Unfolding the shirt from the end of my bed, which had so perfectly been folded the night before and slipping it over my head – I feel good. Finally, I get to step into my ‘orang-utan shorts’ especially bought for this occasion. I tie my long red hair back, loosely as if I’m lacking in time yet time however is not lacking, it has been crawling. I’ve already been up for an hour or so shaving my legs and plucking my eyebrows to perfection. Im excited, it’s my first day in the park. Looking in the full length mirror I see everything I had imagined a wildlife volunteer should look like.
You see, this is the best part of volunteering – the lead up, the anticipation of helping out and saving the planet. In reality you walk through those huge gates, surrounded by tropical greenery only to find you are unnecessary trouble and unanimously invisible. Being sold the world via a website and paying $4000AUD you expect someone to know your name or at least know you were coming.
I head straight to reception to find out my schedule and where I will be working. A blank stare comes from the Malay receptionist – “you are a volunteer?”
WHAT?! How could they not know who I am. Before I have time to delve any further into my thoughts I was sent to a back office and passed on to a tall stern looking male. From here I was asked further questions regarding who I was, who sent me and how long was I staying here. Seeing the disappointment in my eyes, he leads me into the wildlife park – mutters a few words I could not recognise in malay to a keeper and palmed me off.
Whilst volunteering as a teacher in thailand, paying big dollars for a rural home stay and working my butt off teaching 5 classes a day, I couldn’t help but wonder “Where does my money actually go?” The school, the kids nor the community didn’t see any of it.
If you don’t believe me, ask Becks. She practically saved Africa by building a school in Kenya, except for the fact that she now wonders who, if ever anyone did, teaches in that school and where did the fees for the programme disappear to. She and 5 others completely roughed it (which is totally fine) but collectively between them $15,000 became nothing more than a largish pile of bricks… hmmm.
Hopefully you see I am not being facetious, we have covered the four main areas of volunteering between us; marine research camps, animal conservation, community building and teaching, each placement spread across the corners of the globe and unanimously, we were left feeling underwhelmed. If anyone who has volunteered does not admit that “I didn’t really make a difference” or “I was taken advantage of by the online organisation” they are just not ready to admit it.