“A mile­stone birth­day in­spired me to ful­fil a dream of work­ing in wildlife con­ser­va­tion”

Woman & Home - - MAKING IT HAPPEN -

DEBBIE VOWLES, 58, WORKS IN IT FOR THE NHS AND LIVES NEAR BOURNEMOUTH WITH HER HUS­BAND MARTIN, 57. SHE HAS THREE GROWN-UP DAUGH­TERS. SHE SAYS:

SIT­TING ON THE PLANE, ON MY WAY HOME FROM A FAM­ILY HOL­I­DAY TO SOUTH AFRICA TO CEL­E­BRATE MY 50TH BIRTH­DAY, AN

IDEA WAS BREW­ING IN MY MIND.

SINCE I WAS A TEENAGER, I’VE HAD A KEEN IN­TER­EST IN WILDLIFE AND CON­SER­VA­TION, AND STUD­IED EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL SCIENCE AT UNIVER­SITY. BUT WITH FEW JOBS AT THAT TIME IN THAT AREA, I WENT INTO A CA­REER IN IT.

HOW­EVER, AS I AP­PROACHED MY

50TH BIRTH­DAY I DE­CIDED I WANTED TO CHAL­LENGE MY­SELF TO TRY NEW THINGS,

AND MAKE IT A VERY POS­I­TIVE MILE­STONE. I WANTED TO DO SOME­THING WORTH­WHILE, BUT WHICH I WOULD ALSO EN­JOY AND BEN­E­FIT FROM.

ON THAT TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA, ALONG WITH TAKING SEV­ERAL AMAZ­ING SA­FARIS, I VIS­ITED A CHEE­TAH SANC­TU­ARY RUN BY VOL­UN­TEERS. IF THOSE PEO­PLE COULD DE­VOTE SOME OF THEIR TIME TO CAR­ING FOR AND PRO­TECT­ING THESE WILD AN­I­MALS, THEN I WON­DERED IF I COULD DO THE SAME BACK IN THE UK? WITH MY CHIL­DREN GROWN

UP, I HAD MORE TIME ON MY HANDS,

AND I DIDN’T WANT TO JUST FRIT­TER IT AWAY.

ALSO, MY HUS­BAND AND I WERE PLAN­NING TO WIN­TER IN SOUTH AFRICA

WHEN WE RE­TIRED, AND IF I COULD BUILD UP MY EX­PE­RI­ENCE VOL­UN­TEER­ING IN

THE UK THEN, I HOPED, I COULD CARRY

IT ON AT THIS SANC­TU­ARY IN THE FU­TURE. AS SOON AS I GOT HOME I DID SOME RE­SEARCH ON­LINE AND DIS­COV­ERED THAT MARWELL ZOO, WHICH IS PART OF MARWELL WILDLIFE, A LEAD­ING CON­SER­VA­TION CHAR­ITY 30 MIN­UTES FROM MY HOME, HAD AN ES­TAB­LISHED VOL­UN­TEER­ING PRO­GRAMME. I AP­PLIED ON­LINE AND A FEW WEEKS LATER HAD AN IN­TER­VIEW, AT THE END OF WHICH I WAS AC­CEPTED AS A VOL­UN­TEER.

I WAS THRILLED, AND MY HUS­BAND

AND DAUGH­TERS WERE SO PROUD I WAS PRE­PARED TO GIVE UP SOME OF MY TIME TO HELP AT THE ZOO.

FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS, I’VE TYP­I­CALLY VOL­UN­TEERED TWICE A MONTH DUR­ING THE ZOO’S BUSIEST TIMES – THE SCHOOL SUM­MER HOL­I­DAYS, AND IN MAY AND OC­TO­BER – FOR A FULL DAY.

AND WHEN I’VE NEEDED TIME AWAY

FROM VOL­UN­TEER­ING BE­CAUSE OF WORK COM­MIT­MENTS, THAT’S BEEN FINE. THAT’S THE BEAUTY OF VOL­UN­TEER­ING – YOU CAN BE FLEX­I­BLE AND MARWELL HAVE AL­WAYS BEEN GRATE­FUL FOR WHAT­EVER TIME I,

AND THEIR OTHER VOL­UN­TEERS, CAN GIVE.

MY ROLE IS VERY VAR­IED – I CAN BE RUN­NING THE IN­FOR­MA­TION KIOSK, WALK­ING AROUND THE PARK SPEAK­ING TO VIS­I­TORS AND AN­SWER­ING QUERIES, OR MAN­NING AN ED­U­CA­TIONAL STAND.

ED­U­CAT­ING VIS­I­TORS, AND PASS­ING ON MY OWN EN­THU­SI­ASM FOR CON­SER­VA­TION, ES­PE­CIALLY TO CHIL­DREN, IS VERY SAT­IS­FY­ING. AND I AL­WAYS LEAVE ON A HIGH, EN­ER­GISED FROM A DAY OF SPEAK­ING WITH PEO­PLE AND OF COURSE, GET­TING TO SEE SUCH BEAU­TI­FUL AN­I­MALS UP CLOSE. MY FAVOURITES ARE THE SNOW LEOP­ARDS, GI­RAFFES AND, OF COURSE,

THE CHEE­TAHS.

I WORK ALONG­SIDE VOL­UN­TEERS OF ALL AGES, FROM STU­DENTS TO RE­TIRED PEO­PLE. IT’S VERY IN­CLU­SIVE AND I LOVE FEEL­ING PART OF A COM­MU­NITY THAT IS RE­ALLY MAK­ING A DIF­FER­ENCE TO THE PLANET.

I’M GET­TING VALU­ABLE EX­PE­RI­ENCE THROUGH MY ROLE, WHICH WILL BEN­E­FIT ME WHEN WE SPEND TIME IN SOUTH AFRICA IN THE FU­TURE, SO FEEL I’M GAIN­ING AS MUCH AS I’M GIV­ING BACK.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? THERE ARE 47 WILDLIFE TRUSTS WHO WEL­COME VOL­UN­TEERS, SEE WILDLIFETRUSTS.ORG

GET­TING TO SEE THE AN­I­MALS UP CLOSE IS A GREAT BEN­E­FIT OF DEBBIE’S VOL­UN­TEER­ING DEBBIE VOL­UN­TEERS AT MARWELL ZOO

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