21-22. Volunteer

Travel report 21: (animal) Stories from Inti Wara Yassi.
 
This travel story I finally started to write at the moment that I was suppose to sit in an airplane back home, 23 June 2004, a magic day for 11 months...
Now I´m "baby"sitting a  puma, Gato, who sleeps temporary at a different location and still has to get used to that.
Yes, it´s true, I´m still in Villa Tunari working for the volunteer project Inti Wara Yassi. Why? Read this story:
 
After I came here at the 16th of April to do some volunteer work for 2 weeks, I got so sucked into the way of living here, that it´s become difficult for me to leave this place.
The mix of doing good work with and for the animals during the day in combination with the kind of student life, with young travellers who are doing the same job, in the evening and a lot of times also the night, is special and makes me respite the day I leave again and again......
Travellers who cook dinners for each other, talk about their travel experiences and the things that are happening in the park.
Big cocktail and costume-parties every once and a while. It´s a nice way to raise some more money for the park and a good excuse to get drunk for the welfare of the animals ;-)
Or just an evening when someone is playing a guitar and most of us singing known and unknown songs with him or her in front of a small fire. All of this makes you almost feeling at home and is, together with the special animal jobs, a big reason for previous volunteers to come back.
 
Now I´ve been here for so long I get to know more and more about the park, its inhabitants (animals and people) and the way things go around here. I found out that Nena and the other Bolivian volunteers have a very big heart for the park and their animals. They really did a very good thing to start this project out of nothing;
Inti Wara Yassi unique and very special in a country as Bolivia, where most people and unfortunately also children never really learned how to love animals and how to take care of them. Butt this small group of Bolivian volunteers who started I.W.Y. seem to try to make up for all those other people in there country.
However now it seems that the organisation became a bit too big for them to handle smoothly. They can use all the help and money they can get, but need to know sometimes how to appreciate that help.
Unfortunately it also seems that Nena is too afraid to lose the park and some of the animals that were supposed to be released in the New Land.
The Bolivian volunteers are very good with the monkeys, but they still need to learn a lot about the other animals in the park and they also need to learn how to manage people. But can you blame them for that? I still think that they do a great job, knowing their background and the environmental education system (that hardly exist) in Bolivia. I only hope that in the future they will become a little more realistic and that they´re more willing to listen to even foreign volunteers.
 
Something else I´ve noticed in the past 2 months and that me surprised; is that it seems that when you keep wild animals (too) long in captivity and treat them well, they will ask for more affection and start to like their interaction with humans more and more. Especially for the cats it´s strange, because in wild they´re non-social?! I always thought that the best way to keep a wild animal, in captivity happy, is to treat it as much as a wild animal as possible. But now I changed my mind. It sounds perhaps a little contradictory, especially because I.W.Y is saving animals from having a life as the pet of a family, but now I think that wild cats in captivity prefer to be treated as a pet more than as a wild animal. A good example is Tigre, one of the ocelots who was supposed to be released. They tried to avoid human contact with her as much as possible, but the longer she stays here, the more she´s asking for affection.
There´s only one problem about giving to much affection to your cat (animal) and get to best friends, is that it will not only become more difficult for you to leave him, but also for him to see your leaving, the start to like you to much...
 
Some other stories about the present inhabitants of I.W.Y:
Last time I told you the very sad history of Boudecia, the ocelot who was captured for 4 years in a cage of 1.5 x 1.5 x 1.5m. When she came out of there everyone thought that she was to aggressive and lazy to walk with. It´s only since two months that one of the volunteers put a little more effort in her working with Boudecia, that she´s now finally starts to walk more and
more :-)    I even had to cut a new trail for he, so she can walk more...
 
Two weeks ago something very special happened in the spider monkey area, as one of the monkeys ( got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy daughter :-)  The mother Quilla  came a few years ago, together with her sister (Panca) in the park, after their mother died when they  were sitting in the top of a tree that had to be cut down.
However, not long after they came into the park, they both escaped. They stayed away for more than 6 weeks, until only Quilla came back to the park. They never found here sister but now Quilla is very happy with her own daughter and in memory hey even gave her daughter the name of Quillas sister, Panca.
 
Alright, now then 2 short stories about the many special people who work in this park (the names have been changed for privacy reasons):
 
The first is almost literally an inhabitant of the park, his name is V.. V. is one of the old Bolivian kids who helped to start up I.W.Y. At this moment he´s almost always between "his" monkeys and most of the time he will even spend the night between them (...), sleeping in a hammock under a shelter. To me it seems like he belongs there and sometimes he almost starts
to look like a monkey, only with les hair and more scars from other monkeys...
 
