Monday, November 19, 2012

You've Got Questions...

And I'm here with the answers.

Since launching my IndieGoGo Campaign earlier this month, I've been asked a number of questions so here is my attempt at providing a few answers.

Why South Africa?

Not as simple as you might first think. You see at the end of this year, I will be celebrating a birthday (one that starts with 4 and ends with 0). Back in the spring, I was suffering a certain feeling of impeding doom accompanied by the inevitable sense of "What have I done with my life?" This coincided with my family starting to think how they could help me best celebrate my birthday and Christmas. The result, they decided, was to help me go on a trip to do something I had always wanted to do.

Thus Africa.

Once we started looking and gasping at the expense of some locations, my sister found Original Volunteers, a UK-based organization with a program in South Africa working with primates. Great! A little more digging and I learned that Jane Goodall's Chimp Eden Sanctuary was also nearby.

And as they would say on the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

Why Pay to Volunteer?

This is a question that frequently comes up. If you're volunteering, why do you have to pay? There are some programs out there that charge through the roof, we're talking more than $1000 a week, for the opportunity to volunteer. The programs I have chosen are incredibly reasonable by comparison since I am paying purely for basic room and board.

So What Else Do You Have to Pay For?

While the program costs are relatively low, there are other expenses involved in my trip. Insurance is a biggie, particularly given that I will be working on another continent with wild animals. Another expense is vaccinations - more about that later. And of course, flights to South Africa.

What Exactly Will You Be Doing?

Fulfilling a dream!
Making a difference!

Ok, you want a bit more, I know. The work is not glamorous. If you think I'll be spending all day cuddling baby monkeys, sorry to disappoint. At each location, I will be working five days a week, helping to build and repair enclosures, cleaning enclosures, preparing food for the animals, and so on.

At Chimp Eden, I can also undertake a week long program geared to teaching me about chimps, their habitat, conservation issues and so on.

During my time off at weekends, I plan to visit Kruger National Park, Pretoria, and other surrounding areas.

Is It Safe?

Safety is obviously a huge issue. How safe is it to be working with primates? And how safe is South Africa? Let's deal with the latter question first.

A few years ago, when I traveled to Mexico, everyone kept asking us if we were worried about going there, especially since we'd be going through Juarez and Chihuahua. Once there and later, I heard from Mexicans who asked how did I feel safe in the US, where people have guns.

It's all about perspective. And a good measure of common sense. In Mexico, I was not walking around  unfamiliar city streets after dark. But then, I probably wouldn't do the same in LA, DC, or many other US cities.

When I arrive at Johannesburg, the organization will be meeting me to take me to the sanctuary. I will be doing some travel but will be following the same common sense tips that I would use anywhere.

Now about the animals. Chimp Eden was in the news earlier this year when a visiting student was horrifically attacked by a chimp. We all heard about the woman in the US who was mauled several years ago. As a teen, the zoo near my home has an incident where a keeper lost his arm.

All primates are wild animals. It is all to easy to look at a cute monkey and think they are cuddly. Think again. They are not pets. They are not a source of entertainment. They should be treated with caution and respect at ALL times. Chimp Eden has a strict no contact policy. The goal is for the chimps to live as they would in the wild, which means with minimal human contact. We observe. We learn. We do NOT touch.

So About Those Vaccinations...

I don't like needles any more than the average person, but if I want to go to Africa, they are a necessity. My TB should be up to date but I will need shots for cholera and rabies, probably hepatitis too. The information I've received for malaria is conflicting so I will be checking with several experts, but I will probably need anti-malaria pills on the grounds of better safe than sorry.

Then What?

I expect this trip to be more than a vacation. I will be using it as a chance to learn and study as much as I can. Once I return, I plan to compile a collection of photos, and a nonfiction work. I also hope to sell some articles to magazines. Finally, I will be preparing a presentation to offer to local schools about my experiences. My niece's school in England has already asked if I can speak to them.

I will also be blogging about my experiences.

Hopefully, this answered most of your questions, but if not,, leave a comment and I will answer ASAP.

If you would like to make a contribution to my trip, please visit I'm Not Monkeying Around.

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