When I applied for the EXPLORE program in Madagascar I desperately hoped to really have an impact on whatever I would be working on and not just “make a life changing experience” for myself. I want to be really honest here. I always knew volunteer work is an ambivalent topic. It becomes obvious as soon as you start doing research on the internet on how to get rid of this annoying urge to help and give something back and stuff. Either you pay an amount of money that could feed an entire family for a year in most of the developing world or you have to go through a very selective application process for the big NGOs, like the one for WWF. And then there are weirdly a lot of big NGOs that don’t offer volunteer programs at all. That should already tell you something. Paying a lot for helping a little is stupid. I’d rather have my parents donate money directly to projects where fully educated people work on something good for the time it really takes to finish the job. But I thought that as soon as you get in with one of the big NGOs with a good reputation, you were on the safe side. That their programs would be well enough thought through to avoid serving no one but you, plus being a waste of donation money. But the concept of volunteering that western kids like me have, is just not compatible with sensible help that’s aimed at long-term improvement. Actually, it’s kind of obvious: you wouldn’t go around being altruistic, getting involved in people’s life at home and then all of the sudden stop after three months and never talk to the people you’ve been working with again. Would you?
Applying to EXPLORE was the best thing I could do for myself - but was it also the best thing I could do for the world?
© WWF / Sarah Hahn
Why that “life changing experience” changed my life anyways!
This trip sure as hell changed my life forever. Before and throughout my first weeks in Madagascar I thought that making a difference is like pouring water on a world on fire with just your hands to cup it. I just kept on going because I felt obliged to at least try, out of that good old eternal inferiority complex of the privileged child.
So what would make the EXPLORE experience perfect for you?If you want to meet people who are actually making the difference you’re hoping to make for a living, learn from their experience, travel safely, get a thorough picture of the realities of conservational work- apply! The WWF is a great organization and working for it is an honor and a pleasure. If conservation is what you’re aiming for professionally the EXPLORE program is an amazing opportunity to start your career. After accomplishing your journey, you will definitely have the experience and the overview in the field to figure out where exactly you want to go.
But if you just want to get involved, give something back, live what us Germans call “Gutmenschtum” (direct translation: being a good person): let the WWF train its future employees, save some money for equipment you’ll never use again and just buy a ticket to a developing nation and start working on whatever you find there. I assure you- there’s plenty to do.
I will finish my Bachelor of psychology and start studying medicine in winter. I’m looking forward so much to being a doctor and able to help whenever, wherever, you can’t even imagine. It’s going to take a long time until I get there, though. In the meantime a German doctor and I are trying to get a foundation started that will help provide education, material and money for the hospital in Madagascar. We’re facing a lot of obstacles in our proceedings. Madagascar is still ranked as one of the most corrupt countries of the world by Transparency International. We are not giving up on Ejeda and its people, though. Doctors for Madagascar, the NGO I co-founded in 2011.