3 years ago this January I left a steady job working as a plumber for the NHS as, after 4 years of training and working, I knew my life was destined for other possibilities and I was ready to follow a dream.
Taking a leap of faith I sold off many of my belongings, including my car, and left on a voyage of a lifetime - unaware of the adventures that lay ahead. With no return journey booked at the time, the nerves I experienced grew out of control. So I decided to make contact on a GVI forum with some fellow volunteers. Some people may prefer the mystery of arriving with whoever is there, however I was leaving home for a long time and decided I wanted the comfort of a little advanced knowledge.I found being brave enough to make that initial move was incredibly beneficial and thereon after had a roll on effect for any decision making I had to do. I wasn’t paralysed by any form of fear, I just did what my instincts told me. It was absolutely liberating.
I arrived in Thailand a few days prior to the project starting, which really forced me into a situation of fending for myself. It opened up my heart and mind early and allowed me to acquaint myself with a group of strangers most of whom were on the program, and as we all laughed and shared stories it’s hard to imagine how the future would have panned out for us at that particular point. We were completely in the moment not knowing that 3 years down the line we would still go and sit with some of these amazing people having the same hearty smiles and intriguing conversations, just with the addition of new stories.
I remember the first walk around the base village for the Marine Conservation project in Ban Nam Khem with my new peers, I remember my senses on overload and being overwhelmed by the magnificence of the culture, fully immersed in a Thai fishing village. The strange smells piecing my nose, the bright colours dancing in my eyes, the welcome heat beating down on me.
I had always had a keen interest in people and the environment, however it took me a long time to realise that this could potentially be my job if I put my everything into it. The conservation project really endorsed all of my passions for life, but more than anything, and as cliché as it sounds, it allowed me to truly discover me. I wasn’t bound by what people expected of me – Oli Barnes – I was free to experience life on a clean slate.
The responsibilities and trust that the staff gave me really infused a sense of achievement. In the past I had fulfilled job requirements but now the job requirements were fulfilling me. As a result of me writing this years on, I have even seen some of the work on the Similan islands come to fruition and closed off to tourists, which will allow time for the coral reefs to heal and rejuvenate. This is an incredible feat and GVI may not have been directly or solely responsible for the closure but I am convinced that efforts that we put in laid heavy pressure on the national parks and governments to do so. As an environmentalist, that feeling cannot be replaced by anything; it gives you the sense of engagement with the wider picture.
I can also tell you I have made life-long friends, 3 years on and I still keep in contact with many of the people I met. I have watched people grow into goal achieving machines and encouraged people to also step into the unknown. For instance, my best friend recently departed to GVI Kerala program, so now I await on his return to learn of his personal journey.
At the time, I remember looking at my Facebook (not that this should be a heart felt anecdote, its just to highlight the vastness) and in the 6 and a half months of my GVI stay, more than 80 incredible people had crossed my path, 80 people I was able to make a connection with. It wasn’t just a fleeting hello; you live with these people and share everything you have. I truly threw myself into the experience; I took every opportunity I could. Even taking a Field Staff Member position which gained me a few extra responsibilities. The chance to take those extra duties, along with my project leader Jolyon who became an influential role model, directed the path I am following today. With the confidence I gained, I am studying Environmental Science At Oxford Brookes university in hope that one day I can return once more with GVI in a more professional capacity. Since then, I lived in Australia, travelled to a few other countries and have tried other volunteering programs, but it would be very hard to beat the memories I created at GVI.
These words are a just small reflection on how passionately I feel that GVI offered me a wonderful experience. If you would like to read some of the experiences and feelings that I journeyed through at the time, then there is a blog I wrote, it is the greatest memory I have and have no problems in sharing it.