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Maria Fredriksson: Island Land Conservation in Koh Tao Thailand

Thailand Koh Tao, Thailand  |  Oct 17, 2011
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 Each new day I learned more and learned new skills 

Maria Fredriksson is from Sweden and has been working in the field of purchasing and logistics for the past 5 years. She decided to volunteer as she had lost her passion for her job and felt she needed to do something that might help her find a new direction in life.

What made you choose Kaya? Finding the right organization to go with proved to be the most difficult thing after I made the decision to do a more challenging holiday by going a a volunteer holiday for 4 weeks. After a lot of searching the internet and a lot of e-mails to a couple of both Swedish and other European organizations where I asked a lot of different questions about the projects, their organization, etc, I finally choose to go with Kaya Volunteer. I have not regretted that decision.The sign-up process was easy and the different forms you fill in shows that there is a good organization behind this company. You also have easy access by both e-mail and telephone if you would have any questions. In good time prior to departure I received a welcome pack. This contained loads of useful information, everything from country information, travel details, project details, things to think about and suggestions of what to pack. There was also important telephone numbers for both the Bangkok coordinator and the project manager at Koh Tao. I highly recommend everybody reading, printing and bringing the welcome pack.

Can you tell us a bit more about your role on the project? The Country - Since this was my first volunteer holiday where I didn’t know what to expect, I choose to go to Thailand because I’ve been there several times before. There at least I knew about the culture, food and climate. But also because I on my previous holidays in Thailand has seen some of the problems mass-tourism can create in a culture where you live day by day and the money you make today is what matters. There’s not that much thought of what will happen tomorrow. This you can really see if you go to Phuket for example where tourism has grown to big with not much thought to the impact of the environment.

The project - I choose the land conservation project to see and learn how I can make a change. I was also interested in learning how a small island, like Koh Tao, that is dependent on tourism (divers especially) handle the problems facing a small islands land- and marine environment. I also wanted to see how Save Koh Tao-community worked together with some of the dive shops to help conserve the sensitive nature on both land and sea.

My role - We worked closed with the team of divers doing the marine conservation. My role was both doing the different tasks assigned for each day but also coming with my own ideas and suggestions. If I for instance saw a beach needing cleaning, we’d put that up on the week’s “to do”-list.The work was really interesting and educational, you also got a good insight to the local community. There wasn’t a day like the other. Some days we were out cleaning beaches, or doing snorkeling cleaning in shallow waters (often from the beaches), other days we were making beach and road signs, handed out battery bins, making EM composts. Other days we worked with the divers at one of the land slides or building in concrete for the Buoyancy world (this figures would later be put in the ocean to create an artificial reef), or tying together buoylines. Some days we also went out together with the divers and snorkeled in the shallow waters checking for trash and doing coral inventory.We also went to the garden where a special kind of grass is grown. This grass is really strong and gets a very deep root system. When the grass plants have grown stronger they will be planted at the different land slide sites to help bind the earth and mud.All the different tasks were connected to each other, by doing conservation and land you help the sea and vice versa.

Did you have any worries before you left? My worries were how to manage the living conditions, the physical aspect of working in the heat and also the social life.After meeting the team at the Diving School and also the fact the Kaya team contacted the project manager at the Diving School to make sure I’ve settled in, all my worries were quickly put to rest.

Did anything surprise you? I was surprised by how well I adapted to working physically in the heat and also living in more simple conditions than I’m used to.What was also surprising was how interesting and fun I found each day and all the different tasks, no matter what it was.Each new day I learned more and learned new skills.

What were the highlights? There were a lot of highlights these 4 weeks, but what stood out the most was learning more about that what you do on land effects the ocean and vice versa, but also working with amazing people who had such a passion for the conservation of both land and ocean. Learning new skills such as mixing concrete, EM composts etc.Seeing how “save Koh Tao”-community works together with dive schools to really make a change to the better and ensure that this paradise will be preserved for future generations too.Of course also being able to be outside from morning till evening was great.And then we have the weather, the people, new friends and the whole experience.It was a complete package where I found everything wonderful.

What does travelling as a volunteer mean to you vs travelling as a tourist? What a difference!When volunteering you get to see all the wonderful things you’ll never see as a tourist and also experience things you normally don’t do as a regular tourist. You also get the opportunity to get involved in the culture and community, and get a greater understanding for those, in the country you’re visiting.Both physically and mentally you get a much more relaxing and healthy vacation. Both your body and mind get to relax from your everyday life and focus on things that can make a difference.I also got to learn so many things that I wouldn’t have learned if I was just being a tourist. I also get taught new skills which was fun. I met new friends that I still have contact with, people that share my interest in the environment.As a volunteer you also get to see that you really don’t need that swimming pool or that fancy hotel, you are actually much more comfortable without that. For me doing volunteer work on my holiday for 4 weeks, that gave me so much more than when I’ve been just a tourist. After getting back home and to work I’ve also felt much more relaxed and content.But remember that even if you go on a normal tourist-holiday, you can still help making a change by raising the awareness of other tourists and the people working with tourism. Volunteering made me see things in a different perspective and made me aware that every little thing you do is important.

How has the experience affected you? For me these 4 weeks was like a test. I wanted an answer to the question if working in an office really is was I want to do. Working to make the company make more money and get your paycheck each month. After my 4 weeks I know that sitting in an office all day is not what I’m supposed to do. It’s time for me to make the jump into the unknown and work with the things I have a passion for instead of just working to get my paycheck. Now I’m checking into other projects, other countries to find something I think would suit me. After I’ve found that I’m ready to leave my secure and comfortable life at home and start a new more meaningful life working with the things that I want, and not for the money but for making a difference and to give our environment a hand. I also look forward to learning more about the marine life and conservation work. Meeting more passionate people, be taught more new skills etc. Help making people aware of the threats to the environment, hopefully effect people with my passion for it. I don’t know which country I will finally end up in working with land- and marine conservation, but in 2012 I will.

What would you say to others thinking of volunteering? First of all, investigate different organizations. Ask them questions, no question is too small. Make sure that you find a project that you think is right for you. Read about the country you’re going to. Be prepared for a life changing experience where you will get really involved in the culture, the people, the project.No matter if you’re young or old, and experienced traveler or not – By volunteering you get the chance to see things you haven’t before. Be taught new skills, test your boundaries, challenge yourself! It’s amazing! You meet so many new people, see so much more of the country you’re visiting and having the time of your life.Who knows, you might also find a new focus in life!

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