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There were many reasons why I applied to this program!
My name is Haley. I currently live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but I have also lived several other places in Canada and the United States. I have a degree in Evolutionary Biology from the University of British Columbia. I participated in the WWF Explore Volunteer program in Ejeda, Madagascar from January-April 2011.
There were many reasons why I applied to this program. I love biology and learning about the biodiversity that can be found on our planet! I feel strongly that it’s important to protect and preserve this biodiversity and saw volunteering for the WWF as a great way for me to personally contribute towards achieving these goals. I also realized that implementing environmentally friendly initiatives is a huge undertaking in developing countries and was eager to learn about how the WWF and other organizations approach conservation in one such as Madagascar.
While in Ejeda I worked on the environmental education component of our project with my friend Myrah. In a nutshell, this work involved visiting a number of villages in the commune and their schools to demonstrate a water purification method using seeds from the Moringa tree as well as discuss current environmental concerns.
It was amazing to see how well-versed so many students were as to what environmental problems exist in their region and their potential solutions.
Despite the interest in conservation and environmental intiatives at the schools Myrah and I visited, most of them were unable to implement any “green” initiatives in their curriculum, due to a striking lack of resources. In fact, education was so underfunded in the region that many of the local teachers had not received their salary in many months. If an educational system does not have enough support to pay its teachers, then it is not necessarily surprising that it does not have the resources to introduce new facets to its curriculum.
The lack of resources was a barrier to conservation work that I encountered time and time again during my stay in Ejeda. School principals told us that they had been visited by many organizations with suggestions for improving environmental and health education, but they were unable to do so because they did not have the supplies required.
My advice to other people like me?
This volunteer program was great! I met many wonderful people: my fellow volunteers were all very engaged and interesting people who I feel privileged to have worked and lived alongside of, many of the WWF employees I encountered in Madagascar were so dedicated and inspiring, and the inhabitants of Ejeda were so welcoming and friendly. I learned so much on a personal level: to actually speak French and some Malagasy, to fix a bike and to dance Mahafaly-style. I gained a frame of reference for how NGOs operate in a developing country and the challenges that they face in doing conservation work.
At the same time, during this project I felt a great deal of frustration: I wanted so badly to make a difference in the community and it was almost impossible to get things to go the way I planned. Patience is an essential skill for conservation work in the developing world. Things that seem easy or obvious in the rest of the world were not necessarily so in Ejeda. Be Patient.
This is a unique opportunity to learn. If you want to better understand conservation work in the developing world, undertake a huge adventure, experience awe-inspiring biodiversity or discover ways to make the world a better place this is a great way to do it.
Be flexible, ready to learn and prepared for adventure.
"Patience is an essential skill for conservation work in the developing world "
I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Zoology in the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. My time in Ejeda reinforced my desire to continue with my education in biology and convinced me of how important and exciting research in this field is. I hope to continue to discover and explore the biological world; I believe that an increase in our knowledge through research can help us to protect it. The more we truly understand about the biological world, the better prepared we can be to protect it for the future.