The second story is about a volunteer who came here a few years ago for the first time. He´s from Israel and his name is T. He´s more an animal lover and can work with al of the animals in the park. Unfortunately his skills with people are not that good, what makes it more special that this time he tried to manage the volunteer project of I.W.Y. for more than 10 months! He also tried to spend as much time as possible with Sama the jaguar, because he´s the only one who can really get close to Sama...
I admire the way he tries to survive here with eating the same basic food most of the time; spending and as less money as possible, so he can stay as long as possible to try  to make the improvements he wants.
 
It does make me sad sometimes that it doesn´t always seems to be Appreciated by Nena. Perhaps it´s the difference in culture, perhaps they´re both to obstinate. I hope that Nena knows what T. did and does for this park.
 
And what am I doing at this moment in this park? Since I never knew how long I would stay here it was more pair to Roy to find and train a new volunteer to replace me. I was happy that we found one and that I can basically leave whenever I want. But then Simba, the other puma really needed another person to walk with him. I spend a few days walking with him, before I
started to make a map of this area with a person who knows how to make maps, interesting.
 
Now I´m "finally" in construction and do my best to build 2 new cages for the cats. The first one, is for Rico the ocelot; we just finished and the next one will be for a puma we will start the concrete tomorrow.
 
So why am I still here? Do you really have to ask that question after reading my story? I think this place is addictive to me, because of all the previous reasons but also because I will probable never come back to this place, if I think realistic.
Sometimes I would like to read how it will go in the future with the park?  But if it´s bad news, than I prefer to keep these nice memories about this park......
Adios,
Martijn



22. A new Story.
 
Already more than a month ago I started a new story, but it seemed difficult to find time to finish that story. Now I finally found some time, but there changed so much in the last month, as well in the park as for me, that I had to write a whole new story:
 
If someone would have predicted the situation that we´ve now in the park, I wouldn´t believe a worth of it, but now it´s reality...
 To understand better why this situation is so special to me, I would like to tell you about my "career" within the park of Inti Wara Yassi;
As most of you know did I only come to this organisation with the idea of doing volunteer work for 2 weeks. However, when I arrived in the park there were already 65 volunteers and there were no places left for volunteers who wanted to work with animals and only stayed for 2 weeks. The only available work was in construction. For some people this was a reason to leave, for me it sounded ok. You get to work in and see a lot of, the locations, of the different animals.
But at this moment I`m very happy that a guy called N. convinced me to stay longer to walk with Roy the Puma.
After a month of walking with Roy there was still nobody who could take it over from me. I stayed 2 weeks longer until we found someone for Roy.
At that moment however they really needed someone who could walk with Simba, the other Puma. I Told N. and T. that I would stay longer to help out with Simba. At that moment I heard that N. wanted to stay here for half a year to take over the management and coordination of the foreign volunteers. At that moment it was done by T., who did it for almost a year but would leave at the 4th of August. to start his study for veterinary.
N. had big plans to reorganize the park to make the work more efficient and the live of the animals even better and he asked me to stay longer and help him.
Nena, the real manager of Inti Wara Yassi, however was not very happy with N. plans. She told him that it`s a Bolivian organisation where they work the Bolivian way, they work with their heart, day by day and they trust in god to solve the problems of the future.
N. couldn`t work in that way so he decided to leave the park with a good feeling about his time here and the love they give to the animals, before he would get frustrated of not being able to do what he wants. Probably this was a smart decision from his side, but who would take it over from T. when he leaves? I think that it`s good for the park to have a person who manages the foreign volunteers.
I have also different ideas about the things that need to be done in the park, but I couldn`t say goodbye to the park and the way of living, so I decided to take the challenge of staying longer, without getting frustrated and doing things I can`t do with my heart.
Not much later I got an e-mail that "my company" sold to less boats and that therefore I couldn`t get my job back :-(
Meanwhile I had changed from walking with cats to helping in building new cages for them. I could finally use my construction skills ;-)
I found out that there´re so many cages in bad condition, not only cat-cages, that slowly started to grow the idea of forming a small "construction-team" to build and rebuild cages. Some people had already spoken to me that if I could guarantee that I would build a cage for their animal(s) that they would try to find sponsoring. So what if I would stay for halve a year longer? If I´ve the money to do that, that should be enough to make the cages I´ve on the list to make. If I stay that long than it will be nice to help in the organisation as well. But how will that go with Nena? We didn´t have a very good start and I would like to work together. Will she trust me enough?
 
I spoke first with some other volunteers about my plans and chances. When they were positive I asked Nena...
I told her that I wanted to stay longer to do construction work and asked her if she would like me to help in the organisation when T. leaves. She told me that it was good that I would stay longer, but that I didn´t had to worry about T. leaving, if necessary, someone will turn up.
 
