As you know, I have not always been charitable to Gen Y, viewing them as self-centred and overly focused on technology toys and generally uninterested in the wider world. But lately I’ve had to reassess that view.
In order to meet our tree planting goals at the farm we have found it necessary to get additional help. Our goal this year is to plant 21,000 trees and on a good day I can do about 100 and then require a week off to recover. So reinforcements are needed, and we’ve gotten a lot of wonderful volunteer help.
One of the sources of volunteers is an organization known as Conservation Volunteers. For a fee, they send out a group of volunteers, usually around 8 people and a professional leader and they spend a week planting and doing any other work that needs to be done.
The first time we used the Conservation Volunteers, my wife had made all the arrangements and I didn’t know anything about the program. When a van full of young people wearing high visibility vests pulled up I assumed that they were a bunch of proto-felons doing community service.
Wrong! They are young people, usually aged 18-25 from all over the world who are spending their vacations doing conservation work. Instead of booking a Contiki tour or a week on a beach somewhere, they pay Conservation Volunteers for the opportunity to work. They can sign up for as many weeks as they want and most of the people we’ve dealt with have come to work for three weeks or more. They show up at the Conservation Volunteers headquarters in Auckland and are randomly assigned to clients anywhere in New Zealand. They could work for a local government, at a national or regional park, or at a private project like ours.
As far as I know, there was no such thing as Conservation Volunteers when I was that age. And I am fairly certain that if there had been I wouldn’t have been a volunteer.
But these young adults are willing to come to a strange country, work outside all day long in all conditions from hot summer to wet winter weather, eat their lunch in the field and come back to whatever accommodation the site may provide. We at least give them a reasonably comfortable cottage but in some places they stay in Department of Conservation huts which, if they were used to house prisoners or refugees would get someone slapped with a human rights violation.
We’ve now had four different groups of volunteers out for four weeks and I’ve gotten a chance to find out a little bit about their motivations. They’ve come from Korea, the US, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Austria and the common denominator is that they all want to do something positive for the world and be part of something bigger than themselves. Some of them don’t even take time before or after to do touristy things–their entire visit here is spent working.
The amazing thing is what happens at the end of each week. They have spent the week outside of their comfort zones doing demanding physical work under difficult conditions and the result is that they feel newly empowered and keep thanking us for giving them the opportunity.
I don’t know how representative of their generation these young adults are, but it’s a breath of fresh air to meet people who are altruistic, energetic and see the world as a bigger place than Facebook. You can see all of the contributions the different groups of Conservation Volunteers have made by checking out the What’s New section of the CUE Haven web site.