Volunteers Testimonials and Stories
Volunteering in Hawaii I probably had the best time of my life and I would always go back there in a second! When I first arrived at the Parque Hawaii on the pacific cost, I felt like stepping into paradise. There are palm trees everywhere, a beautiful little rancho, three dorm rooms and the best: caimans, parrots, turtles, dogs….
You basically work and live right on the beach with hammocks everywhere to relax during the sunny days.
But it’s not just this paradise-feeling that made me happy, even more the persons working for ARCAS are amazing and help you to have a fantastic stay. First of all there is Lucía, the park’s director. She is a lovely young woman and a brilliant biologist and manages everything, no matter if an animal is sick or if a volunteer is not feeling well. Then, there is Doña Mayra. She is the best Guatemalan cook and with her warm heart she always gives you the feeling to have a mother around.
Also Mario and Mariachi, the guards of the park, are wonderful persons.
When I arrived, in June 2014, there were only two other volunteers because the turtle-season did not start until late July. So, in my first weeks we did a lot of hard work during the day. We planted trees nearby the mangroves; we prepared the dorm rooms for the volunteers arriving later that summer; we repaired the animals cages, etc.. Sometimes it was really exhausting, because during the day it was so hot and you were sweating all the time. In my first two weeks I often had headaches and the mosquitos were bothering me, because my body just wasn’t used to the climate. But I guess it was after three or four weeks that I was totally accustomed to the climate.
In July and August a lot more volunteers were arriving and we started the night patrols and changed the working plans. Luckily, there was Jean, the best volunteer’s coordinator ever. Everyday she put our jobs on a whiteboard so that we would know right after breakfast at what time we have to work and at what time we can just relax in the hammock or go for a swim in the ocean. Those volunteers who speak a little bit of Spanish were not just doing the sea turtle work but also helping out in the communities nearby. In some schools we taught English and environmental education. That was another aspect why I loved volunteering with Arcas. In Hawaii you cannot only help the animals but also get in contact with the local communities. It was so much fun to go the schools, as the children always were happy to have us around. Sea turtle work is for night owls. You have to patrol one or two times per night. On a patrol shift you walk along the beach and watch out for turtles laying eggs. If you find your own turtle: congratulations! Most of the times the local men are faster than you, then you try to buy their nest. Doing that it is very helpful to speak a little bit of Spanish! But as you always patrol in teams, it’s very likely that one you speaks Spanish. Once you have a nest in your arms you go back to the park and bury the nest in one of the hatcheries. You will be taught how to bury the eggs properly before you go on patrols. The best moment is when you release the baby turtles. As you need to measure and weight them you can hold the babies in your hand for a little time and that is so damn cute . I could write ten more pages about work and life in the park, but the best is you experience it yourself! I cannot imagine that anyone feels lonely or sadly in Hawaii.
Last but not least I want to say that I chose the homestay option. I lived with a local family in the village of Hawaii and would always go back there. Living with them was great. My host-mum taught me how to cook proper tortillas, I had a host-sister and there were always lots of children around to play with. It helped me a lot to improve my Spanish.
I would always go back to Parque Hawaii and miss all the people I became friends with during my stay. It was more than a wonderful experience!
After spending a month in Parque Hawaii at ARCAS I wasn’t ready to leave. During my stay I assisted with daily care of the animals and grounds, assisted with research of the local otter population, and participated in a boat trip where we tagged sea turtles and took samples. The boat trip was the highlight of my stay, as I got the chance to work with the ARCAS staff and local fishermen to assist with research of sea turtles, and we also released a young turtle back into the wild. In my short time at ARCAS I learned so much about the essential conservation of endangered species, and the importance of good communication with the surrounding community whose livelihood depends on fishing. I was very impressed with the positive relationship between ARCAS and the local community.
Everyone at ARCAS was so dedicated and I loved getting to know the staff, other volunteers, and our local neighbors in Hawaii. I will continue to use the knowledge of conservation I gained and the experiences I had at ARCAS throughout my career. I will never forget my time in Guatemala!
