For her first solo trip overseas, 24-year-old Nikita Hannah chose voluntourism in South Africa, teaching underprivileged schoolchildren near Kruger National Park.
When she landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nikita had no idea what to expect. She’d done her research and chosen Daktari Bush School based upon a friend’s recommendation. Only a month after making her decision Nikita was in the air and nervous as hell, excited for her solo volunteer adventure.
“Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going there,” Nikita admits. “It’s like a tiny village, Hoedspruit, and you fly from Johannesburg to get there. It’s a 45-minute flight and then an hour of travelling into the bush, so it really is in the middle of nowhere!”
“Obviously on my way over there I was scared and a bit anxious,” she continues. “I had mixed emotions – excited, but a bit daunted because it was my first overseas trip by myself, but then as soon as I arrived in Johannesburg I even felt safe there. The people were lovely when I arrived, so friendly and accommodating.”
One intense bushwhacking session later and Nikita was there. Daktari is a school and wildlife orphanage located a stone’s throw from the world famous Kruger National Park. The school’s aim is to educate underprivileged children, teaching them to respect the environment, animals, each other, and most importantly, themselves. Throughout the whole Nikita felt safe, looked after, and appreciated.
“I was lucky because knew a bit about it from a friend,” Nikita says. “Like that there’s other volunteers, that you get a different group of children every week from the three local schools in Hoedspruit, and that they do daily tours for you. They’ve even got their own personal tour guide, he’s retired now, so he just does tours for the volunteers. I completely took advantage of that and did as much as I could. They make sure you have the time to do as much as possible.”
To Nikita, the experience was both unique and challenging; and she learnt so much about herself, the children, and other ways of life.
“My favourite part was probably lunch time. These were the two hours that we had to bond with the children every day, so we’d play games, go swimming and just really get to know each other. The kids played with balls and used skipping ropes and their imaginations, and we even did three-legged races. That was really my favourite part, bonding with them, and then on Thursday nights, the night before the kids leave, they taught us all about their culture and they really came out of their shells. Hearing their laughing and seeing their smiling faces, that was really the most enjoyable part of it all.”
When packing up and going somewhere new you never know exactly what you’re in for, and Daktari was no exception. Every day held something new and different, and no matter how familiar Nikita got with the routine there were always surprises in store, whether it was the challenge of teaching when she’d never done it before, overcoming language barriers, or being surprised by a gargantuan porcupine while eating dinner.
“Spikey the porcupine. He was huge! This big, massive wild porcupine, he’d come into the main area every night – he’s completely wild – and we’d all play with him, feed him carrots, tickle him behind his ears – we all loved him. The dogs didn’t even worry about him, they’d even chase other porcupines off because they knew they weren’t Spikey. It was amazing.”
Now sitting at home and flicking through her travel diary, seeing photos of amazing wildlife and the children laughing, and remembering how often they stole her camera to take pictures of themselves, Nikita thinks about how lucky she is, and about how nerve-wracking it was getting onto that plane, stepping into that classroom.
“I’d always wanted to go to Africa and see the animals, so I thought why not put two and two together. I loved the children and it was such a different experience. I wanted to do something different not just go and travel and live the high life. I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I think that’s why it was so important to go.”
Interview by Jiyan Dessens