Lessons Learnt from Washington State Interns
After only three weeks I think we were all surprised how hard it was to say goodbye to Nature’s Valley Trust. Maggie, Zi, and I (Meagan) were part of a larger group from Western Washington University from the United States, who spent our time working with non-governmental organizations in the Crags. We picked Nature’s Valley Trust, never expecting the beautiful sights, amazing opportunities and supportive staff that we would encounter during those few weeks. We got a chance to work in the four arenas NVT focuses on: Conservation, Research, Community and Education.
Working in the office at NVT allowed us a view, each day, which people would pay out the teeth for back home. This is in large part because of the work that NVT has done to preserve the area and continues to do every day. Everything we did was done through a lens of sustainability and conservation, for example, during a hike to Salt River we spent time picking up trash from the beach. During bird-ringing we learned about the efforts that are being made to monitor the native bird populations. One week, we even got to tag along with another group of students from the States who were there as part of a class focusing on conservation work.
We also had the chance to work with the current NVT team on their research projects. We hiked with Brittany up a VERY steep trail and learned about the many types of flowers found in the Fynbos while she took pictures for a field guide and documented flowering patterns. We (tried) to catch mosquito fish, an invasive species, with Yanga to record their impacts on the estuary and native fishes. We also used microscopes to count pollen samples taken from the beaks of the birds we ringed. These are just a few of the things we did, but most importantly we learned about the process of conducting research and had the chance to watch post graduate work in action.
We were also lucky to be a part of the annual tree planting in Kurland Village! We witnessed the “passing of the torch” to the local gardening club during a town meeting. During the meeting, we had a true South African experience, load-shedding, regardless the meeting was a huge success and pretty educational (even if we still felt a little in the dark haha). It was inspiring to see how enthusiastic the village was for the tree planting. There was a huge turnout; the show of support and participation from the Eco Club kids was very humbling. This was our first time working with the Eco Club kids; we had the chance to see them again when we adopted a local river with them (for the ‘Adopt a River’ program). It was so cool to be a part of a group of students who care so much for their local environment. I cannot think of many kids in middle school in the U.S. who would be so excited to pick bugs off rocks to analyze the health of a stream!
During our time there, I realized the most important part of being involved in environmental work is our ability to educate others. We had the chance to be a part of World Environment week, Maggie and I taught about the solar system while Zi teamed up with Yanga to talk about natural resources. Over three days we met over two hundred students, while they spent their day at a National Parks campground learning about how special planet Earth is and the ways they can take better care of it. I realized how lucky I am to have the resources and access to environmental education; very few have the opportunities that I do. Everyone needs to be environmentally conscious; citizens from South Africa to Bellingham, but many do not have the knowledge to get them started. My time at NVT has helped me see how privileged we are to have all these opportunities. With that privilege comes the responsibility to educate others to make sure that places like Nature’s Valley are around for everyone to enjoy for generations to come.