Whilst working in Montanita, Ecuador I met a vast array of backpacker who passed through my hostel – from all parts of the planet and who have had a vast array of adventures along the road.
To be honest I’ve never done anything like that. I have no idea why, I just haven’t. But volunteering is a great way to spend some time on the road, giving back to the people who make your stay so amazing. So when my good friends and tanning buddy (seriously she has a 2 hour a day slot simply to top up her tan!) Julie from Norway headed off to save some turtles in Costa Rica I asked her to piece together a guest post on her experience so the site has a good cross section of ideas – and because her photos were super awesome!
So here’s her experience volunteering with turtles in Costa Rica…
After finishing high school, I left home, Norway, to spend four months in Latin America. In addition to learning Spanish and meeting new cultures, I was of course going to save the world – or at least part of it!
That’s why I decided to volunteer, because no matter how small the impact of your work might seem, every effort counts.
Volunteering is something special. You don’t work to make money; you simply work to make a change – which you do.
By offering your knowledge, your hands and your willingness to learn, you can provide invaluable help. And the appreciation received is the best reward.
The opportunities of volunteering are almost endless and I wanted to work with something I am interested in and could relate to what I’m going to study – renewable energy engineering. I therefore applied for a project within “Environmental Conservation” through a volunteer organisation.
I was assigned a spot at Tortufauna, a conservation centre and clinic for land and fresh-water turtles in Alajuela, Costa Rica and although I realized this project was probably very far from my career plans, I thought “cool, turtles!” (hey, who doesn’t like turtles?!) and prepared for four weeks with them!
I didn’t really know much more about the project than the name of the centre and wasn’t sure what to expect. Kind of terrifying and kind of exciting but it turned out to be an amazing experience.
Tortufauna and My Duties
Tortufauna is a tiny place and you can probably walk around the whole centre in less than two minutes. It consists of a garden with a big cage for the turtles, the clinic and a small café where visitors can buy breakfast, lunch or ice cream.
In addition to the wonderful elderly lady Vilma, who is the director of the centre, there were two Costa Ricans working together with me, and sometimes only one – but that doesn’t mean there weren’t lots of things to do.
I started every morning in the little clinic. This work consisted of first cleaning the boxes of the sick, injured and baby turtles that had to be inside during the night. I then scrubbed their shells and gave them what they needed of calcium, fish oil, different injections and anti-bacterial cream in wounds.
After giving them fresh tempered water or new leaves, they were all carried outside to spend the day in the sun. Other work tasks could be feeding the turtles, cleaning their ponds, raking and watering plants in the garden (and often myself as I was melting in the sun), helping in the small café and taking awesome (and awkward) selfies! I was also assisting Vilma on various errands around in San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica) to buy food or equipment, or sometimes only to have lunch at her sister’s house.
Well, just the feeling of being useful and helping someone who really needs it, is a big reason. Tortufauna is so small, and very few people even know it exists – yet they’re doing a wonderful job with these innocent creatures, and meeting the incredibly devoted Vilma definitely made an impression.
Doing real hands-on work and seeing the results of my labour was the best motivation.
Also, the fact that I did something completely different from anything I’ve done before, was pretty cool. I learned heaps of new stuff, a lot of which I’ll also be able to use in other contexts, and I improved my Spanish big time.
It’s is a unique place, and the size makes it very personal too. I met a new culture and was included into the “Tortufauna family” from my very first day. I made friends with some great people and really had a fantastic time in one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend everyone thinking about going to Central America to volunteer at Tortufauna or to consider any volunteer experience that draws their interest.
Thinking about volunteering?
…have you had an awesome volunteering experience? If you’d like to share it just ping me an email!