The International Student Volunteer (ISV) program is the world’s highest rated volunteer program, with over 35,000 student participants in just 15 years. Their mission statement is, “to support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing student volunteers and responsible adventure travel programs designed to positively change our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.” I have learned first hand that they accomplish this, and much more.
The program is divided into two parts. During the first two weeks you join a team and work on your sustainability project. I met my team of seven upon arrival in Sydney, Australia and then traveled to our home-stay further north in Newcastle. Here, we worked for one week restoring a national wetland park which was suffering from invasive plant species that disrupted the resting area for thousands of East Asian migratory shorebirds. Without this resting ground, the birds would be forced to continue their flight for several more days, often leading to their death. We spent this week removing each of the weeds by hand. On our breaks we learned about these birds and their migration pattern. Our evenings involved debriefing the day’s activity and brainstorming ways to further impact this wildlife community.
While we were on this project site, we also learned of a public concern for the damaged break wall surrounding the wetland. Fortunately, we were at the location just two days before a large storm that would have broken the remaining wall and flooded the entire area beyond repair. We filled sand bags and strategically placed them to form a sturdy break wall that would survive this and many other storms in the future.
During our second week, we worked alongside the team for a project known as Stepping Stones, which was developed to repair soil erosion through planting trees. Unfortunately, the project was losing funding and was short staffed. We helped to pick up the slack and planted 840 trees. This picture shows me kneeling in McGully’s Gap, an area that would have been preeminently affected by the soil erosion that had been occurring. They best part about this project was that we were planting a life that would continue to grow and make a lasting impact on this area in Australia. My hope is to one day return and see how the 840 trees that we planted filled the entire land.
During the last two weeks of the trip, I joined a larger group of volunteers who had each been working on their own sustainability project. Together, we toured the east coast of Australia learning about their Aboriginal culture and wildlife conservation. We had the wonderful opportunity to take a course on coral reef biodiversityin which the instructor educated us on the tragedies the Great Barrier Reef was facing. Before heading out to the waters for snorkeling, we became well versed on how to safely interact with the wildlife that existed in the reef.
I would say that this was the most impactful portion of my trip since I was up close to the very wildlife I had spent my four years of college learning how to protect. My major involves strategic policy planning to incentivize people to work together to both meet production needs and the needs of the wildlife I witnessed. This was truly an unimaginable experience. If you are in the ENRE program or simply have the interest to learn more about wildlife and how to protect it, this is the program for you!
By Shannon Mora