3-minute read

Volunteering in South Africa at SANCCOB: A Life-Changing Experience


John Ho

Just your average Singaporean seeking extraordinary experiences locally and abroad.

In 2014, after graduating from university, I decided to take a break from the traditional path of jumping straight into the workforce. I was drawn to the idea of voluntourism, a way to combine travel with volunteering. However, life got in the way, and I never had the chance to pursue this dream until 2023.

As an animal lover, I was particularly interested in volunteering with wildlife. Penguins have always been my favourite animal, and I was thrilled to find SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. SANCCOB is a non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing seabirds, especially endangered African penguins. On top of that, SANCCOB also has a specialist chick-rearing unit that saves African penguin eggs and chicks that have been abandoned, for subsequent release back into the wild. Besides that, SANCCOB also offers education, training and research opportunities. With such a vast array of services catered to the sustainability of seabirds and penguins, this organisation is as legitimate as it gets. The full-time staff and volunteers are all very professional and passionate about the work they do, and I knew I was in the right hands. The cherry on top was the hands-on experience, where I could actually physically interact with the penguins, and that was where SANCCOB delivered.

Preparing for the Experience

I knew that volunteering at SANCCOB would be physically demanding, so I was mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. I also took care of the practical aspects of planning for an overseas trip, such as arranging accommodation and flights. Since SANCCOB didn't require any prior experience, I was confident that I would receive the necessary training on the job.

The only requirement was a tetanus vaccination, which I got before my departure.

Unique Experiences and Global Connections

As a volunteer at SANCCOB, I was the only Asian international volunteer during my six-week stint. This brought a unique perspective to the group, and I enjoyed sharing my culture and experiences with my fellow volunteers.

One of the most memorable moments was participating in a penguin release trip at the Stony Point Nature Reserve, located in Betty's Bay. We released over 30 penguins, both blues and adults, back into the wild. It was an incredible experience to witness the culmination of months of rehabilitation efforts.

Spending one-on-one time with a penguin

Another highlight was learning how to hand-feed the penguins and handle them without getting bitten. It was challenging, but also rewarding to interact with these amazing creatures.

Working with volunteers from around the world made my time at SANCCOB even more special. We formed strong bonds and supported each other through the ups and downs of volunteering. It was difficult to say goodbye after six weeks, but I made lifelong friends and cherished memories.

Lessons Learned and Advice for Others

My volunteer experience at SANCCOB taught me several valuable lessons:

Find things you truly enjoy doing. My passion for wildlife conservation fueled my determination to succeed, even when the work was tough. This is something I genuinely wanted to do, and wanted to make the most out of this experience.

Teamwork makes the dream work. Collaborating with my fellow volunteers made the experience more enjoyable and productive.

If you're considering volunteering abroad, especially for wildlife conservation, I encourage you to follow these steps:

  • Narrow down your focus. Decide which wildlife you'd like to volunteer with or what you'd like to do for them.
  • Do your research. Ensure that the organisation you're considering is legitimate and reputable. When searching for volunteer opportunities abroad, I relied heavily on Google and online reviews to find reputable organisations.

Impact on Wildlife Conservation

My time at SANCCOB contributed to the conservation of endangered African penguins. The daily work of volunteers like me ensures that these animals receive proper care, nutrition, and medical attention, preparing them for their release back into their natural habitat.

By providing care and rehabilitation, we increased the chances of these penguins surviving and thriving in the wild.

My volunteering experience at SANCCOB was an enriching and transformative journey. I gained valuable life skills, made lifelong friends, and contributed to the conservation of endangered wildlife. I encourage everyone to explore volunteer opportunities abroad. Volunteering offers a unique way to combine travel, personal growth, and making a positive impact on the world.