What inspired you to volunteer abroad with La Senda Verde in Bolivia?
Sarah: I first arrived at La Senda Verde by coincidence as a day tourist, when traveling South America in 2011.
The beauty and tranquillity of the nature there and the wild animals roaming the place fascinated me.
I decided spontaneously to volunteer there. I planned to stay for two weeks, ended up being there for three months and still have the feeling, that a part of me never left – that’s just how awesome it was!
While working as an animal keeper at La Senda Verde, I learned so much about all the different species of wild animals from the Amazon and their illegal trafficking and met an awesome bunch of dedicated people - from the local owners and staff to an international crazy group of volunteers.
All this and the feeling of having found a new home and family inspired me to go back two years later for another three months full-time volunteering and it was again an amazing experience.
What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered in Bolivia?
Sarah: The Bolivians (or probably all South Americans) somehow cope with life in a different way than Europeans. They are way more relaxed and laid back, everything moves and works slower and things often turn out in a different way than originally thought.
This different “flow of life” is refreshing and gives more freedom and surprises in everyday life, but is also challenging and not always easy to handle when you come from a place like Switzerland, where everything is planned and organized in details.
What was the best moment of the experience?
Sarah: I can’t cut “the best” down to moments. So many different moments led to the whole beautiful picture of my volunteering experience.
During my first stay, I had the chance to get to know the whole monkey troop while being a surrogate mother for a howler monkey baby and learned that these wild animals all have their very distinct personalities and a complex hierarchy they live in.
I learned to observe and read their behavior, built up their trust, and eventually became part of the troop as well. This was a truly special and precious experience.
Or the insight, that these wild animals are really sensitive creatures, that they feel you and react on you, and how they teach you to listen to your instincts and to be honest – this insight really changed me.
The second time, I saw deeper into the organization of the animal refuge and the challenges they cope with. It made me realize even more, what a responsibility you have as a volunteer there and that you can really make a difference if you take the initiative to set up something new or to enhance existing work flows.
This was very rewarding.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Sarah: My volunteering experience at La Senda Verde impacted my future in many ways. It inflamed my passion to work with wild animals and inspired me to make a career change to become an animal keeper.
I also grew personally during those six months. The work around wild and abused animals taught me patience, calmness, and open-heartedness.
I have found my connection to nature and to my instincts again and also gained a lot of “life experience” through the close work with people from many different cultures and backgrounds.
What do you miss the most about Bolivia or your experience?
Sarah: I mostly miss the animals of La Senda Verde – having them around, working closely with, and learning from them every day.
Also the connection with nature I feel there so intensely, the beautiful surroundings, the Bolivian groove of life, and the community feeling at La Senda Verde arouse a feeling of longing.