Who am I?
A daunting situation...
Stranded in South Africa...I had a three day stop planned and then it was off to Madagascar to begin the internship program which would give me my in-country experience and would count towards my studies. Just 24 hours after my arrival I received an email from WWF describing an escalated state of political violence in Madagascar. The email also informed me it would be wise to delay my ticket until further notice. Obviously this put me in a tricky position, I could be stuck in gun happy South Africa or face the perils of civil uprising in Madagascar. After consideration and conference with the other 5 interns I made the decision to delay my ticket by 2 weeks and wait it out (I mean how long could it really go on for?). The story after this played out as follows: the situation in Madagascar went from bad to worse, the US volunteer went ahead to Madagascar with his most poignant facebook status update being: Sawyer wishes the gunfire would stop; the three more conservative or perhaps smarter Europeans cancelled their trip altogether and the Aussie and Canadian went half way. An anthropological study in itself!!!!!
So, stranded in South Africa with a Canadian we both decided to make the best of a bad situation and ventured out into perilous South Africa while we nagged – no, stalked – the WWF to find us a new placement nearby. It took a month for this new placement to be confirmed and during that time I learnt that South Africa is a place of great natural beauty, its biggest danger (for us) being its very exciting night life and bar scene!!!!
A breakthrough... Senegal
Of the six volunteers chosen for the original program, just three remained in Africa. I am thankful to report that Sawyer, the American, made it out of Madagascar in one piece to join us in Senegal. As for me, my experience has been interesting but definitely very challenging. As the pioneer volunteers for this region we have been faced with a number of obstacles and never did get that beachside apartment! We are alone in the field working directly with the local community whose primary language is Wolof and secondary language is French.
WWF WAMERWWF WAMER has over the past 5 years set up 5 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Senegal, with their objectives: to preserve natural biodiversity, to limit certain sectors such as fishing, and to create economic benefits for the community. These MPAs are governed by a Committee of Management made up of primary stakeholders and WWF promotes the program as being a participatory approach to development.
Given that the Senegal office had never hosted volunteers within this programme, our objectives and supervision has been new for all involved, meaning that we have had to be completely autonomous during this process which has been both beneficial and difficult at the same time. I have conducted a situation analysis of the MPA and local perspectives about the environment which involved surveying 85 members of the community and holding a series of meetings with prominent players in the area. The findings were very interesting and lots of new information came to light for the WWF including a real need to create a school-based environmental education program which I am currently drafting the project plan for. Work-wise, things have progressed excellently and our Canada-Aussie team should be proud of our accomplishments in such challenging circumstances.
Alice in Wonderland...
- Each country differs but you can always expect to be utterly confused, and disheartened at some point, especially if you are in the field full time.
- You can also expect to meet some inspirational people who will change the way you think forever and who will make a lasting impression about what it really means to be resilient, and to cope with adversity.
- If you like your creature comforts, be prepared to give them up for a while and I personally think the best approach is to have a wicked sense of humor.
- Make the assumption that your diet will be simple if not at some point disgusting, grin and bear it as your hosts will have spent a good portion of their income making thisamazing meal for you!
You ask – do I still want to work in this field? Even more! Thank you WWF!!!!!!
You can expect to meet some inspirational people who will change the way you think forever, and who will make a lasting impression about what it really means to be resilient, and to cope with adversity.