Our volunteer programme is now in its 10th year, which is testament enough to its success. Paying volunteers inject an income and workforce into our field projects and without volunteer participation our orangutan release sites would not be nearly as smooth-running or numerous as they are. In the past, volunteers have also built guard posts, constructed portal gates across rivers to block illegal loggers and constructed the Pondok Ambung Tropical Research Station. This year the teams have built a release site at Camp Mangkung (see former post “Orangutan Release Site Nearly Ready”).
When I joined the programme the main buildings were all up and there was just cementing, attaching of doors/windows and a load of painting to do. I arrived mid-afternoon to the sound of hammering, sanding and Bon Jovi (music, preferably cheesy, is always a necessity for motivation in the afternoons!). The river had risen sufficiently to render the camp an island and it instantly reminded me of Big Brother just for the sheer lack of space.
I always tell volunteers about the lack of “head space” when they are flung together as a group for 6 weeks with no email/phone etc, but even I myself was not quite prepared for the lack of physical space to move around. These guys had had it for four weeks, and yet they were still upbeat and working hard, joking and laughing (admittedly quite a few Oreos were eaten, but we all need a sugar fix every now and then). It just goes to show, provided you have passion for the cause for which you are working, you can keep motivated whatever.
I happily got stuck in to the work for the short while I was there and was delighted to manage not to remove any thumbnails, or cement anyone to the floor! It was so good to just get down to work, have a bit of chat, and not be stuck looking at a PC. The work is physically quite tough, but to be able to step back and see the finished product at the end of your time there really does make it worthwhile. This could explain why we had to take several pauses during the work…..
I can honestly say that the programme really has not changed at all since my first time; the only difference is that the Indonesians assistants are more into wearing boardshorts than combats these days and there is a greater range of chocolate snacks brought into camp to cheer up flagging volunteers.
I was also pleased to slip back into the way of life there where evenings are spent drinking tea and chatting and learning Indonesian with the local guys working there. It really does make you re-assess how we spend our time back at home. In fact, the volunteer programme seems to make everyone take stock of their lives, motivations and beliefs when they get home. It may sound clichéd, but all of our feedback to date suggests that volunteers see the programme as a time when they saw another side to life as well as thoroughly enjoyed themselves whilst doing something constructive and beneficial for the orangutans and the forest.
I left the volunteers on the final stages of the building, safe in the knowledge that they would get their reward going to Camp Rasak to see an operational orangutan release site. Apparently they all loved it, which is perfect; the fruits of their labour should be echoing the activity of Rasak in a few months, and they can all be proud. Some people are even talking about coming back next year, so maybe they will be able to see it in action. Thanks to Jordi Clopes for all these photographs.
If anyone wants to know more about the volunteer programme then please have a look at the brochure on our website. Volunteer Brochure
I am now (sadly) back in the UK and the contrast to the Indonesian laid-back culture could not be greater. Madness seems to have hit, and the interest in Orangutan Awareness Week and Orange for Orangutan day (November 14th) is all consuming…..