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Wildlife TRAFFIC or wild life and lots of traffic??
I have always had a passion for wildlife and during my university studies I became particularly interested in conservation and decided this was the field in which I desired to work. I wanted to gain experience and to develop new skills while giving something back to the community, so decided to spend some time volunteering. Before getting involved in the WWF Youth Volunteer programme I was lucky enough to work in Uganda on Chimpanzee Conservation for four months, and also to volunteer on a programme called Global Xchange where I spent three months in Egypt and three months in London doing community development work and environmental projects.
I originally applied for the WWF Youth Volunteer programme in my final year of university when I was trying to find opportunities to get experience abroad. I heard back from them but unfortunately the time that they had available was during my final exam period so I decided I should probably get my degree first and asked them to keep me on record. Time passed and I had forgotten about the project until one hot day when I was out in Egypt sat in an internet cafe with donkey carts and horns blaring out in the street, I received an email saying there was another opportunity and asking if I was interested. Of course I was very interested, although to begin with I was a little uncertain as the timing meant that I would only have one month between finishing Global Xchange and leaving for India, hardly enough time to visit friends and family never mind raise the funds necessary. Eventually it was decided that life is for living and I would kick myself if I didn’t go for it so I asked to be considered, completed a phone interview (back in the UK), refreshed my application form and answered a bunch of (rather hard) questions about wildlife trade in India etc.....and they said yes!
During my time in India I was primarily based in Delhi, the city where anything and everything can happen in an instant. I once again tied up the laces on my travelling boots and set off for unknown territory leaving behind the comforts of English living, clean water and safe food. My placement with WWF was based in the TRAFFIC department for three months, and although I did not know much about the trafficking of animals before I left I was happy to snatch up any opportunity to get involved. WWF is one of my great idols in the conservation world, working all over the planet on a wide range of projects trying to protect the natural world and to support people to change the way they live in order to ease pressure on the remaining natural resources, I was hopeful that I could help in some way!
Working with TRAFFIC I was given the task of completing a research project. It was basically in the form of a dissertation so included lots of background research, information gathering, a field study, questionnaires/surveys, current data collection and then analysis and reporting – rather more hard work than I realised when I signed up! My project was entitled ‘Regional Co-operation for Biodiversity Conservation: Lessons learnt from around the world and the way forward for South Asia’ which sounds very big and important and hopefully my findings will eventually be used to help to support the development of regional co-operation in South Asia. During the three month period I spent time researching examples of regional cooperation from around the world and trying to determine their progress, difficulties that they have faced, and ways in which they differ from each other. I then completed a case study to examine the current situation in India which is, as we speak, initiating plans for its own wildlife network with seven neighbouring countries. I also completed questionnaires both in India and with the regional networks around the world and analysed the findings to draw conclusions on the most suitable way for India to progress.
My placement coincided with that of another volunteer, also form England, called Melissa. For three months Melissa and I lived together in a very nice apartment provided for us by WWF in the south of New Delhi. It was a short commute via auto rickshaw to the office each day and we had local markets within walking distance to cook for ourselves and a nearby leisure centre with gym and outdoor pool which we both signed up to in order to stay active. In the first few weeks it was quite hard to adjust as we were getting used to a new city and didn’t really know what we were doing on our projects as neither of us are research experts. Both of us had expected a little more active community based work but once we got used to the idea and started to make friends in the office we began to enjoy it and we are hopeful that our research can have a greater impact towards helping future progress in conservation.
Wearing my Indian dress for the WWF India 40th Anniversary party
I learnt a great deal during my time in India through living and working in the community. I made the most of every opportunity that I had, tried to do and see as much as I could, and tried to find out about the culture and traditions as I went along. India is a complete world away from the Western society in which I grew up, but it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. It took me a while to get used to the pace of life, the lack of personal space, the noise, the food, the masses of people, and the diversity of life I experienced everyday, but as I gradually adjusted I learned to love it and found that I couldn’t get enough.
If I got fed up of standing at the roadside waiting for a rickshaw to take me home without ripping me off, I just had to remind myself that I was in India, look at the rush of life passing me by as I waited, and remember that it was all worthwhile. If you learn to celebrate the differences, rather than criticise, then you'll fall in love with India too.
I learnt that people expect you to know what you’re doing and you have to ask if you need help, that you will have to wait around a long time for meetings, that lots of things take longer than expected to plan, that if you’re not sure what to do or what to wear a good plan is to mimic the women around you, that your position is society really makes a difference to the way that you are treated, that in order to protect habitats from destruction you need to support the people that depend on that land, that countries can work together to support each other, that lots of hard work is being done but still more is needed, that motivated individuals can help to make a big difference, and so much more that I can’t even begin to define.
But did learning all of these things help me in any way? Well since returning to the UK I have successfully secured a job with the RSPB doing environmental education which is an aspect of conservation that I am particularly passionate about. I feel that it is extremely important to get people to understand the environmental issues that we are facing here in the UK and also around the world. I feel that I have a better understanding of conservation work in other countries thanks to the volunteer projects that I have been involved in, and I also think that living in communities so different to my own has helped me to develop acceptance and understanding and an ability to communicate well in a wide range of situations.
If you’re also interested in getting involved in conservation, community work or want to learn about different cultures and ways of life then I really recommend volunteering to gain experience. It is a great honour to feel that you have been accepted into a different community and that the work that you’re doing is helping to make a difference in someone’s life. The WWF youth volunteer programme was an amazing opportunity for me and I would love to be able to work abroad on projects again in the future.
"Living in communities so different to my own has helped me develop acceptance and understanding, and an ability to communicate well in a wide range of situations. "
"Learn to celebrate the differences then you'll fall in love with India too! "