All right, what now? Only staying to make those cages? But if Nena doesn´t like/trust me now it will be more difficult to build those cages to?
I still don´t want to leave this place and I don`t like to give up, so I will extend my staying until the wedding of my sister and than I will see how the situation is and if I want to come back. At least this will give me some time to finish and make some of the cages I promised to build and maybe I can convince Nena that I can try to work in some Bolivian way...
 
This last part was a little more than a month ago, a month in which happened a lot;
T. left at the 4th of August, but not before he told the long-time volunteers about his experiences in the last 11 months, how rough it can be and the best way to prevent problems with the Bolivians. Cynical enough this information-dinner with the long-time volunteers was interpretated as a secret-meeting. The consequences and discussions about that leaded 2 days after almost to the point that Nena thought loudly that maybe if all long-time volunteers will leave it will be better for the Park. We know to much about the things that went and go wrong and don´t always have the same ideas about what´s good for the animals. Lucky and I think not only for us, we survived...
In our western eyes there´re some things in this park that go wrong, but if you look from a different point of view and you think about the live the animals had before they came here, than you´ve to admit that their live improved a lot! Already knowing this is enough for me to stay longer and try to help in any way I can to improve the lives of the animals even more.
I still have different ideas about the working in the park than the Bolivians do, but I try to work together with them, try to learn something from them and let them learn from me. One of the things I found out very soon was that you can´t criticise them. It works the opposite, it´s not really fair and we both learn nothing from it. If I don´t like a decision from them, I ask why the decision is made, then I tell them why I don´t like it and give another solution. This last part is very important.
Doing this I was hoping to get a better relationship with the Bolivians and showing Nena that I really want to help.
But I never expected to earn this trust so fast. Not even a week after the emotional meeting, there was an official meeting in which Juan Carlos and Nena announced that they would go to La Paz for about a week and that they wanted to leave the daily management and coordination of the park in the hands of one Bolivian and one foreign volunteer. The Bolivian volunteer would be V. and the foreign, Martijn. Me!?
Wow! This is unexpected, but I´m very happy with it, it will be a big challenge to work with foreign and Bolivian volunteers on a Bolivian way of working.
 
On the moment that I started to write this it is 15:10h on 16-8-2004. I`m almost a week coordinator of the volunteers and the challenge is even bigger than I expected, because we don´t have that much volunteers anymore. When I started to work here there were 65 volunteers and almost every new volunteer had to work in construction. Now we´ve only 34 volunteers and I even had to convince 2 volunteers to work with animals.
Not enough volunteers to work and walk with all the animals, one of the problems all volunteers could see coming, It´s something the Bolivians don´t want to think about when they bring in new animals. They say that if you always go for security you don´t get anywhere and this park wouldn`t have been so big. They´ve a point, but take a big risk for the other animals, I think...
I´m now walking with Rico, a ocelot, because we couldn`t find any new volunteer to walk with him. But if nothing changes in the next 2 days I´ve to walk with Roy and Simba too. This will be a big problem. For the making of new cages is at this moment unfortunately far not enough people, but I will build them any moment I have time and even just enough people...... The only thing we can now do is keeping a good mood and hope for a better future, like the Bolivians do...
 
19-9-2004 A little more than a month later (again) I´m on my way home and in between I still couldn´t find time to put this story on the internet. The last month almost seemed to be a month of 24/7 working. No, that´s not really true, but usually I didn´t finish working until 19:30u and after you want to take a shower, eat something and socialise with the other volunteers. Socialising seems for me even more important than getting enough sleep or vacation. Vacation, what is that? The last month we worked on an average of 28 volunteers with a minimum of 24! While the park official needs 40 volunteers to fill in every available job....... I can tell you that it took me some mind-breakers to fill in all the places where volunteers are most needed, but it gave me every morning a good feeling if the park was running again :-) Unfortunately the hard work and stress did take some victims. Some volunteers had to leave earlier, but still I´m proud on all of us that we do everything we can to give the animals a better live, that we even pay to work so hard, incredible!
 
3  Lessons I learned in the last month are:
 
1. Working with volunteers is a little more delicate than in a real company and sometimes you can better not tell them the whole truth, it can be to hard or to difficult for them to understand and if it´s not necessary for them to know, it can be easier not to tell and avoid problems.
 
2. The harder you work the more likely it is that others will follow you in working harder...
 
3. The final and most important lesson is that people can work very hard and do a lot of things they never expected from themselves that they could do them, when they feel comfortable, are in a good mood or even happy. Keep everyone in a good mood and people survive longer. This depends of course on a lot of things but you can always help with some small things like compliments, small attentions and the feeling that they´re as important as yourself :-)

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