Article by Diana Hudson
Life is busy with work and managing families, and we can sometimes lose sight of what really excites us. We put our own lives on the back burner, always waiting for that “opportune” moment when we promise ourselves that we will do something for ourselves again. But how likely is it that the opportune moment will present itself?
Imagine if you were chatting to a friend who needed to have a change of scene. You would be full of ideas of how this could be done: make a few plans, swap with colleagues and friends, pull in a couple of favours, cook up some dinners and pop them in the freezer. A few weeks wouldn’t be too much to ask – after all, we are used to juggling. So why is it so hard to accept this advice for ourselves?
18 months ago, there was a moment of clarity when I realised that, if I wanted to make some changes then I had better get on with it. I knew that I needed more than just a holiday – a deeper, and dare I say life-changing adventure, more than a holiday ever could be.
I work full time running a small consultancy, and I calculated that with a bit of juggling I could escape for 3 weeks. As desperate as I was for a “digital detox”, I figured that with a bit of Wi-Fi access I could occasionally check in with work and my kids. Somehow this all started to seem possible. I was out of excuses.
Volunteering at a monkey sanctuary in Ecuador
I took the plunge and went to Ecuador to volunteer at a monkey sanctuary and then a wildlife sanctuary. I had never been to Ecuador and knew next to nothing about wildlife. What I did know was that I wanted to shake life up a bit and do something I had never done before.
Everything was quickly and efficiently arranged by Oyster Worldwide, an organisation with almost 20 years experience of worthwhile travel. Before I knew it, I found myself 6,000 miles from home and being taken 3 hours into the jungle, where I was welcomed to the sanctuary by the excited monkeys and some very hospitable people.
A life changing adventure
From this point onwards my view of travelling changed. I was seeing a country from a different perspective. I was not a tourist, I was part of something which had real meaning. I experienced things which are among some of the most significant in my life. There is absolutely nothing like being present when an animal is released back into the wild. Still gives me goose pimples.
Since this life-changing adventure to Ecuador, I have volunteered in a remote village in Ghana on a water sanitation project which was related to developing my project management skills. It began a change in me and I wanted to share this with others, to step out away from everything familiar, to see a bit more of this lovely, fragile world and to be part of making a difference.
On my travels to Ecuador and Ghana, I was interested to find that most volunteers are in their teens, twenties and thirties. Where were the people representing the older generation? Whilst it was wonderful to meet people of all ages, I couldn’t help wondering why there were not more people like me throwing caution to the wind and just giving it a go. Upon my return, I shared my concerns with Oyster, and asked if more could be done to enable and empower people of all ages to want to volunteer and travel. They listened, smiled and agreed.
This has led to an unexpected new development for me. In February 2019 I accompanied a small group of volunteers aged over 40 to go to Laos, where we volunteered together on an elephant conservation project with Oyster Worldwide. This was such a delight. Some of us were taking a career break, a rest from just being ‘Mum’, were part of a process of taking a new look at the future, or just plain having fun! We came together as strangers and left as friends, having shared a real adventure together.
This mission was a real success, and I was privileged to then be asked by Oyster to lead such groups again once or twice a year to different projects. Again, I threw caution to the wind and accepted. It works really well with my work and home life – and is tremendous fun.
The next stage of my adventure is to accompany a group to South Africa in February 2020 to work on a conservation project with the Big 5. Later in 2020 we are exploring working with turtles in Costa Rica…. Never a dull moment.