In 2013, we founded a veterinary-focused volunteer program in South Africa which trained students to help the animals in our community (now called the “Vet Experience” program). After several years, our local animals were showing huge overall improvement and hundreds of volunteers had gained real-world vet experience. Many animals need help and many students need experience, so why shouldn’t students gain experience by helping animals? With the success of our program, we wondered if there were other veterinary volunteer programs with similar values. It turns out that there are thousands of animal-related volunteer programs around the world that fall under the label of “voluntourism”. According to the International Ecotourism Society, “Voluntourism is the practice of individuals going on a nonpaid working holiday for the purpose of volunteering themselves to worthy causes.” That sounds like the ideal vacation to us- explore a new country, help someone in need, and have fun doing it! Unfortunately, some volunteer agencies sell “volunteer” experiences that are more focused on the holiday aspect than helping the community, and in the worst cases are actually detrimental. Our goal has always been to balance animal care, vet experience, and world travel, so we took it upon ourselves to find other programs that share our values; thus, Safari4u Global Vet Experience (GVE) was born. GVE connects students, vet nurses and qualified vets with programs that provide a comprehensive education and a long-term, sustainable impact on local animals.
Our mission is to help volunteers gain veterinary experience while improving animal health and welfare around the world.
“Global” has several meanings to us:
- Comprehensive education: we cover all major aspects of veterinary medicine, as well as specialized areas.
- Species variety: we work with dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, goats, and a wide range of exotic species.
- Levels of experience: we have programs for all levels of education and experience.
- World travel: we believe that experiencing other cultures is important for a well-balanced life and career.
- One health: we understand that animal health is closely connected to human health and the environment.
How do we know that our partner programs are genuinely interested in helping animals and teaching students? We work closely with each new partner, check 501(c)(3) registration status and other credentials, meet face-to-face with their Board of Directors, and speak to recent volunteers. We’re in regular communication with our partners so that we can keep volunteers up to date.
Why pay to volunteer?
Unfortunately, many volunteer organizations don’t have enough funding to house and feed volunteers. In some cases, a volunteer house is donated or paid for by donations, but more often the program pays for it. There are also utilities (including wifi and laundry), airport transfers, and many other costs associated with operating a volunteer program. Part of the program fee covers the cost of what volunteers use so that the program can use its funding to help the animals.
The program fee also supports the animals directly, i.e. supplies, equipment, staff salaries, rent for clinics and other structures, transportation, etc. Again, some of these things are donated, but they’re able to do even more with our funding- in some cases, the volunteer program is the main source of funding for the charity/clinic. It’s also an incentive for them to keep taking volunteers and offering quality training. In addition to the minimum funding requirement, we make an extra donation to our non-profit partners.
We believe in transparency- if you book through our website, we make a small commission. Our Volunteer Coordinators handle marketing and bookings so that our partner programs can focus on helping animals and teaching students. All of our Coordinators were (or still are) volunteers themselves, so they’re best suited to help future volunteers. We are not a non-profit organization, but we are working towards 501(c)(3) US non-profit registration and we hope to achieve this by 2020.