We love it when past volunteers help us to spread the conservation message around the globe, and this was certainly the case with two of our returning volunteers persuaded their daughter and her partner to accompany them on their next journey to Samboja! Shelley and Belinda loved their surprise orangutan shaped wedding gift, so we had a chat with Shelley about her time over in Borneo. Let’s see what she had to say!
What led you to become a volunteer at Samboja?
My NZ-based mum and dad did a two-week volunteering stint at Samboja in September 2016 and absolutely loved it. On their return they offered to take my partner and I there, knowing how passionate we both are about animal rescue, welfare and conservation. When Belinda and I married in December 2016, Mum and Dad announced that our wedding present was a trip to Samboja with them in 2017. It was an incredible gesture of love and generosity.
What was the highlight of your trip?
There were so many highlights, it’s hard to narrow it down to one. However I did get an extraordinary amount of enjoyment from the machete work we did on one of the islands, clearing a perimeter around the edge. Knowing why we were doing this particular task - in preparation for the arrival of Corporal who lost both of his arms in an horrific electrocution incident - was all the incentive required to work as hard as I possibly could, in the short time we had at the sanctuary, to contribute to making this happen. An unexpected highlight was making amazing and lifelong friends. Oh, and I should also make special mention of the solo boat trip around the islands on the sanctuary – that was absolutely mind-blowing, being so up close and personal with the released orangutans (even if one did throw a piece of bamboo at the boat!).
Did you have a favourite orangutan by the end of the trip?
It would have to be Romeo, as we saw him practically every day, with him ‘supervising’ us performing our activities in the enrichment centre or while working on the islands. Knowing his back story - how he’d only recently been released on the island after over 20+ years in a cage and feeling the ground under his feet for the first time ever - was extremely moving, and incredibly sad, but also helped me understand the ultimate end goal for all orangutans in the sanctuary, and hopeful that our small contribution would go towards making a difference.
Do you have any tips for new travellers?
Long shorts, gumboots (wellies) and gloves are an absolute necessity. But above all else, come with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. Throw yourself in at the deep end (but not in the moat, as that possibly wouldn’t end well) and I guarantee you will get the most out of the experience. Try to push yourself beyond your pre-conceived ‘limits’ and you will end the day with a smile on your face, a huge appetite, a no-guilt icy cold beer (or two) and I guarantee you’ll sleep like a log! Oh, and my mother gave us the best advice ever – bring a flannel (or small wash cloth) – this was extremely helpful in easing one’s self into the cold shower :o
What did you think of the in-country team (Kate, Wik and Sam) ?
I cannot speak highly enough of this talented trio! They are generous, warm-hearted, hilarious and knowledgeable. They were all so approachable and never made you feel like you were bothering them with ‘silly’ questions (even though they must have heard some a thousand times). I loved how they were so involved with the volunteers, not only during the ‘working’ part of the day, but also in our socialising time, and on the weekends. I have so much admiration for what they do, and the amount of time, energy and passion they have for the orangutans and the Project itself. Kate and Wik could definitely brush up on their pool skills, but don’t tell them that ;)
Did the trip inspire you to help animal conservation in any other ways?
The trip definitely made me more aware of the plight of orangutans and the deforestation of their natural habit and what we can do, even in small ways to help, such as buying products which do not contain palm oil. The thing I gained most from this trip was the connection I felt with the orangutans. Looking into their eyes is like looking into their souls, and you actually feel they ‘see’ you too. I feel incredibly sad and angry as to how they have been, and continue to be, treated by human beings. I am hopeful, however, that due to projects like Samboja, people will start to gain knowledge and insight as to what they can do to help, and put and end to the horrendous mistreatment of these majestic creatures. Both Belinda and I are very involved with Greyhound Rescue in Sydney and spend most of our spare time volunteering for this organisation and doing whatever we can to find homes for these dumped and mistreated dogs. However, orangutans are now also very much on our ‘radar’ and since returning from Borneo we have been telling anyone who will listen about our experience and how extraordinary these animals are, and how they can help.
Why do you think people need to travel?
People need to travel to get outside their ‘bubble’ and experience other cultures and see how other people live, and can manage survive on next-to-nothing (or at least in terms of material items). It is the best way to gain perspective, realise how fortunate we are, stop taking things for granted, and realise how trivial our daily ‘dramas’ are, in the scheme of things. Getting ‘up close and personal’ is the only way to really experience something – yes, you can see it on TV or read about it in a book - but to actual be there in person is truly mind-blowing.
If Shelley’s review from her time at Samboja has inspired you to get involved with orangutan conservation, then take a look at the project page and become our next volunteer! Don’t forget, you get 15% off until the end of the month so check it out now!
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