While I intend to touch on the negatives and positives of my experience with the program, I will start with the latter because I assure you, it is brief.
The two directors on site-- are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to turtles; they are extremely thorough, thoughtful, and wise during training and turtle nesting. The practices and procedures they use are 100% aimed at the comfort and love for the all of the turtles that come to the beaches they patrol. While my patrol team consisted of two volunteers and a guide, the small group allowed for plenty of engagement and hands on experience; I am extremely pleased with the knowledge I was able to acquire over the month I spent at KIDO.
Although the turtle patrols gifted me with knowledge and experience, the rest of my time with KIDO was nearly unbearable for three main reason: the location, the living, and the directors.
It is important to understand that I was a young female traveller, arriving (and staying for a few days) solo.
Part 1: The KIDO Compound
While town is only two and a half miles away, the KIDO project is located in dense forest. (There are absolutely gorgeous views from the property.) Because of the sixteen dogs at KIDO, it is understandable why they chose a location in the middle of the woods. But for volunteers, it quickly makes you feel isolated, especially if you are alone, because you cannot leave the property if you are alone. When the leaders offered trips to town (mentioning it in advance), the departure time itself was often decided last minute-- making it difficult to make day plans-- and only at their convenience. The alternative was to ask our turtle guide for a ride (who lived 20 minutes away) or walk 1.5 miles to the bus stop, get a bus to town, take the bus back, and walk 1.5 miles uphill with groceries. This sounds fine but I assure you, walking with 4 grocery bags in 90 degree weather uphill before a 9 hour patrol really bites. Speaking of biting, the KIDO compound is the Carriacou mosquito breeding ground. I’m still confused why there are significantly less mosquitos once you step off the property, but all I know is that all natural mosquito repellent is a joke. While I practically bathed myself in a five star rated lemon eucalyptus spray for the first two days, I still acquired over 200 mosquito bites on my legs alone in the first few days and nearly went insane. Yes, body composition plays a role in this, but I know I’m not the only one who found it unbearable.
Part 2: The Jungle Bungle
This is a GREAT option if you are really into coexisting with nature and don’t mind cleaning feces multiple times a day. It is not dorm style living: it is an open bungalow that has a main door, two bedrooms with doors, a kitchen, and a living room (which are open to the outside). Because of the design of the house, the kitchen and living room are elevated in the canopy of the trees: the trees act as ladders for critters. I am all for roughing it-- after all, I have grown up camping, living eco friendly, and going on outback excursions. While I did not expect any kind of luxury, I simply felt misinformed: eco friendly and open housing are not synonymous.
Some of the returning critters are rats, opossums, bats, iguanas, lizards, six inch grasshoppers, and mammoth sized moths. Because of the critter population, the leaders suggest hiding the food in the cabinets so the animals don’t feast on it; while they still manage to eat the food in the cabinets, they also loved to feast on trash absent of food-- tin foil was a hit-- sunglass cases, and book bags. This became problematic, not only because of the food feasting, but they would run all over dishes, silverware, clothes, etc.-- making the house and your belongings a personal litter box. Beyond the obvious fact that it is extremely unsanitary, there is no way to completely control the situation because the animals will always be able to invade the house.
Furthermore, the directors insist that you don’t lock doors. Although the remote location provides some aspect of comfort, I don’t think I should be told to feel safe. (See Pt. 3, Bullet #1.) As we practiced their diver call system before leaving to inform them of where we were going, there were multiple times that the directors left the property without telling us their whereabouts-- once when we were seeking help and their phone went unanswered.
Part 3: Directors
Bluntly, I was gobsmacked at the abundance of inappropriate behavior displayed to me. As a nineteen year old girl, alone at times, I was extremely uncomfortable by one of the leader's remarks. Even after my fellow volunteer and I expressed our discomfort, we were told it was “just his ‘personality;’ rape, sex, and drugs are a part of life so [we] shouldn’t feel uncomfortable when he talks about them.” While I understand the someone's inability to change his “personality,” I would have felt better had she-- a director of the program-- taken our concerns and discomfort more seriously and understood why we felt he was inappropriate.
It would be one thing if you could interject the ramble to express your feelings, but the authoritative spiels left you vulnerable to whatever came out of his mouth, despite your discomfort. I do not think a seventy year old should be talking about sex with twenty year olds daily. Here are a few snippets:
Before my arrival, my parents dutifully inquired on the safety of the program and felt assured after emailing that it was a safe program. My parents also expressed their concern for me being alone with a male guide all night and requested I always be with another volunteer.
Three hours into my stay, one of the leaders told me about a past volunteer who was raped by a guide on patrol. Three hours into my stay, I wasn’t sure if I should catch the afternoon ferry home. Alone in the middle of an isolated island, surrounded by complete strangers, I felt quite uneasy.
The next day, one of the leaders told me I was scheduled to start patrolling the following night (alone with the guide), yet acted shocked that I was uncomfortable with the arrangement and wanted to wait until the other volunteer arrived. Even though the schedule was ultimately changed to accommodate, it shouldn’t have even been up for debate.
2. There were constantly random sexual comments:
A ten minute rant was centered around a girl who posted a picture of the lasagna she made for dinner and his belief that something about it was deeply sexual and she posted it because she lacked a sex life.
On a day trip to Paradise Beach, before leaving, he told us about the three volunteers who went there, were drugged and left on a sidewalk for three days, then were coaxed into a brothel by a man at the beach. (Why didn’t KIDO look for them if they were missing for three days? I still don’t know.)
While telling me about his trip to New York City, he said he “saw how the men would walk down the street with their heads hanging low, hands in their pockets-- probably masturbating.” Um?
How people on the island practice beastiality.
While speculating on how some people don’t like KIDO, he said “people often say that we don’t even have sex-- we do! But only if it’s kinky.”
While I wore a dress to town, he told me that I was asking for men to heckle me because I looked like a “little Easter bunny.”
In summary: I don’t really care what kind of personality you have, but as a director of an organization, there should be some fundamental filter for what comes out of your mouth. I really never wanted to hear about the KIDO sex life and how lasagna pictures are posted out of lust.
3. While my roommate expressed frustration about something, one of the leaders told her he would only allow her to complain because she “must be on [her] period.” Some kind of sexist rubbish, if ya’ ask me.
4. I don’t know where the leader felt he gained the authority to remove my water bottle from my possession while I was holding and drinking it because he thought it displayed that I’m “insecure and the water bottle serves as my safety barrier.” I don’t feel the need to elaborate on why this is inappropriate.
By the end of week three, my roommate and I found the situation unbearable and ended up moving into a local hotel for the rest of our stay. Although we continued to patrol for the organization, after our night off, the directors would tell us about how “six turtles came” but poachers killed them because we weren’t patrolling. (I question the validity because we never saw more than two turtles in one night...) Although the claim seems far fetched, I still fail to see the point in telling us that when it would clearly upset us.
After patrolling over 180+ hours for the organization, their failure to send me off at the ferry or thank me for my help perfectly epitomizes the level of respect the volunteers, in my experience, receive at this program.
Quite frankly, the behavior displayed to me was inexcusable. This was my experience with the program and I do not feel the need to justify or defend how I felt about it, despite any response to my review. I am not saying that someone should not attend this program, I am just saying they should consider the possibility that it could fall short of the glowing recommendations that others made-- bearing in mind the experience I had. Clearly not everyone has the same experience, but I know I am not the only one who had a negative experience with the program.