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Bahamas Marine Conservation with Gapforce
Sam Clarke, 21, from Nottingham, England. He is currently studying geography at Newcastle University. He enjoys travelling, diving, bar tending, rugby and ice hockey. In the future he hopes to run a bar/dive school in the Caribbean.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Gap Force in the Bahamas?
Sam: I decided to volunteer abroad with Gap Force in the Bahamas as Gap Force came to my school for a Gap year fair. The Gap Force representative was very helpful and informative when describing and explaining all the different volunteering programs that were possible to join. After deciding to take a Gap year I went back to leaflet that I had kept from the fair. I had always wanted to learn to dive and the prospect of living on a beach in the beautiful Bahamas seemed like the perfect program for me.
What made this volunteer experience unique and special?
Sam: I think there are many factors that make this volunteer experience unique and special. First of all the environment in which you live. The house is a very simple wooden house located on the beautiful sands of Andros Island. The House is no further than 25 metres from sea. This kind of setting is far from the reality of the UK. Although it is simple and sometimes hard work to live in, overtime you adapt to call it home and with all amazing beauty that is around you on day to day basis it feels the best place on earth and somewhere you never want to leave. Secondly the people you encounter on the program make it special. This ranges from the volunteers, to the staff and everyone you meet around Island. Although Andros is the largest Island in the Bahamas, it is very underpopulated and so the Island people are almost one family. Everyone is so friendly and overtime you build strong relationships with local people. As for the volunteers and staff, they make the trip! I had the privilege of staying for 6 months and got to meet some amazing people who will be life long friends. Although the program is amazing, everyone has their bad days when nothing looks good (this tends to be the days it rains for long periods of time) but everyone always pulls together and that is when I knew I had found a great group of people. Finally the activities you do on Andros make the experience unique and special. Swimming in blue holes, scuba diving with sharks, dolphins, turtles and tropical fish, free diving, blue hole scuba diving, teaching in the local primary school and general beach fun! These are some activities and experiences that only a small percentage of the world ever get to do.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Sam: Since I finished the experience in September 2012 I have gone on to University where I am studying geography. The experience definitely changes you and your attitudes towards life and the sea. I feel more independent, self sufficient and relaxed due to the trip. When you are on the island you become enclosed in the bubble that is "island life" where nothing seems to matter except the people and environment in your immediate surroundings. With all the bad that is happening in the world today it is amazing how quickly you forget about reality and focus solely on the tasks that are at hand in the area around your beach house. I think I have taken this mentality with me and it is now what drives me to continue to try new things and travel more. I continue to dive around the world and hope to obtain my instructor qualification in the near future. In the future I hope to move to an island somewhere in the Caribbean as the six months I spent on Andros showed me how amazing, simple and beautiful life can be.
What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering volunteering abroad in the Bahamas?
Sam: My advice would be don't pass up an opportunity like this one. It will be one of most amazing things you will ever do. If you enjoy the sun, sea, sand, meeting new people and trying knew things then this trip is the once in a lifetime experience for you. It is hard work at times but with the environment and people around you, it is an incredible experience.
Matt is a 23 year old male from Cambridge, England who to University at Brunel, West London, where he studied Business and Sport Science. After volunteering with them, he got a job in sales and business development for GapForce. He loves keeping active, but especially snowboarding and all things outdoors. Bitten by the travel bug, Matt travel to new countries as often as he possibly can.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Gapforce in the Bahamas?
Matt: What made me volunteer with GapForce in the Bahamas was essentially the location and the nature of the project they ran. I have always loved scuba diving and have always been keen to visit places I have never been to before.
I had already booked onto a snowboard instructor course in Whistler, Canada, and began my search for a decent dive programme to do afterwards. I had already had a few 'family resort' style holidays growing up, so I didn't want to end up in tourist areas which would have been the same no matter which country I went to. A few of my friends from my work at the time had already done a bit of travelling and they had been telling me about a marine conservation project they'd worked on. I liked the idea of doing something worthwhile at the same time as enjoying myself, so I checked out a few different volunteer organisations and their marine projects, one of which was GapForce.