My time at „Parque Hawaii“ was unforgettable!
Working with all the different animals there was such a nice experience, especially because you can really do something to save them. It was incredible to see turtles building their nest and also laying their eggs and freeing the little baby turtles after they hatched was amazing.
The people that I met, the volunteers but also the people who are working there, were so nice and inspiring. There are so many things that you can do at the park and I have to say that I learned and that I saw so many wonderful things.
All these aspects made this time a beautiful and unforgettable experience that I will always think of and that I’m still missing every single day.
Last summer, I spent 2 months at Parque Hawaii and the least I could say it was one unforgettable experience. It is undoubtedly one my favorite summers, one I won't forget. The staff members were cool. The cook Donya Mayra is just amazing! Best of all is the atmosphere within the volunteers. Thanks to Arcas, I met awesome people from all over the world. Would I do it all over again? Hell yeah!!
Cuando llegue a ARCAS no sabía cómo se veía un centro de rescate o cual es el trabajo que se realiza dentro de uno. Tras mi inducción de tres días, mi primera actividad fue trabajar con loros. Durante este primer mes, tuve la oportunidad de aprender de dietas, manejo y un poco de medicina.
Los loros son el grupo más numeroso de animales en el centro de rescate por tanto la experiencia más fuerte es el trabajo con ellos, y nunca se deja de trabajar con ellos. Al principio tenía mucho miedo de sujetarlos o de alimentarlos, y a pesar de que me gane muchas mordidas sobre todo en mis primeras semanas, obtuve la confianza en mí para sujetarlos e incluso medicarlos.
Trabajar con saraguates fue toda una experiencia en mi vida y en mi práctica profesional, ya que no solo aprendí del manejo y medicina si no también conocí nuevos sentimientos y aprendí a controlarme para un fin mayor, que es darle a algo tan frágil como la vida de un monito saraguate lo necesario para vivir y crecer. En especial al primer saraguate y único saraguate que crie a mano. Al final por más que se luche hay cosas que llevan un camino y es muy difícil frenarlas, el monito falleció. Otra gran experiencia en ARCAS fueron los casos clínicos.
Eventualmente las instrucciones dejaron de llegar, y me encontré con migo misma para resolver. Mi primera reacción muchas veces fue como tener la mente en blanco, pero cuando ves un animal en esa pequeña línea de la vida y la muerte, y a pesar de la enfermedad o el dolor hay algo que lo mantiene, te hace buscar cómo ayudar, te hace resolver. Muchas veces los pacientes mueren, pero cada muerte que tuve en mis manos, me hizo apreciar aún más cada vida. Y por más frustrada, o confundida me sintiera después de perder un paciente, tuve que encontrar fuerza para levantarme, analizar, aprender y seguir adelante por todas esas vidas que me esperaban y que aún me esperan.
Además de aprender de los animales, puede ver la realidad que viven ellos, y la capacidad humana para provocar daño, sobre a todo aquellos cosas que nos recuerdan lo pequeños que somos ante la naturaleza, lo cual evidente ante el cobarde ataque al jaguar, quien falleció en nuestras manos. Mis labores en el centro de rescate fue un poquito de todo, un poco de limpieza, de cuidados de los animales, de medicina, de manejo, de mantenimiento del centro, y un poco de reparar cosas. Cada poco hizo mucho en mí como futura profesional y como persona. Enseñe a algunos voluntarios y ellos me enseñaron mucho a mí, al igual que los doctores y los trabajadores con quienes compartí aquí estos últimos 5 meses.
I’ve been to ARCAS twice—a six-week trip in 2009, and a 3-month stay in 2013. Needless to say, it’s one of those places that’s had a lasting impact on my life, and I often find myself wondering about the next time I’ll be able to go. There isn’t just one thing about ARCAS that makes it so magical; it’s a combination of elements that takes you far from your ordinary life and plunges you into something incredibly different.
