Alumni Spotlight: Benedict Noel

Benedict Noel is from Perth, Australia and currently works for, the world's largest independent ebook retailer. He enjoys travelling, technology and anything to do with entrepreneurship and the startup community. He spent 2 weeks volunteering for La Senda Verde Animal refuge at the start of November 2013.

Benedict Noel

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with La Senda Verde?

Benedict: We knew that we wanted to volunteer with animals in South America, the hard part was deciding where! Bolivia was the perfect candidate because of it's varied wildlife and it's also a relatively cheap country to travel in.

The work at La Senda Verde seemed to be the most varied out of the options we looked at, they also offered short-term working opportunities and we're conveniently located at the end of death road coming from La Paz.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Benedict: Working as a short-term volunteer meant that your work varied from day to day. Over the 2 weeks that we worked there, we worked with birds, turtles, bears, monkeys and some more unusual creatures like the tayras.

In general, work starts at 8am where you'll work for 1-1.5 hours cleaning and feeding the animals before you have your breakfast. Following breakfast you'll work on projects to improve the animals habitats, or just hang out with the animals (in particular the monkeys) so that they can get used to you.

You may also get assigned to special projects in the afternoon before feeding and cleaning the animals again in the evening. The work itself highly depends on what type of animal you're working with that day!

What was the hardest or most challenging aspect of your experience? Most rewarding?

A red macaw outside the Ark

Benedict: The routine work isn't too challenging once you've been instructed on what you need to do. It can be more challenging when there aren't enough volunteers, it basically means that you're working without a break throughout the day.

For me, working with the capuchin monkeys was the most rewarding, there are over 50 of them and you get to know each of their names and personalities.

You also act as a kind of crowd control for the tour guides while they are showing visitors through the monkey area, an important and amusing job!

If you had to pick one moment of the trip as your favorite, which would it be?

Benedict: It's an amazing experience to simply hang out with the spider and capuchin monkeys and to see them interact. One of my favorite moments was something that is much more enjoyable when you look at it in retrospect; one of the monkeys "Martin 1" is adept at opening all of your zips and pockets as soon as you get nearby.

I was near him one day when jumped onto my shoulder and slithered down my shirt onto my back. He very slowly started running his finger nail up and down my spine which was nice at first but soon became a bit painful. I took off my shirt so that I could get him out, and as I was doing this, he managed to grab the shirt out of my hand before quickly running up tree.

He really didn't want to give it back to me, instead doing nice things like dunking my shirt in his water or porridge. An interesting experience, being stuck in the middle of the forest with 50 capuchins and no shirt. How do you explain that to your boss?

Sasha the margay

How has the experience impacted your future?

Benedict: It was such a positive experience, it has made me want to do more volunteer work in the future. In fact, I hope to continue helping non-profit organisations on a part-time basis once I return to Australia in addition to my full-time work.

I think it's important for professionals to do a small amount of volunteer work. Often they'll have business skills or connections that can assist organisations in areas where they're lacking.