You’re young and you’ve got a brain.
Added to this, you’ve got a passion for the planet.
All you need is the opportunity.”
So commences the introductory page for the World Wildlife Fund’s Youth Volunteer Programme website. Back home in the San Francisco Bay Area and approaching the completion of my university studies, I read these words just a short six months ago and felt my pulse quicken. I want to save the planet. I am young, and I like to think I have a brain. Above all, I know I have a passion for the planet. And, now, WWF has given me an opportunity.
I write to you from Antananarivo, capital city of the world’s fourth largest island, the independent nation of Madagascar. Less than a week ago, on Sunday, September 12, 2010, I said my goodbyes to the last of a few familiar faces and left the western world behind. For the next three months, Madagascar will be my home, and my fellow youth volunteers in World Wildlife Fund’s EXPLORE program will be all that I know of family and of friends. As writes Hillary Bradt in her guidebook to this country, “Madagascar is about as far from California as it is possible to be. Indeed, San Francisco and the southern Malagasy town of Toliara are as far apart as it is possible to be.” It would appear that I have come a long way from home.
I am not a superstitious person, and yet I felt as though destiny was at play when, just five days ago, I stumbled through the Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport and found a WWF donation jar just outside the gate to my flight to Tana. It was as if it had been put there just for me. I frugally dropped in a few euro coins from my meager student funds and thought to myself that, soon, I would have the opportunity to make an impact more substantial. I found myself following the iconic panda bear across continental Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, and eastern Africa. And then it was waiting for me again, in the hands of a taxi driver in the arrival terminal of Tana’s Ivato airport. Yes, I thought to myself, as I first set foot on Malagasy soil, here is a chance to do my utmost to help save the world.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of the largest non-governmental environmental conservation organizations in the world. With a myriad of international, national, and regional offices, WWF reaches out to threatened pockets of nature in all corners of the globe. Though each of its many sub-organizations functions seemingly independently, all are united by a common goal: “To stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.”
My fellow EXPLORE volunteers and myself are here in Tana under the auspices of WWF Madagascar, aiming to do just that. We are currently a team of five, though a sixth may join us in time, and we hail from backgrounds as diverse as the ecosystems that WWF seeks to protect: Christa Szumski from Canada, Sergio Rejado Albaina from Spain, Kuni Baldauf from Austria, Henintsoa Ravoala from France, and myself—Cara Brook from the good ol’USA. After three days of orientation in Antananarivo, we are neophytes still in the strange land of Madagascar, a country that only one of us has ever set foot in before, a land known to most only from the animated images of a Disney movie that I confess to having never seen myself. And yet tomorrow we depart for our field site in the southeastern rainforest of Vondrozo where we hope to uphold WWF’s noble mission to halt our planet’s environmental degradation and build a harmonious future for humans and nature.