One of my goals in volunteering at the Betary Reserve was to gain life experience, develop life skills, and mature as a person. In this regard, volunteering at the Betary Reserve has been invaluable. Living on my own without the safety net of my parents forced me to learn how to cook and take care of myself. Being forced out of my comfort zone led to much personal growth and has resulting in me leading a more adventurous lifestyle.
My second goal in volunteering at the reserve was to figure out whether I want to pursue a career in the environmental science field, and what career in that field appeals to me. I went into the experience expecting more interaction with the scientists and more data analysis than I got, though it must be noted that that was a misunderstanding on my part in addition to something that the reserve should probably make clearer. The purpose of the Betary Reserve is to gather scientific data which is sent to partner universities for analysis and use in research. Due to the nature of this relationship, as a volunteer I did very little analysis, which was a bit disappointing since I wanted to get a wider range of experience at different parts of the process. While the reserve’s staff includes a handful of biologists, we didn’t interact with them in our duties. The one scientist we worked with was an amazing and knowledgeable post-graduate who specialized in mushrooms. An environmental technician is the career most closely matching the data collection focused volunteer work we did, and while the projects were interesting and enjoyable, I can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I wanted to be involved with the research applying the collected data, and without that involvement, I found it hard to be engaged with certain projects. This was a sentiment shared by some of my fellow volunteers. The volunteer coordinator was a volunteer turned staff member, and not being a scientist, wasn’t able to answer many in depth questions regarding the application of the data.
In addition to my role as an eco-volunteer, I did photography for the reserve, taking nature shots and candid photos of my fellow volunteers for use in promotional material. Taking pictures for the reserve was very enjoyable and gave me access to thousands of great photo-ops. After two months of taking pictures at the reserve and in town, I still have a long list of places and things I want to photograph.
A review of my experience would be incomplete without mentioning my fellow volunteers. I believe that the people who spend their time and money to help the world are good people, and the volunteers I met on the reserve reinforced that belief. Every volunteer I met was from a different country and their ages ranged from an 18-year-old to a 32-year-old, and yet we all got along and formed a strong group dynamic that supported each other and made the experience very enjoyable. In the evenings we would play card games or go to a nearby hostel to relax and eat a buffet dinner, and on weekends we hiked to caves or waterfalls, up rivers, or into the nearby town. The weekend often involved drinking games, but there was never any peer pressure directed at those like myself who didn’t drink alcohol, and we were included in the games. I have certainly made lifelong friends during this adventure.
A review of volunteering with the Betary Reserve would also be incomplete without mentioning the staggering abundance of nature found in the buffer zone. I really like Brazil, and specifically like the local town -- a 10-minute drive from the reserve -- Iporanga. Although it is a poor area of an economically disadvantaged nation, everybody in the town is extremely friendly and hospitable. The reserve itself is an enjoyable environment to work in, and every night I would go out to the ponds or greenhouse to look for and photograph tree frogs, aquatic spiders, and metamorphosing dragonflies. Although I did this almost every evening for two months, it never stopped being amazing. At the ponds are bioluminescent mosquito larvae which turn the pond into a wonderland of lights, mosquitoes in the water, and fireflies above. Above the fireflies are the stars. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. The reserve really is out in the middle of nowhere, which is evident when you look up and see no air pollution or light pollution. While certain features of the climate (mosquitoes and high humidity) are undesirable, they are overshadowed by the abundance of life that results from the climate and geography of the area.
This place truly is amazing, and no review can entirely capture how valuable and enjoyable the experience was for me. I am considering returning to volunteer here in the future but focusing on photography as a media-volunteer. I have done a lot of traveling, and this is one of the places I want to go back to, to photograph like crazy, and to explore. I feel a connection to this place.