C'est la vie, mon ami..
I thought I only just arrived? Yet here I am, writing a blog about my time in Nature's Valley with 6 weeks’ worth of wonderful, challenging and hilarious memories. So, I sit back, release a deep breath and reminisce on what got me to where I am now…
The journey that introduced me to Nature's Valley Trust NGO, involved an educational need, but also personal desire, to learn more about the practical side of Ecology: I plan to study Human Ecology at Kent University, starting this September. When I came across the Trust online, their volunteer/intern programme seemed to provide me with this opportunity, combined with an abundance of experience in conservation. If I'm honest, however, before making my way to the Trust in late January, I was very hesitant about whether I, as a ‘volunteer’, would really get to do all these projects and genuinely help and learn whilst doing them. In reality, this is partly from past experience of volunteering at another place where I felt my expectations were not mirrored in reality. But in the best way possible, with Nature's Valley Trust, my hesitation was proven to be completely unnecessary.
I arrived at the Trust feeling rather shy, vulnerable, in an alien environment where I didn't know a single person. My first week was difficult: I wasn't in the normal living circumstances as the intern house was full. But from my first step off the bus on March 24th, I was greeted by the ray of sunshine that is Kellyn, the volunteer and intern leader, a person that would prove to be an absolute saviour in every type of mishap I got myself into from there on. My first project experience involved helping a fellow intern with her MSc research on the pollination of watsonias. It was this first morning, at 5.30am, the morning after hopping off the bus in Plett, that I would spend 2 hours chatting to one of the interns. The same intern would turn out to make my settling in so much easier due to her simple attentiveness and kindness towards me. And so, my time at NVT began. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is even in the beginning when everything was new, wonderful people made the experience so much easier.
Over the next few weeks, my friendship with the colleagues and interns at NVT only grew, helped by the constant team effort in research projects that the Trust encourages. Together we slugged through smelly ponds in the estuary to collect data on the notorious invasive mosquitofish; together we paddled in canoes, counting the different bird species for the ‘CWAC’ count; together we walked the local beaches in the early hours of the morning, looking for the dear white-fronted plovers and their little nests, occasionally being gifted with newly hatched chicks.
The experience in conservation fieldwork and data collection in so many locations was invaluable and to do the work with such incredible people, from all around the world, made it even more special. Mark Brown, you do SUCH an awesome job at the Trust, not only with the research and data you handle but with all the people you interact with, always having time to listen to each individual. The Trust is awesome, but it’s because someone as kind, patient, down-to-earth and hard-working as you run the programme. So, thank you so much for having me on your team; however much or little I may have actually helped you guys, the impact you’ve had on me has been great and I will forever value and use it.
So, all in all, eish. This experience has been pretty hectic, in a really great way. I have made sisters in Canada, South Africa and France, met fellow unicorns and enjoyed being a gnome for a week or so (it’s a long story). Brittany, you are just incredible, the representation of a strong, independent, driven woman, but most importantly an amazing conservationist, and I admire you so much. Mark couldn’t run the Trust nearly so well if you weren’t such a badass biologist and awesome researcher, so thank YOU gal. And Kirwan, how you juggle so much and still manage to smash every project you run (with the loyal help of Liezel) I am still trying to comprehend. You are an absolutely natural teacher and do such important work educating the local community on conservation – education is the most powerful tool for change. Have faith in yourself, dude, I'm so excited to see what brilliant things are coming your way.
So… If you enjoy the environment and have experience in the biological sciences, I'm telling you, THIS is the place to go for a seriously enriching and challenging experience where you get to make a real, positive impact on the local community and environment. I'm so grateful for the time I spent in Nature’s and only wish it could’ve been longer. But all the memories I've made, lessons I've learnt and knowledge I've consumed and digested will stay with me forever. So, thank you NVT, I had a blast. Now time to move forward... Sharp, sharp.