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Michael Adjaye - Belize - Trekforce Expeditions

Author: Worldwide Volunteering
Published Date: 28 February 2008

Michael had finished University and decided that he wanted to go on a gap year before moving into full-time employment. After meeting Ivan Wise from World Wide Volunteering at a Gap Year Show, Michael decided that a volunteer project was the right way to go, and he is very glad he made this decision ...

"Who knows what noise a Howler monkey makes? It doesn’t go “ooh ooh! aah aah!” like you might expect. Think more along the lines of T-Rex from Jurassic Park. As the second loudest mammal on the planet, second only to the blue whale, these monkeys are loud! The jungles of Belize in Central America are home to these incredible creatures, and these jungles also became my home for a two month volunteer project that I was a part of.

"I had finished University and decided that I wanted to go on a gap year before moving into full-time employment. After meeting Ivan from World Wide Volunteering I decided that a volunteer project was the right way to go, and I am very glad I made this decision.

"We were a group of about thirty 18 – 25 year olds who had never experienced jungle life before but we had all gladly given up all our comforts of back home to do something meaningful and experience something new. The jungles were under threat from a logging company interested in coming into the area to chop down large parts. Admittedly, this would have provided a much needed source of income for the local community there but the hope was that there might be an alternative sustainable option that would not mean the destruction of their local jungles and the habitats of countless creatures including our beloved Howler monkeys. Our job was to help provide this much more desired alternative.

"Our volunteer project was to continue development of the area to a suitable degree that it could gain National Park Status and become a hot spot for eco-tourism, thus protecting the area from potential logging companies as well as illegal poachers and provide that much needed source of income for the local community. This part of Belize was already blessed with an absolutely stunning waterfall which we were sure eco-tourists would be very keen to see. We built a ranger station and made improvements to a 3km trail that led from the ranger station to the waterfall including the construction of a bridge over a small creek. We also built a bio-gas latrine which converts human waste into methane gas to be piped of and used. Our last task was to explore the jungle to determine a possible boundary for the proposed national park. So all in all we were very busy!

"We learnt quickly what it takes to survive in the jungle, sleeping in hammocks, drinking safely from the river at the bottom of our camp and cooking safely too. Though it wasn’t long before we got pretty fed up of porridge for breakfast, crackers for lunch and spam for dinner I can tell you! It’s amazing to think that with our construction experience at next to nothing, we were able to complete our project in time for the opening ceremony which was attended by ministers, members of the forestry commission, the local community and even Belize’s Channel Five! We were all extremely proud of what we had accomplished. And in the process completing our project we had formed a very close bond with one another. I have made friends for life out of my project group despite all our very different backgrounds. We still see each other quite regularly.

"So, we had completed our project, and we hoped that it would make a real difference. Well guess what, not long after, we were over the moon to learn that the area was to be granted National Park status! Mission accomplished! This was great news to us and boy did we celebrate and between you and me, I think I heard the Howler monkeys roaring even louder than usual that night.

"My time in the Belizean jungle is a real highlight in my life. I learnt a lot about myself, and gained a great deal of confidence from knowing that no matter how hard a challenge you are facing, you can most definitely succeed. It also changed my perspective on life and on what’s really important. In a world where we can often get carried away by accumulating material things and increasing our personal wealth I have realised that it is not these things but instead, the people we meet, our friends both old and new, and the differences we make that enrich our lives. As I sink back into my normal routine, I am still very conscious that there is a whole wide world out there, and I hope very much that I can get out there and do it again someday."