I found some really great volunteering trips online, but what originally attracted me to GapForce was the location of the project which was in a part of the World I had never visited before. After a phone call to their office, the guy I spoke to was able to answer any questions I had, which weren't too many, so I thought I would just go for it and booked there and then.
What made this volunteer experience unique and special?
Matt: What made my experience in The Bahamas so unique and special was the nature of the programme itself and the location we worked in for the duration of my trip. I had only ever really been to heavy tourist areas of different countries and hadn't really fully experienced a different culture properly.
The research station was on the least densely populated island in The Bahamas and I really loved being nowhere near any tourist resorts or backpackers etc. All the way through you really felt that it was just our group on our own private part of the island.
My favourite part of the trip above all others was when we got diving, there were never any other boats in sight and we were able to literally just stop the boat anywhere we wanted and jump in to explore what was below. You got a real sense that nothing we were seeing had been influenced by tourism or any other damaging factors. It was just perfectly natural.
Despite the awesome diving experience I had, seeing my first sharks, sea turtles and huge spotted eagle rays; I would say what made it really special was the people I shared the experience with. The staff were just incredible at keeping us having fun whilst also maintaining a professional attitude towards the conservation work we were doing. The friends I made on the trip will remain so for the rest of my life. We organised a UK re-union around 6 months later and we are due to all meet up again in one months' time!
How has this experience impacted your future?
Matt: My experience in The Bahamas has surprisingly had a huge impact on my life. Once my time there was over, I knew I had finally run out of savings and would need to head back to the UK. I had already completed my degree and would be on the lookout for a 'proper' job. The experiences I had travelling during 2012 taught me that I definitely wanted to get into the travel industry. If I could travel and get a salary at the same time, it would be ideal. Eventually I wanted to set up my own company; but first I would need to get some experience within an already established organisation. So after I returned to the UK, I planned to start applying for jobs within the head offices of adventure travel style companies.
I had had such a great time in The Bahamas, I wanted to make a point of letting GapForce know how amazing I thought the trip was and give my feedback. In the email I sent them, I mentioned that it had helped to inspire me to work for a similar organisation. Then what do you know; GapForce replied saying that there actually was a vacancy opening up in the London office in the next couple of months! Naturally I jumped at the chance. I updated my CV and spent a long time on a cover letter, sent it off and heard back about a week later that they wanted me in for an interview. Around a month and a half later, I was moving to the London area to start my new job on the Sales team at GapForce!
Just under a year later, I am still working there and absolutely love my job!
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering volunteering abroad in the Bahamas?
Matt: If I was to offer advice to someone thinking about heading to The Bahamas on the GapForce programme, I would say that you need to make sure you understand what to expect from the trip before you go. Yes, the project is based around diving; however there are other aspects to the volunteering. As well as taking scientific marine surveys, we also worked with the local community. During school term time, we would help out once a week at the primary school. We would teach really basic stuff like body parts, basic maths, and make the classes as interactive as possible. Out of school terms, the same group of kids would come to camp once a week where we would teach them to swim. This kind of work was especially rewarding because you get the same kids each week and start to really see improvements, knowing you had a direct influence.
In terms of expectations, I would also advise that you have to have an open mind and be ready to muck in with a group of strangers. The camp worked a chores system where volunteers would help cook meals, clean and maintain the site in general.
Gapforce is a leading provider of structured Gap Year programs and summer opportunities overseas. The wide range of global adventures includes marine conservation, wildlife protection, community volunteering & healthcare, extreme expeditions, leadership training, working holidays, internships, sport coaching, ski instructor and leadership training.
For over twenty years, Gapforce has been running safe, unique and rewarding programs to some of the world's most exciting and exotic locations. Our overseas staff are some of the most experienced in the industry and look after you every step of the way. You have a choice of group start dates throughout the year - your adventure starts here!