CONTACT Live your passion. Make a difference. Volunteer and Explore.


Volunteer and Explore was founded in 2006 by Ali Paulus who was inspired by her own amazing experiences volunteering with wildlife. She dreamed of offering other young people the chance to have a special experience like hers. But Ali also saw the many opportunities to make a difference with the help of volunteers. Volunteer and Explore focuses on uplifting the lives of the special kids in local townships who don’t have much chance at education and other resources to get them out of their situation. The V and E team is passionate about standing up for conservation and against animal cruelty and poaching. “I am so proud of what we do at Volunteer and Explore,” says Ali. “It’s about community, it’s about getting involved and it’s all about making a difference.” 

Our Promise

We promise to be responsible and reliable, to support our volunteers and provide them with a safe, happy, memorable experience. We promise also to use every opportunity to uplift the communities in which we work and make a difference wherever we can, with whatever skills and resources that are available to us.

Meet The Team

Ali Paulus


Ali is very proudly South African, born and raised in Pretoria and now based in Cape Town. She had her first encounter with the world of volunteering at 16 at the Animal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC) under the direction of wildlife rehabilitator, Karen Trendler. “I was lucky enough to work hands-on with abandoned baby rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, aardvarks… you name it, we looked after it,” says Ali. She also worked alongside wildlife filmmaker, Kim Wolhuter in Ethosha, Namibia and at Mala Mala, South Africa.

Ali firmly believes that if you do good, good will come to you. She runs a charity which raises awareness of and funding for Congenital Muscular Dystrophy patients  – – and she’s devoted to uplifting the vibrant but poor community of Masiphumelele township, close to where she lives. One of Ali’s most special achievements is helping to found The Township Sisters, a partnership with Mandy (one of the Volunteer and Explore team) and other ladies of Masi, who take visitors on walking tours around the community and treat them to a unique insight into township life, food and people. It’s a project that simultaneously brings money into the township, creates sustainable employment opportunities and gives outsiders a real but safe taste of this different world.

Ali is also a dedicated mom to Leah and fully understands the concern of parents sending their kids on a volunteering trip. “All of our core team have kids and we know how worrying it can be when they’re far away. I like to reassure parents that they are welcome to call if they need to put their minds at ease before or while their children are with us.”

Sharna Solomons

Volunteer Coordinator

Sharna grew up in Ocean View, a township near Fishhoek, Cape Town. She met Ali when she was a waitress where her passion for working with people really stood out. “Ali gave me this wonderful opportunity to come and work for her and I accepted immediately. From then on I knew my life was going to change for the better. I could not wait to start,” she says. Sharna is in charge of customer relations and she loves every moment. “We work with different clients from all over the world and looking after them is the best part. What makes my job so exciting is that it’s different every day and we face interesting challenges on a daily basis. The volunteers light up my life and keep me going. I love working with them.”

Sharna is also very proud of the work that they do. “Our volunteers fit right in at Masi. The township people know our volunteers and always keep an eye on them. We also assist in charity work there. Wherever help is needed The Township Sisters jump right in. Working with this company brings so much joy and happiness to my life.”

Sharna is the happy face you’ll see at the volunteer house in Fishoek. She’s a fun, approachable person who puts 100% into everything she does and won’t stop till her clients are happy.

Mandy Barayi

Volunteer support and tour guide

Mandy is the official Volunteer and Explore ‘wingman’, a jack of all trades who helps out with every aspect of the Cape Town operation. Mandy originates from the Eastern Cape but has been living in Masiphumelele for the past eight years. Masiphumelele in Xhosa means ‘we will succeed’ and Mandy is a living example of that motto.

Having started with Volunteer and Explore as a domestic worker at the volunteer houses, she has become an invaluable member of the core team and is now a fully qualified tour guide!

She’s one of the founding members of the Township Sisters and takes all the community volunteers on township tours where her insight, friendliness, cheeky sense of humour and informative manner brings the township alive.

Mandy is mom to four beautiful children and loves to share the stories, culture and history of Masi, the Xhosa people and South Africa.

Mike Leask

Transport coordinator

Mike is the first and most friendly face you’ll see when you arrive at Johannesburg airport. He has been told many times by our volunteers that he looks like Sean Connery! He’s in charge of airport arrivals, transfers to orientations and projects, airport drop-offs and coordination of all transport for the Gauteng and Limpopo region.

Mike was born in Scotland to South African parents and came to South Africa as a young boy (his best move ever!). Mike has been married to his wife Lyn for 43 years and he’s the proud father of two daughters and grandfather of one.

He loves motorsport, rugby (you’ll find out all about the Springboks and the Blue Bulls here) and the great outdoors. He’s passionate about wildlife and loves every opportunity to ‘go bush’.

He also loves looking after the volunteers, making them laugh and ensuring sure they feel safe and secure every step of the journey with him.

Mike is Ali’s dad.

Dr Helene Steenkamp

Orientation leader

The doctor in this house is a zoologist  who works with the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa researching the molecular diagnosis of veterinary diseases and occasionally lecturing students and interns.

In her spare time she conducts orientations at Pretoria Backpackers, bringing volunteers up to speed on health and safety issues, information about the country and area they will be staying, our cultures and ways of life and what to expect from their projects.

She loves photography, discovering new music and road running. Oh, and she’s absolutely passionate about animals and is a goldmine of information for volunteers and interns who visit our programme on animal-related projects.

Rolanda Julius

Orientation leader

Rolanda has been with Volunteer and Explore since the beginning of 2013 and she facilitates the orientation programme for overseas volunteers on their arrival in South Africa.

She’s a postgraduate student in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria where she conducts research into the molecular biology and ecology of house rats.

She loves getting out into nature, hiking and travelling. On an indoor day, she enjoys reading and computer games. She adores dogs and brings a wealth of zoology and entomology knowledge to volunteers.

Our Proudest Moments

We are so proud of the steady and constant improvements we and our volunteers have been able to achieve in Masiphumelele Township. With these upgrades has come a marked improvement in the care of the children and a change in attitude from the community

  • Our volunteer Sarah Butler from the UK played an integral part in starting a disabled centre in the township
  • We have donated and planted 120 indigenous trees, where there were barely any before
  • We have donated and built two wooden classrooms for creches so more children can go to school
  • We have renovated three creches, fixing them up and adding beautiful colour to the children’s lives
  • We have renovated a church
  • We raised enough funds (over R60 000 or $6000) to build Silvia a home! Silvia is an amazing lady who had a home in the township but turned it into a school and lived in a shack at the back. As she had many children to teach, we built her another wooden classroom and then eventually a house!
  • We donated and renovated a shipping container for a Disabled Centre who use the container for art workshops for adults and children with disabilities
  • We renovated a shipping container into a beautiful reading room for the local primary school
  • Volunteers over the years have taken over 70 children to the Aquarium and another 70 children to pick strawberries in Stellenbosch. Many of the children didn’t even know what a strawberry was or how it tasted! These are once in a lifetime chance for these kids who have so little
  • We have raised awareness in the township regarding disability by walking the streets and handing out information
  • We have been able to employ and empower many South Africans to assist with the volunteers
  • We have donated more than 70 foam mattresses so the children can sleep on them instead of the floor
  • We donated a R10 000 ($1000) microscope to TEARS, a cat and dog shelter, for the vet to use onsite instead of having to wait for results.