Summer Journeys: Charlotte Hay ’24, Building Bonds through Service

Growing up on farms and taking care of horses has been a way of life for Charlotte Hay ’24. Not only has it taught her the value of hard work, but it instilled in her a love of animals.

“I knew I wanted to do volunteer work over the summer that pertained to environmental sustainability. When I found an opportunity at a wildlife orphanage, I knew that I would be familiar with the work I’d be doing, and it also had a focus on something I was passionate about,” says Charlotte.

Charlotte also wanted to do that work in a developing country, where she believed her work could have a greater impact. The Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage met all of her requirements.

Established in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1973, Chipangali—which means open, friendly country—is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the rescue and care of orphaned, injured, abandoned, abused, or confiscated wild animals. Whenever possible, rescued animals and birds are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Chipangali is renowned for its pioneering work, and as one of Africa’s largest and most successful wildlife rehabilitation/release centers. There are currently more than 150 animals and birds in Chipangali’s care.

“Our main objective was to clean habitats, feed and maintain the animals, nurture the babies back to health in the nursery, and to build habitats for new animals and repair them for others,” Charlotte says. “For me, the biggest challenge was cleaning the lion cages. Oftentimes there would be dead animals that were fed to them earlier, with maggots and bugs, and we had to take them all out every day. With nine lions in our care, it came to be a lot of work. The work was a lot of heavy lifting, cutting down trees with machetes for the antelope, building habitats for monkeys, carrying wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow to dump in the waste. It is definitely hard work, but the volunteers around you support you every step of the way.”

Charlotte worked very long days at the orphanage. In the evening, she and the other volunteers would gather around a fire, share stories, and read together. They developed such a strong bond, Charlotte says, that they chose to spend most of their down-time together. That included a safari and a trip to Victoria Falls.

“Being at Chipangali was one of the best experiences of my life,” says Charlotte. “The group of volunteers I worked with were all so kind and such amazing people. They ranged in age from 17 to 56, but most were 19 to 28. There were people from all over the world—the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Peru. Never in my life did I think I’d be friends with people seemingly so different from me, who also live on the other side of the world. From sitting around the fire pit roasting marshmallows and watching movies to jumping off a gorge together, we built such a strong connection with one another. Now, we regularly have Zoom calls, and are hoping to plan a reunion soon!”

Charlotte’s travel was made possible in part by a Robert Keyes Poole ’50 Fellowship grant.

Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole ’50, Taft teacher from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole’s lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.