Sainte Luce Reserve is the real deal! If you want to get involved in meaningful conservation work in an unbelievable location then you need to volunteer here. It’s really just that simple.
I spent a few weeks volunteering during December 2015 at the Sainte Luce reserve in Madagascar. Ultimately it was a hugely rewarding experience set within a unique and undeniably beautiful rainforest and beach environment. The beach is about 20km of unspoiled vastness. The stretch of rainforest in the reserve is one of the last noteworthy fragments left in Madagascar. Some of the flora and fauna only exists in this one patch of rainforest (in the entire world) so it’s easy to appreciate why the conservation work is so important. If you set yourself the right expectations, this can certainly be a life changing experience!
After submitting my application form I received a response from Brett Massoud (owner/director) who was incredibly helpful in answering all of my additional random questions in plain English. The initial information pack (and other website information) is very comprehensive about what to expect, what to pack etc. Brett is highly experienced in Madagascar conservation work and is truly committed to protecting and researching the fragile ecosystem of the reserve. The appeal of this organisation to me was certainly the grass roots aspect to achieve as much as possible with the limited resources. No money/materials are wasted with Sainte Luce reserve (unlike some other larger organisations…) and all the work you complete has a purpose and is completed in an environmentally-friendly manner. Additionally the reserve only handles small groups of volunteers which makes the setting a lot more sociable.
The closest town (with an airport) to the reserve is Fort Dauphin. I spaced out my flights so I could have a few days to explore the capital (Tana) before heading south. Brett was able to arrange for a local guide to collect me from the airport upon arrival, get me to my hotel, get a local sim card/mobile phone etc. He went above and beyond to make sure I was looked after in general during my volunteer period. Safety is paramount to the organisation and I never once felt concerned about my personal safety during my placement. In general as long as you apply common sense you will be fine.
To get to the Sainte Luce reserve is roughly a 3-4 hour trip from Fort Dauphin via car and then pirogue (canoe). The journey just to get to the reserve is pretty much a small adventure in itself and you will see some local villages and lots of interesting scenery. When you finally paddle up to the dock at the reserve you’ll have a real appreciation for how isolated the site is (which works in its favour).
Some of the work that I was involved with during my time there was collecting and re planting mangrove seeds, clearing and mapping forest trails, collecting different seeds from the forest, nursery work, planting trees and watching lemurs. Jobs tend to vary each day so you won’t get stuck doing the same routine day in day out. It can be busy and hard work but it’s also fun and fulfilling.
It’s fair to say plans will constantly change while in Madagascar. This can be simply weather related, unforeseen events or simply changing priorities. The work will always be based on the reserve priorities so if you can be open-minded and flexible during the placement you will have a great time guaranteed! If you have a pre-conceived idea of what work you want to do the entire time you might be disappointed. Just something to take into account. Personally I just took any job they threw at me and had a great time. Naturally some jobs are more exciting than others, but all the work serves a long term purpose. Brett and the staff will always look out for your wellbeing with the work. Early on I was getting badly sunburnt (side effect of my malaria tablets and not applying enough sunscreen) so Brett made sure the next few days I was only doing work in the rainforest and no jobs in the open sun until I had recovered from the sunburn.
I found the work schedule offered adequate free time (plus days off) to do your own thing (walk in the rainforest looking for lemurs, swimming at the beach etc) so the work/play ratio is very fair and accommodating.
The camp itself is basic but completely functional. (After all it is a remote site surrounded by forest). I stayed in a small bungalow for my placement which had solar powered lights, a clean mattress and mosquito net. It’s really all that is required and is pretty comfortable. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow and you’re all set.
In summing up, if you are looking to get off the grid and be involved in hands on conservation work with a small group of people that is meaningful, safe and rewarding – Apply to this organisation! The level of personal support and information they will provide is incredible. You will be well looked after, fed and housed in such a unique experience with memories that will stay with you long after you leave. You won’t find an experience like this anywhere else. Check out their Facebook page for additional pictures and information if you are interested in volunteering at Sainte Luce Reserve.
A few tips
- It’s worth buying the best head torch you can afford. It will come in handy at all times. (make sure to bring enough batteries to keep it operational). A good small torch is also a handy backup.
- Consider donating any useful items to the reserve/staff at the end of your placement. The equipment in Madagascar stores is generally expensive and poor quality so any equipment (like torches, batteries etc) that you can spare at the end helps out a lot.
- An easy free way to acquire a travel pillow is take it from the plane on a long haul flight :P
- Try learn a few basic greetings in Malagasy before you get there. It just helps break the ice with the locals.