Conservation volunteer: Take a break from the old routine

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It’s Monday morning. The alarm rudely wakes you from your sleep.  You drag yourself from bed. You mentally prepare for the daily grind of school, or work. You question if this is all there is. You wonder how you’ve somehow found yourself in the nine-to-five spiral.

Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

This is not what you wanted from life. You wanted to make a difference. But, you don’t know where to start. You worry you do not fit the stereotype of a volunteer.

Sound familiar?  I will let you into a secret. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The fact you have already clicked on this blog – you are already halfway there.

Because, the truth is, there is no set ‘type’ of person. All you need is a passion to make a difference and to not be afraid of getting your hands dirty.

Four months ago, I was working as a financial journalist. I was jaded and tired of city life. I wanted to do something that made a difference. But, I had no background in conservation. No education to speak of. I never even knew these types of projects existed. Or, if they did, I believed you would need to have diplomas to get anywhere near them.

I was wrong.

So, despite some people saying I was crazy, I chucked in my life in London and hot-footed it to South Africa.

Three-months into my placement and I can categorically say it was the best decision I have ever made.

I have experienced things which would never have been possible at home. I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I have laughed and cried at animal sightings. I have met some incredible people –  from all corners of the world – and been humbled and awed at the measures they will go to create a better future.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been days when I wake before the sun. It is dark. It is cold (yes, it gets cold in Africa). I am tired and grumpy. Then, the sun starts its ascent and the bush comes alive.  Quite simply, there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Previously, I was on the treadmill of city life. Strict deadlines. Long hours. Eyes permanently glued to a phone or computer. Here, you are forced to adapt – mother nature does not adhere to your timetable. You have to accept that the best made plans may be undone by the unpredictability of the environment. Embrace it. Enjoy the spontaneity.

Last week I started the second half of my placement – working with Wild Volunteers. There are four of us in total.  All with different backgrounds. All with different end goals. All with one thing in common – a passion for conservation.

Each day throws up its own surprises and challenges. It is not always glamorous, it’s not all about looking after cute animals (although there is some of that, too).

Our first project is to remove the plastic some farmers had dumped into the reserve. It’s a huge task. One that will no doubt be hot, sweaty, physically exhausting and at times infuriating. But, it is our duty to clean up the mess humans have made. To try and restore the land to how it should be. Limit our impact on the earth.

And, at the end, I will look back and think: “Wow, I did that. I made an actual difference”.

Two days ago, I sat on the banks of a river and watched the sun melt into the water. A pelican glided into view against a palette of reds which were fading into the night. Back home, I would have been sat in front a machine analysing trading patterns.

So, no, there is no comparison. There are no regrets on my part.

So, don’t dream it, do it. Background, age, status – not important. Put in the effort and you will be rewarded.

This is just my story. Yours will be a different one. I hand the pen to you now – it is up to you to decide how to write your next chapter.

By Kathleen Retourné

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