Aug 27, 2005

Life As A Volunteer

My life as a volunteer began only this year, when I joined the Blue Water Volunteers for a Reefwalk on 10 April. It's been only 4 months since, and I can hardly believe that during my first Reefwalk, I had never seen live sea stars or corals before, and now I not only lead groups of people to share this humbling experience, I even talk about marine life like they're my best friends. Just FOUR months, and yet I feel I've known the people at Reefwalk for ages! However, our Reefwalk coordinator is afraid that my Mom is gonna send BWV a strongly-worded letter about how her only daughter is too involved with sea slugs and hangs around fishy individuals (and soon I'll also be hanging out with “icthy, orny bots” too...).

Since training as a Reefwalk guide at the end of April, things progressed at the speed of light. After less than 3 months, 2 training sessions, 2 Reefwalks as OJT with Pam and Daniel, one theory session and finally team guiding with Anthony, I did my first 'solo' Reefwalk with a group of 11 participants on 26 June. Then the day came when none of the regular guides were able to assist MS with training on Sentosa, leaving only me to help with my so-so "skills". Thrown into the deep end of the pool? Deeper than that actually.

Due to my overly enthusiastic itch, I sort of like did a "self-sabo" and threw myself into the deepest end of the muddy lagoon by making a certain "boo boo" last month, which ended with me coordinating the last Reefwalk on 21 August. After the walk was over, accounts settled, etc, I took a step back and reflected on what had just happened, and what I've gone through the past four months. At first it seemed like nothing much, but from a different angle, it seems I may have turned my life completely around. When I found out about BWV and Reefwalk at the end of January this year, an old flame was sort of rekindled with nature, and for the next few months prior to my first RW, I was busy borrowing books, buying little pocket guidebooks, sourcing the Net, for everything I could find about seashore and reef life and marine conservation.

Volunteering with BWV or other nature conservation groups is not only a learning experience, it HUMBLES you (especially “city folk” like me). Suddenly, even the tiniest ant is an important BEING, and every leaf on every tree is more than “just a leaf”.

I realised after coordinating the walk that I've probably "grown" too quickly and this deep end of the muddy lagoon might actually be quick sand. I need to slow down. I still have a long way more to go as a guide, still have so much more to learn. So I guess it's best if I stop growing too quickly for fear of burning out, becoming jaded or losing sight of the big picture.

When I was balancing the accounts for the walk, my mind drifted (as it often does) to other weird ideas, thoughts, dreams.... I thought about balancing the "account" I hold with RW. Like how much they owe me, how much I owe them.... Here's my crazy thoughts put down in writing:

Transport - Lost count
Guidesheets, Guidebooks, Fines from overdue library books that I renew to the max and borrow over & over again 'cos the marine & coral reef guidebooks at the bookstores cost an arm & a leg - Lost count
Feeding hungry guides & trainees with bread, tuna and coffee - Lost count
New Reefwalk guestbook - Undisclosed amount
Time spent Klogging, sending emails, replying emails & other "admin" stuff - Lost track
First Aid Kit, plus lots of Mopiko for those dang bites - Can't remember

The joy I get out of doing all of the above even if it burns a little hole in my pocket and takes up a huge chunk of my already non-existent social life – Priceless
Knowledge about marine life, as well as other aspects of nature, conservation and the environment – Priceless
New friends of kindred heart and mind – Priceless
Seeing how a child is so amused by something as common (to some) as a goby – Priceless
Seeing adults awed by something as insignificant (to some) as an Avrainvillea seaweed – Priceless
Reading the heartfelt comments left by participants in the guestbooks – Priceless Getting to know the crazy & passionate people at Reefwalk – Priceless
Which then led me to know the dedicated & even crazier people at Wildfilms – Priceless
A chance to pursue dreams that were once forgotten – Priceless

I would say the "accounts" are balancing out rather well, with a priceless surplus. Some volunteers may be overworked 'cos there's no one else willing to get the job done, and yet they continue with their good work day after day, because at the end of the day, bruised, battered but not beaten, they can sit back and say "It was worth it".

Here's to all volunteers, those dedicated people who believe in all work and no pay. - Robert Orben


UdangHantu said...

Sounds like a familiar situation. Until I read the signature, I was pretty sure it was written by another ReefWalker/WildFilms member, who also has something for sea slugs.

This is something all volunteers share. The desire to help others, or show others, and to do it with no pay, save the satisfaction of a job well done. Doesn't matter if it's for nature, or animals, or even human welfare.

Perhaps someone in the education system will see these volunteer blogs, and remove the rediculous CCA requirement for volunteerism, as the kids involved are doing so for points, and not for the actual purpose of the work.

Can't say too much about your growth as a person or a guide, but now I believe you have access to a great big library, for free! Only price to pay is the transport to get to the books... I think you know where I mean.

pammy whammy said...

Well, happy to see that you have found another joy for living... Another reason to be happy about tomorrow... Another purpose that you know that you are not fighting for alone... Welcome to the world of volunteering... If only more people see the reason behind what we're doing and lend a helping hand, instead of just being a reality TV potato couch... hmmm...

pammy whammy said...

Ops... Just wanna add this on to this blog...

A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak
- Micheal Garrett Marino