As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, we regularly have volunteers from all over the world here at the Punta Islita site and also over on the east coast at our Manzanillo site. Our volunteers are absolutely indispensable to our work – they look after our captive birds by cleaning aviaries, preparing and distributing food, collecting wild food, and monitoring their health and wellbeing. As well as this they take on all sorts of extra tasks. They fix things, build things, carry things, paint things! They build paths, install nest boxes, make signs, put up signs, plant trees, help with record-keeping, the list is endless…
And all of this is achieved while living in basic, shared accommodation in a remote location and often in very hot, humid weather or heavy rain! The work can be very physical and very challenging; it’s often different from what our volunteers do in their day-to-day lives and perhaps not quite what they imagined. I am continuously amazed and delighted at how many wonderful people make the journey here to give some of their time and energy to helping us. In nine months I’ve worked with people from the UK, the USA, Canada, Poland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Mexico, France and Switzerland. And you can just imagine how many hundreds of people have helped The Ara Project over the years.
Sometimes we communicate in English, sometimes Spanish, sometimes not much of either or a third language! We work together, eat together and play together and I know for all of us, it’s an experience that teaches us about ourselves as well as the macaws. Most of our volunteers do a month but some people stay for much longer. We’ve had vets, biologists and conservation scientists, people who work with parrots and people who keep them as pets. And we’ve had fashion designers, writers, graphic designers, landscape designers, students and people who’ve just finished school and don’t know yet what they’ll do with their lives! People from 18 to into their 70s. It doesn’t matter what walk of life they come from, whether they know a lot about macaws or nothing, it’s just remarkable that they come at all.
Of course, we have a lot of fun too and the rewards of the job are intrinsic – the jungle is beautiful, there’s a constant array of fascinating wildlife on display, there’s the beach 10 minutes walk away, great hikes and views and Miguel’s bar down the road for a cheap beer. There’s the adventure of meeting and living with people from all over the world (and trying their cooking!). And there’s the wonder of the macaws themselves, always present and always making their presence known!
So, thank you, all of you, for your hard work and dedication. I know sometimes it’s hard to see the bigger picture. When you’re only here for a few weeks it’s unlikely you’ll see a release or a baby macaw but you will have hungry Scarlet macaws yelling at you and peering over the roof at you, you’ll watch them argue and make up and get to know which ones to keep your fingers away from! You might have a troop of howler monkeys pass by your window or see the babies playing in the trees, you can take surfing lessons and pick up some Tico expressions. I can promise you, it’s an experience that will stay with you forever. And every contribution is worthwhile and moves us a little closer to seeing macaws filling Costa Rica’s skies once again.
By Angharad Thomas