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About me!

My name is Sarah Hahn, I´m 21 and I study psychology at the Friedrich Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany. I will switch to medicine in winter, though, after acquiring a new perspective on myself and life in general in this hot, far away country I was invited to by the WWF in 2011.

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?

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?
Me in wonderful lemur land!

© 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.

Glad I have that, now. Glad to be a cliché, glad to have been guilted into coming to Madagascar by the sheer benevolence life has had towards me. Because I overcame my negativity and I’m profoundly hopeful now that things actually can change, and it’s not even that difficult. We say that you can only fall deep, if you went up high. Same goes for the opposite: if a doctor doesn’t have anything to work with, every dollar he gets might spare a life that otherwise might have been lost. If there’s only one tree left, every planted tree means a doubling of the forestation of the area. If there are only a few turtles left, every single one that doesn’t land in someone’s pot is a huge chance for the population to recover. And how much is a dollar to western society? And how much of an effort is it to plant a tree? And how hard is it to just leave that poor turtle alone? Compared to the effect of not doing the right thing? You get my point. The glass is half full, verdammt noch mal, if you’re determined to pour some more water in it and not just drink it.

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.

What did the world get out of this?

Where I’m headed now

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.

Some of my photos...