If you're travelling to New Zealand this year and participating on the ISV NZ Adventure Tour, your tour leader will be Elliot Smith. Some alumni from South Africa will fondly remember him as their Project Leader as well.
How did you start with ISV?
In 2009 I joined ISV as a participant in South Africa. Then studying Biology, I was placed in a conservation project working with Cheetahs and Wild dogs just outside of Pretoria. This is where I fell in love with Africa. My two-week volunteer project strengthened my passion for conservation and it was then that I made a vow to return to Africa as soon possible.
In 2011, as promised, I returned to South Africa after being hired as a Project Leader with ISV where I led six groups. It was then, during the Community Development Projects, that I discovered a passion for helping people. This surprised me because I had been very conservation minded beforehand. It was a great learning experience.
What inspires you most about your work?
My work inspires me in so many ways but what I love most about it is the people. I often receive emails from past participants saying how ISV has enriched their lives in so many ways. Whether it is continuing to travel, volunteering or reunions, it fills me with deep pride to know that I have been part of their life changing experience. Their enthusiasm makes my job such a joy. I recall being in Nairobi, after 2 amazing weeks overlanding through Tanzania and Kenya thinking not about my action packed trip, but about wanting to return to South Africa as soon as possible to pick up my next Project group. It is a testament to all the amazing people who I have had the privilege of leading in the past.
Now you’re going to be a tour leader for ISV in New Zealand, where you were born. Why did you apply for that position?
Having experienced the ISV program through volunteering and then as a Project Leader, I was very interested in the Tour Leading component of the program. This inspired me to apply for the role, and after recently completing Tour Leading training in Thailand I’m extremely excited to Tour Lead in my home country of New Zealand.
What are you doing after the ISV season has finished?
When this ISV season finishes I am returning to Africa to continue humanitarian work, this time in Uganda and Rwanda. I am spending a month in Rwanda, just outside of Kigali, helping build a small eco-friendly community orientated village. In Uganda I am part of a team whose goal is to revive an abandoned Orphanage in the northwest. It will require a lot of time and effort but the reward far exceed any monetary value.
How many countries have you been to and what’s your favourite and why?
My passion in life is traveling and I have traveled to 26 countries. Australia to America, Botswana to Borneo, Canada to China, Scotland to Swaziland ….I’m only just getting started. If I was to choose a favourite it would be Tanzania. From the idyllic island of Zanzibar, the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, to the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam, and the Great Migration in the Serengeti, I have enjoyed every minute in this amazing country. The mix of cultures and religions have made it a new and exciting adventure wherever I have travelled. I think the sentimental value of using childhood Lion King phrases such as ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Santi Sana’ in everyday life may be a reason that I fell in love with Tanzania.
You’re vegetarian! Would you care to share why you made this lifestyle choice?
Recently vegetarian, I have really enjoyed my decision to change for ethical and environmental reasons. Having studied biology and ecology at University and being passionate about the environment I live in, I’ve known for a long time the impacts that mass production and mass hunting have on our environment. The way in which we treat the animals we turn into our ”food” is horrible and I (personally) no longer wanted to support it. For me, this has been the right decision and would highly recommend everyone to try it once in their life.
Is there anything else you want to say to ISV’s community?
A lot of people ask me how I have managed to accomplish all that I have in my life and I tell them that through hard work and dedication you can achieve almost anything! I often hear people say they wish they could “do this or that” but give excuses as to why they can’t. The unfortunate thing is they can and the only thing that is holding them back is themselves. My advice is that if you want something, set your mind on it, don’t make up reasons as to why you can’t do it, don’t sit around and wait for it to happen but actively work towards it and you will find that one day it will be in your hands.
Best of luck this season Elliot. We know the ISV NZ participants are in good hands on their adventure tour!