While in college, I was able to explore the current state of environmental conservation and rekindle my passion for wildlife. Little did I know the combination of studying communications, photography and biological conservation would be the perfect mix to land this twenty-something, California girl the opportunity of a lifetime. Nothing can prepare one for the lessons you will learn while participating in the YVP, but I can guarantee it will be life changing.
Bhutan is one of the little known countries that WWF operates within. Its diversity of climates, wildlife, plant life, and eco-regions make this tiny democratic kingdom a biological hotspot. Because the Bhutanese have a culturally engrained love of nature, drumming up support for conservation is not hard to do. The main challenge is creating ways for the citizens to be able to coexist with the environment while minimizing their footprint.
The major aspect of the conservation I learned about was sustainable development. I was able to work closely with the management of the newest national park, Wangchuck Centennial Park, which is located in one of the more remote areas of the country. A major aspect of my work was helping to plan and develop a communications packet to promote the park and the ideas the World Wildlife Fund, International is trying to move forward. The Nomads’ Festival, held for the first time in December 2009, provided a great venue for sharing ideas and concepts with nomadic groups from all across Bhutan. We created and/or updated websites to reach a broader and more diverse audience while also going out into the community on a grassroots level to discuss the ideas and plans for the new park.
People’s lives depend on the success of the change WWF is trying to implement. This point was driven home when a reporter covering the Nomads’ Festival asked one of the members of a group if they have seen any effects of global warming. When the yak-herder did not reply it was deemed the answer was no. Furthering conversation revealed that the man had experienced this problem but did not know the colloquial vernacular. He told a story of how the yaks are eating through their entire pasture because it has not been cold enough for them to need to migrate south for the winters. This is causing a degradation of the quality of plant life because the plants are not having the opportunity to replenish. Working from the ground up and having the backing from the locals within and around the park will be crucial to the success of the programs. It is a very different reality working on the micro level than what one sees on the macro-side of the debate splashed in the media every day.
How it changed meIt seems like just yesterday I was stumbling about not knowing who I could talk to, how to communicate to buy food, or where to find anything. Every step of this trip introduced me to something new, taught me another lesson, and helped a new piece of the puzzle of who I am fall into place. The people were more welcoming and accepting than I ever could have imagined. If they were able to learn half as much from me as I have from them, my job will be well done.
It was here, in my solitude, I read the books that opened the doors to the best parts of me. It was here I saw firsthand the loving kindness and compassion all Buddhists speak of. It was here I am leaving all the negativity and ignorance of the shadows of my past that have so long haunted me.
While this chapter of the story may be done, much more is to be written for sure, but my life has forever been changed, my heart completely touched by the beauty that lives in the people and environments of Bumthang. I cannot thank WWF International enough for this opportunity.