Volunteers’ stories – Natural heritage conservation at the Great Himalayan National Park

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), Helene (European Solidarity Corps volunteer at WCIA/UNA Exchange for the year 2019/2020) selected seven inspiring volunteer stories.

From mid-August through to late-September 2017, UNA Exchange volunteer William joined a group of fellow international volunteers from Italy, Belgium, Canada, South Korea and Russia to take part in a natural heritage conservation work camp at the Great Himalayan National Park in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

“An unforgettable experience of exploring the culture and scenery of the Indian Himalayas!”

The Great Himalayan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 1994 in recognition of its outstanding contribution towards biodiversity conservation. The park protects over 1,000 plant species, including many medicinal herbs, 31 species of mammals and 209 species of birds, as well as amphibians, reptiles and insects. Developing understanding and skills in biodiversity conservation and natural resource management, the international volunteers undertook a range of tasks, including tree planting, nursery gardening, collecting medicinal herbs, as well as mural painting and running an eco-club at a local school.

“Not only did I feel hugely welcomed by the local community, but our efforts did not go unnoticed! A local newspaper reported on our work and we were invited to a ‘thank you’ assembly hosted by the local school.”

Intercultural learning was an important component of the experience, with visits organised to the mountain eco villages, a local women’s group, the wood-carved, pagoda structured temples of the Kullu valley and the Dalai Lama’s hometown, Dharamshala. Hiking and attending local festivals also kept participants busy. Staying in a forest guest house, the volunteers were introduced to the traditional Kulvi culture of the area.

“Overall not only have UNA and FSL whet my appetite for India, but offered a wealth of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, providing some invaluable lessons on both foreign travel and day-to-day philosophy!”

William is a medical student and President of his university’s Friends of Médecins sans Frontières. Highly motivated to take part in humanitarian work, a few years ago he volunteered in a regional hospital in Tanzania and he plans to pursue a career in Global Health.

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