Whether you’re thinking of a Gap Year Volunteering experience; volunteering on your summer break from university; or taking a career break; you probably have many questions about what to expect! Who better to answer some of those questions than a former (serial) volunteer!
Meet Vincent Verhaert - a former EDGE of AFRICA Volunteer from Belgium!
Who or what inspired you to volunteer?
I studied nature & forest conservation. I think it was just nature calling. Or maybe faith, who knows. Back then I didn’t had a clue how this road would have such a huge effect on my life in the years to come. But to be specific – when we (my fellow student/best friend and I) heard that an international internship in South Africa was possible, we searched on the internet, and tadaaa, Edge was there. Edge Of Africa offered us an excellent conservation program that fit in perfectly with our university requirements. The communication was fast, professional, friendly and direct.
Did you have any previous travel or volunteer experience before volunteering in Africa?
I travel a lot, most of it will be to spot the beauty of nature, soaking nature vibes up like a sponge. But never before was I in Africa. The first time I was accompanied by my fellow student and best friend. The second time I went to Edge of Africa I was alone. Well, at least during the flight. Once I arrived it felt like homecoming. It was incredible to see friends back after a few years. The vibes were stronger than ever. Friendships kept on growing. Also with a lot of lovely local people. The 3rd time I was on a short visit. But again there was a feeling of homecoming, like with family.
What's one thing you wish you'd known before volunteering abroad?
The incredible power that volunteering abroad brings to you, within, as a person. It changes your perspectives totally. If I had known this before, I would have done it way earlier. And in more countries. It should be promoted, maybe even obligated and subsidized in schools. I strongly believe this would be part of a world solution to create, equality, fairness, connection with the world and nature, sustainable awareness, and so on…
What's one item you didn't travel with that you wish you had?
A guitar! But that didn’t take long…The opposite was a harder decision. When I went back home, I couldn’t take everything with me. No problem, I shared it with local people. Keep in mind that materials only have value if there is a story connected to it. Otherwise it’s just “stuff”. Keep your bags empty when you come (or fill it up with useful donations). Trust me, you don’t need all of that “stuff”.
What is your best memory of your volunteering experience?
This is a hard one. I’ve made tons of “best memories.” I think I can put it in one phrase: “ the feeling of connection ”. The blend of connection with nature, communities, local people and international people. Friendship. ONE. It feels like having not one family, but…many, without boundaries in time and space. I am forever grateful!
What was your favourite local food?
I loved the food!!! I was there for some time. So I was lucky to try out many dishes.
Definitely Vetkoek with mince was one of my favorites. A little bit fatty, but yummy! But also, butternut soup, the many delicious braais (barbeques) They just do it better in South Africa!…bobotie, the vegetarian dinners at Judah Square (Rastafari community), boerewors, pap (tried to remake it in Belgium, but we have different types of corn flour, it’s not the same) All the dishes we were given tasted like 4.8 stars restaurants, everyday! ( No 5 stars, then I would be exaggerating. :D) Also (maybe less eco-friendly but amazing in taste): the African game meat and many kinds of excellent biltong. I’m getting hungry already just typing about it. And I didn’t even mention the local fishery and sushi. The fruits…oooh man I remember the fruits, so fresh, juicy and sweet. The bakery! If you have the chance, visit Thyme & Again farm stall. It became a habit for a quick delicious snack. Even their fast food is better! Steers is like McDonalds, the updated version 7.0.! South African food is just my favourite food. And that has got to count for something if you are used to the cookery of Belgium.
What was your favourite activity or excursion?
Again so many… It’s hard to choose. Some that come to the mind: The robberg nature reserve walk was magical. The bungee of course. (Just do it.) Of course all activities in nature and with wildlife. Teaching in high school. Teaching guitar in Judah square on Sundays. Free moments with volunteers (ooh the philosophic conversations… and even the less philosophic conversations!). Addo elephant park. Swimming at drupkelders is a must do if you have the chance! Working at khayalethu. Working with elephants, cheetah, rhino, and all the other animals. It’s one big excursion, it never ends. I remember that I had a lot of dreams at night. My spirit was soaking it all up. Just say yes to everything you are offered to see and do. The only limits you have are the limits you believe. Be rich in life, not in money. You’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. Go big! Redefine your limits!
What is the best piece of advice you could give to somebody thinking of volunteering abroad?
Be humble – be kind – be open minded – connect. Do it now, not later. Or maybe do it now AND later. And if you embrace this adventure, take notes. Write a journal. No blog, take a journal, with pen and paper. Think and reflect, everyday. It may become a handy tool for keeping your vibes high later on when needed.
If you were waiting for a sign: THIS IS IT.
Now go and do it.
Do you have a burning question that we haven't answered?
No problem! We will be hosting a Facebook Live Q&A session with Vincent where you can ask him all about his Volunteer Experience in Africa! Sunday 3rd March 2019 at 19.00 (GMT +1)