What position do you hold at Ecoteer? What has been your career path so far?
Shauna: I am the new Project Leader at the Teaching & Community Project on the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia. I started off as an intern for three months, and loved my time there so much that I applied to become a more permanent part of their team in 2015. My path in conservation in Malaysia has only just begun. Sparked by my passion for nature, I gained my degree in Wildlife Conservation at DICE, University of Kent, UK. I graduated in July 2014, moved back to Kuala Lumpur and luckily found myself working with this team! This is just the start of many things I hope to accomplish in Malaysia.
Did YOU volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Shauna: After finishing college, I took a year off studying and decided to volunteer for causes I believed in. It was growing up in Malaysia that led my interest in wildlife and the environment - captivating tropical forests and reefs, buzzing with life, but with not many people fighting to keep them that way. I volunteered in Bogor, Indonesia with a slow loris and macaque rehabilitation centre (IAR), and later in Sabah, Borneo with a sun bear conservation centre (BSBCC). Both great experiences that opened my eyes to the power of conservation and education!
What does the future hold for Ecoteer - any exciting new programs to share?
Shauna: We do have some new programmes planned for next year. These include up-scaled village composting and recycling, cooking classes run by local women from the Perhentian Islands Ladies Association (PILA), as well as a new upcoming scheme converting used cooking oil into biodiesel and scented soap. Our programmes are based on developing the community, but also protecting the reefs and nature that surround us. We still conduct weekly coral health surveys, awareness campaigns and English/Environment classes at the school. We always have new ideas coming up so do keep track of us via the website or by contacting us directly to see what we’re up to.
What about the future of the industry? How do you think volunteer abroad will change over the next 10 years?
Shauna: I think volunteering abroad is becoming a much-desired way to travel the world now and will only continue to grow in the next coming years. Traveling whilst contributing to a cause and learning about different cultures and environments allows people to have a more enriched travel experience, and can even make life-changing decisions for some. People are looking to explore countries in a different way to the everyday tourist, and volunteering is most definitely the way to do so.
Which volunteer abroad destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?
Shauna: My own experience has only been in Southeast Asia so it wouldn’t be fair for me to compare it with other places. However, I can say that Asia is a region of the world that is full of opportunities. There are so many projects out there that need people, their skills, their ideas and their support. Even providing financial support by being a paying volunteer is a huge contribution in itself, as many volunteer abroad projects need that funding in order to continue their work. Of course, having an enthusiastic and positive attitude is just as important. ☺ Volunteering allows you to see the world in a different light… it creates a platform for learning and for meeting people with similar values to yours.