Yvonne first volunteered with us in 2014, and has since visited our Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme a record four times! We caught up with her in February 2019, as her fourth volunteer project was coming to an end.
CTA: When was the first time you volunteered in Zimbabwe, and what made you decide to choose this Rhino & Elephant programme?
Yvonne: “The first time I came to Imire was in 2014.
I had done some volunteering with children in different parts of Africa, and found it extremely stressful to leave them behind when I went home to Canada. So I decided I was going to try some volunteering with animals. I had always been interested in this part of Africa because when I was younger, apartheid in South Africa was a huge issue, so I wanted to see what Southern Africa was like post-apartheid, and I was particularly interested in Zimbabwe. So I literally googled ‘volunteering with animals in Zimbabwe’ and this project came up. And I have always loved elephants so it seemed like a great fit.”
CTA: How many times have you volunteered in Zimbabwe?
Yvonne: “This is my fourth time and it definitely will not be my last. For me this is a second home. I feel when I am here that I am close to the land, close to the people and close to the animals. For me it is a perfect storm.”
CTA: What makes Imire and Zimbabwe so special for you?
Yvonne: “An elephant named Toto, who is no longer with us – he certainly made it a special place for me. I think there is a constancy of life here that is very welcoming and very inviting. But there are also constant changes, that are also very exciting. So every time I come, there are new things and different things, and people are doing their things different ways, and things have happened with animals – animals have had babies, and its just a very special place.”
CTA: So you would say you have formed bonds for life here?
Yvonne: “Yes indeed. I would like to even be buried here.”
CTA: Do you think you have changed since the first time you came?
Yvonne: “I think it is impossible to either do any meaningful volunteer experience, or to come to Africa for any reason, without being changed.
I think both those things change you forever, and I know that every time I come to Africa I leave a better person than I arrived.”
CTA: Do you think the Rhino & Elephant project is a good fit for older volunteers?
Yvonne: “I think older volunteers under-estimate themselves. I think they read what they are going to be doing and they think, ‘Oh I can’t do 100% of that, so they aren’t going to want me.’
I’ve volunteered with everyone from 12 to 75 years old and each of those age groups brings with them something different. Whether its an energy level, an experience, a wisdom, a passion – each group brings something new. And I think older volunteers, as long as they are prepared to be truly open, truly compassionate and not get into ‘well this is the way I do it’, and are really open to learning and respecting the cultures and the animals, then I think its a wonderful place to be.”
CTA: Do you have any advice for older volunteers?
Yvonne: “I would say, do not underestimate yourself. Truly look for something that matches your passion – and if that’s elephants, find a place with elephants, if its turtles, find a place with turtles, if its reading with children, find a place that offers that.
Find your passion, find your compassion and go out and do it – it’s an amazing experience.”
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