The work is something that sets ARCAS apart from other animal rescue organizations. You’ll spend your days cleaning cages, preparing diets, and working on one of the long-term projects that’s going on. The amount of work varies with the number of volunteers there at the time—I’ve seen it range from 2 to 30—and on the days where there were just two of us, I gained an appreciation for just how much the volunteer force actually does, and how ARCAS truly relies on its volunteers to remain up and running.
In terms of animal work, there’s no guaranteeing what you’ll see. There were weeks that went by when the animals were healthy and well-behaved, and others when cages full of sick animals were carted in, the spider monkeys had a mutiny, and some big cat outside of the facility was reaching into the cages at night and playing “pop the parrot.” Because I stayed for weeks at a time, I was able to see some of the incredible surgical work done with very limited supplies, and some of the astounding recoveries that the animals made. There were also disappointments and discouraging times that gave me an appreciation for just how unforgiving the animal world can be. No matter what you see, it’s guaranteed that you’ll walk away with an experience that makes you reconsider how you think about the world.
The people are the heart and soul of ARCAS. The staff workers have been there for years, and are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They’ll also put you to shame as they haul crates of fruit up a steep slope of stairs while you’re gasping and dragging a box of bananas at half speed. The other volunteers, as I said earlier, vary every week and represent all ages, countries of origin, and reasons for wanting to be there. There have been some weeks that feel like a high school summer camp, others that lead you to stay at dinner past ten o’clock talking world politics and social issues, others where you compete with who can carry the most rocks to add to the foundation of a new building. No matter the week and flavor of the volunteers, it’ll be an eye-opening experience. After my months in Guatemala, I gained a greater appreciation for not how diverse the world is, but ultimately, how we’re all the same, and in the best ways possible. I can also swear in five languages now, but that seemed like a less profound statement.
The place is the one thing that doesn’t change on a day-to-day basis. Every morning you’ll be awoken at predawn by the screech of the macaws or the Chewbacca-esk cry of the howler monkeys. You’ll be guaranteed to get beans and tortillas at nearly every meal. You’ll cringe a little when you step into the icy showers, but God it’ll feel good at the end of another sweaty day. You’ll enjoy the cocoon of your mosquito net and the smell of the old books from the library. You’ll swim in the lake with a slight fear of crocodiles (but not enough to stop you) and savor the wind on the boat ride to Flores. And when your time comes to leave, you’ll wonder how it went by so fast.
I volunteered this summer in Peten in Guatemala. I can honestly say after a good shower, I was ready to go back!! I was very anxious about going there as it was my first experience with this kind of volunteering, and the first time I had gone into the rainforest environment! I was equipped with mosquito nets, 100% deet anti mosquito spray, long sleeved tops and trousers! I arrived and had the support package and was picked up from the airport and taken by boat to the site. I was extremely nervous, especially as my Spanish was virtually non-existent!
After the climb up to the main living area (is not that steep, but feels really long the first time you do it!), I met everyone at breakfast – when I arrived there were 30 volunteers and Ali and Anna immediately made me feel at home. After orientation around the camp, where you are just in awe of where you are and the animals and the effort made to rehabilitate them, I was thrown into working on the 11am shift.
The work is not hard, but can be tiring (6.30 start!), everyone pitches in together and helps and you are always paired up with someone who has been working on your section for a few days. They help you and then you teach someone else and you move on to another section. During my two weeks, I worked with parrots, macaws, owls, howler monkeys and spider monkeys. The experience is something I will never forget. Even as the number of volunteers fluctuate, working as a team, the animals are cared for and monitored to a high level.
I soon ditched the long sleeves and trousers for shorts and t shirts – be prepared to ruin a few clothes! You may be a bit smelly at the end of your shifts, but rest assured everyone is, so no-one notices! I managed to survive with minimum mosquito bites (compared to others there), but I did regularly use the spray. I think 100% deet spray is the way to go, but don’t expect it to protect you completely! There is free time after 3pm and trips twice a week into Flores on the ARCAS boat.
