Can a non-scientist work for a conservation NPO?
That was the question I struggled with for a long time. In fact, just two months before my internship was to start, I was unsure if I should even go. I don’t study sciences, so I was worried about not having any related experience… I was terrified of quitting my job and not earning any money for a whole summer… I’ve never been away from home for so long.
What I realized was: when in doubt, say yes.
Now that my three months are over, I can easily say that I am so grateful for deciding to say yes. I just had one of the best summers of my life (even though it was winter over there) ;)
The ability to say yes extended all the way to the work I did at NVT. Even if you come with your expertise for a specific project, or without much expertise at all, there are so many opportunities to get involved with any projects if you would like to. From bird-ringings, Adopt-A-Beach lessons, to fish sampling in the estuary… I was doing some things I never imagined, and things that I wouldn’t be able to do at home.
Work as an NVT intern can mean long walks on the beach looking for marine debris, or planting trees in the local communities. It can mean bringing kids on birding sessions, or identifying species on a 4-hour hike. Yes, some days are cold and some have you up before sunrise, but when you think back on your time here, you always remember the good stuff. Plus, when you’re living and working in such a beautiful place, it’s hard to be down for too long. Every day that I walked on the beach, or was dwarfed by the mountains, or saw the sun reflecting on the estuary… I was in awe.
Now that I’m back in Canada, South Africa feels like a world away, but I know that I will keep the things that I have learned with me. Conservation isn’t only for scientists. It’s a mentality and a way of life.
So while at the end of my internship I still couldn’t name every bird at bird-ringing or the fish in the estuary, it’s okay because that wasn’t the most important thing I took away from this experience. Instead, I deepened my commitment to this planet that we live on. My perspective has changed. From the biggest mammal to the smallest invertebrate, we have to understand each other. We have to understand how our actions impact the world.
So to go back to the original question that haunted me in the beginning of the year – the answer is yes. Everyone should work with a conservation NPO.
There is a quote I heard a while ago that reminds me of NVT’s mission:
In the end we will only conserve what we love;
we will love only what we understand,
we will understand only what we are taught.
– Baba Dioum
So finally, I would like to say another big thank you to Mark, Kellyn, Kirwan, Brittany, and Craig for all your guidance. And cheers to all the interns for making my stay in the valley as fun as it was ;)