Worth it?

Having been back in the UK for a month or so and having time to reflect on my experiences over the 2 months on the Zoox Experience Program (ZEP), the overarching question to consider is, was the time and money spent partaking in this volunteer program worth it?

The short answer is a resounding YES but that wouldn’t make a very long blog post so I guess I should go through the reasoning as to how I came to this conclusion.

The first, and most important thing to consider was, did I enjoy the experience?

Apart from being taken ill on a couple of occasions there was a great balance of work and play. The work itself was at some points challenging but also extremely rewarding. I’ve always thought that the best way to learn and grow in confidence is to through yourself into the variety of activities and not be afraid to get things slightly wrong as long as you learn from those mistakes, especially when the support network in place while on the placement meant that our coordinators were only a phone call or a text away and were always happy to give us advice or point us in the right direction.  Also, while undertaking our different roles and responsibilities, we were given the freedom to manage our own time and organise the various assessments and other activities between us, allowing for time to be set aside to relax and enjoy our surroundings.

It is hard not to enjoy yourself in a place like Moalboal, with its very relaxed and slightly slow paced atmosphere, where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, taking one day at a time.

See the smiling faces in the photo above? These are the Green Fins Ambassadors of Moalboal who champion environmental protection and who will be a permanent Green Fins presence on the ground, at a local level, continue to encourage the Green Fins environmentally friendly diving philosophy, when volunteer assessors (such as myself) are not there. I feel very proud when I see this picture because for my individual project I organised and ran the Green Fins Ambassador Training Program fir Moalboal. This consisted of identifying these 6 local Filipino dive guides as people who were passionate with regards to protecting their coral reefs, making them ideal candidates to take part in the ambassador training day. The program involved learning about coral reef ecosystems and the threats they face as well as presentations being given on the importance of reducing the diving industries impact on the marine environment, and how to give advanced pre-dive environmental briefings. The day concluded with a dive in which my fellow volunteers and I pretended to be ‘badly behaved’ customers with the ambassadors taking turns to correct our behaviour which could be damaging the reefs. This was my favourite part of the day because it demonstrated that something that I had actually taught in a professional environment for the first time, had been listened to and understood, which was a really great feeling!

So, back to the discussion about the worthiness of the ZEP. At this point I’m going to have to recognise and thank Chloe and JJ, who have set up and run the ZEP (with the help of Sam). Before I set foot on Filipino soil, I was slightly apprehensive that I might just be taking part in some generic ‘Gap Year’ type volunteer project in which you aren’t really participating in any meaningful conservation project and you probably end up doing more harm than good. These fears were very quickly forgotten during the first few days of settling into my new surroundings. This is because it was apparent, after about a week, that the Zoox Experience is a unique program, which combines classroom learning and field work with participating in a UNEP project of which Chloe and JJ made me feel a significant part, even if I was only working on it a couple of months. Most of the money spent taking part in the ZEP is invested directly back into Green Fins or running the ZEP, rather than contributing to increasing profits, helping highlight the integrity of such a volunteer program.

 Chloe and JJ are an inspiration and if it wasn’t for their tireless hard work and dedication there would be no ZEP for me to be part of and I’m sure Green Fins wouldn’t be where it is today. I cannot thank them enough for giving the opportunity to be part of such a worth while project, I have learnt a tremendous amount in such a short time and my confidence in my abilities has grown 10 fold since returning home and this is reflected in the higher levels of jobs that I am currently applying for which I wouldn’t have done before.

I hope this helps justify my resounding YES at the start of this blog entry! My only regret is that I didn’t stay out in the Philippines for longer, but I have no doubt that I will be returning at some point in the not too distant future.

Working with the local government and communities to help find the best solutions to protecting their natural environment!

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