You are made to feel that you are important in the help you are providing. Every morning, you give feedback about the animals you are caring for. The presentation on the parrot release when I was there, really showed how these animals can be rehabilitated and the importance of trying to get them back into the wild.
If you go expecting to cuddle baby monkeys and talk to the parrots then you will be disappointed, if you want to feel like you are doing something meaningful, you will not be disappointed. The aim here is to de-humanise and help the animals as best they can to enable them to be able to survive in their natural environment. I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers I met for making it one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
In 2003, the Oakland Zoo teens embarked on a trip to ARCAS with much excitement. As a trip leader, I hoped these youth would have a safe and fun time, and an experience that would affect their lives and life choices. The teens were previously prepared through monthly workshops about the wildlife, culture and conservation issues in Guatemala, and were so inspired that they raised funds for a needed spider monkey fence, and collected educational and medical supplies to bring along.
I could not have been more thrilled with our experience! The teens were empowered by the trust that ARCAS bestowed upon them, as they were each assigned various tasks at the center. I had never seen them so serious and focused as they rose early to prepare food for the animals, clean enclosures, haul materials and help at the education center.
The authentic eye-opening work, combined with the evening vet and staff talks, really offered these youth the true story of the issues that these animals face, and the solutions that work. For each one of them to feel like they had contributed to the betterment of these animals was life changing. Of course, they also had a blast! Exploring the area, games and campfires, and getting close to beautiful animals made for an incredibly good time.
Back at the zoo in Oakland, they were beyond motivated to teach our public about the importance of ecologically sustainable pet choices and did what they could to keep supporting ARCAS. Through the success of that trip, various zoo vet techs have volunteered at ARCAS and another batch of teens returned in 2010. Our ZooCamp even adopted ARCAS as their beneficiary and focus for that summer.
I still am in touch with some of these now young adults, and there is no question that their trip to ARCAS was a critical part of their journey to be environmentally aware and empathetic adults. We will definitely return!
I first arrived at the ARCAS Rescue Center in Petén in October 2005 and remember that I was immediately stricken by the tropical heat. Since I planned to stay for ten months I had a big rucksack and a suitcase – half of my household – and I was grateful when Bernardo (a staff member of ARCAS) offered to help me carry it up the hill to the volunteer house.
Over the next couple of days, I settled into life at the Rescue Center, the daily routine of feeding the animals at 7AM and 3PM, and meals chatting with the volunteers and staff, and of course, caring for the animals, which is the focus of everyone’s attention. I wanted to improve my Spanish, so I tried to spend more time with the staff during meal times. Over the course of my stay at the Rescue Center, I got to know the staff, who were all very helpful and friendly and welcomed me into the ARCAS- family.
I know it sounds like a cliché to say that my experience at ARCAS was a great experience and that it was life-changing, but it really was. For one thing, it helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Before I went to Guatemala I was planning to become a veterinary surgeon, but when I helped Fernando (the ARCAS vet) on surgery on an injured bird, I almost blacked out. The sight of the blood sent shivers down my spine and I started sweating and had palpitations. From that moment on I knew that I had to do something else for work. Since that time I study law with a focus on international environmental law.
ARCAS touched my life and I continue to support them by fundraising among my friends and family and each year sending them a donation. I still consider the Rescue Center in Peten to be “my project”, as I say, joking with the staff each time I visit Guatemala. I appreciate the fact that ARCAS has created an atmosphere which allows people like me who care to actively participate in the conservation of Guatemalan wildlife feel. This is just a little anecdote to say that ARCAS touched my life and made me think about my place in the world!
I'm Gabriele Consonni from Italy and I've been volunteering with ARCAS at the Peten Rescue Center this past summer. This mail is to wish you and all ARCAS staff a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.I also want to thank ARCAS because volunteering with you has been one of the best experiences I've ever had in my entire life.
I wish you good luck with all the animals and everything, and I hope to be able to come back again and help.