I did write a rather scathing post on volunteer programmes in conservation and how little they actually contribute except financially and volunteers serving as ambassadors. I suppose some will then go ahead and say how hypocritical I am because I’m pretty opposed to the very structure of volunteer programmes and yet I’ve just gone and launched my own.
Let me explain, not that I feel I have to justify it but rather to illuminate what I am trying to do from the start with this programme.
My programme is NOT about hugging cute orphaned animals. It is NOT about the poor starving children in Africa. It is NOT about the alleged war being waged between poachers and protectors. It is NOT about the Myth of Wild Africa. It is NOT voluntourism. It is NOT a way for me to get a salary. It is NOT open to anyone.
I need volunteers for the following reasons:
- To finance the wildlife monitoring I carry out – I don’t like to rely on donors
- To provide money to buy wildlife monitoring equipment, e.g. camera traps, GPS units, a vehicle one day, etc.
- To provide money to buy anti-poaching equipment, e.g. patrol rucksacks and water bottles, tents, Android devices for SMART law enforcement tracking one day, etc.
- To help me process the data from camera traps placed in strategic locations for large carnivore identification
- To help me coordinate the wildlife monitoring transects we carry out twice annually
- To start building up money we can use for large carnivore collaring
- To start building up money we can use to implement a common radio frequency in the area for improved law enforcement and reporting of poaching incidents between properties
- One day, the fees paid by those who can afford it will subsidise Zambians who cannot afford the fees to get the same experience. These could be youngsters from rural areas or university students needing to fulfil internships.
For me to even consider allowing a volunteer they have to meet certain criteria (and no, I don’t care about how much you love wildlife unless you can prove to me you have skills I can use):
- Academic background in natural sciences, preferably tertiary level; anthropology and social sciences can be made use of as well but an understanding of the scientific method is CRUCIAL
- Similar volunteer experience of at least 2 weeks – I don’t want a novice to the bush or a person who can’t deal with bugs and hot sweaty days
- Or work experience in conservation and/or field work
- Volunteers have to be professional, open minded and objective. Conservation is far more complex than most know or are willing to admit and I do not shy away from the harsh reality of it, so they’ve got to be able to stomach that.
So, really, my programme isn’t too bad. It is geared towards utilising volunteer’s skills and enthusiasm to my advantage while offering them an education in how challenging and complex conservation in Africa is and the different ways in which it can be approached. All the while aiming to provide the same opportunities to Zambians who cannot afford the fees I have to charge to keep the programme going.
Each volunteer is NOT going to make a huge difference but collectively they WILL and it WILL be lasting and the difference WILL be positive.
It’s about educating the next generation in a holistic manner, warts and all, NOT an idealistic manner focusing on the daisies and elephants only.
It’s work and education in one, NOT a holiday and NOT for those with a guilty conscience wanting to ‘give back’.
That’s why I think my programme is better geared to actually working. But I could be wrong.