all behaviour of animals, which was quite interesting.
Following a rich week, weekend was coming. We spent two days traveling in Cape Town and really have fun. Before the second week, the local staff talked with each of us for our opinion about the accommodation, food, and our work. I can feel that CTRCI is very diligent and improves itself all the time.
The work we did the second week was almost the same as that in the first week. Comparing with last week, I could identify more birds. We went to some new beaches for bird survey. And we sorted garbage collected last week into the recyclable and the unrecyclable. On Thursday afternoon, we went to another school and taught children English. Although English is one of official languages in South Africa, children in grade five still could not spell many words correctly, which made me feel a little astonished.
Two weeks passed quickly. I used to identify plants in the mountain and small marine animals by the sea. So our work makes me feel familiar. And that is what I like to do. It’s a memorable experience for me, because it’s not only a valuable work to help protect birds and other animals in South Africa, but also changes me a lot. After entering in university, I always stay in school. What accompany me all day are cell phone and computer. The volunteer makes me blend in nature, not just seeing them on the book or TV, because we almost spend the whole day outside. I can actually feel the nature, quiet but powerful. In the past, I always said I love ecology. I wanted to be engaged in related scientific research in the future. But I even haven’t experience a true field survey, and IVHQ provided me the chance. I’m about to graduate from university and now at a stage to choose my way of following life. The choice can be my career in the future. I use to be confused. This experience gives me some ideas. Thanks to it, I think I have to rethink my decision for what to do in the future.
As we know, our environment are destroyed. I usually read the news and watch documentaries about endangered or extinct animals. The main reason for their reduction is people’s unreasonable hunting and pollution. I feel harrowed about this and always want to do something for them. Through IVHQ in South Africa, I have chance to experience the habitat of wild animals. IVHQ brings me responsibility to protect them. So I share my experience and feelings, and hope that it can attract more volunteer who has the same feeling as me to do this meaningful work”.