Hurray! October is over!

The other day Frank and I realized that October had been the worst month of the sabbatical. At the end of the month, we were exhausted physically and mentally and utterly glad that the month was over. So much that we decided to celebrate it with a pancake dinner and a glass of wine. 

So, with the second glass of wine, that tension between the shoulder blades started to get loose, and we started talking about why it had been such a bad month. 

The work at the center is physically challenging, but by now, on our third month, we had developed strong muscles to go through the tasks nearly effortlessly—emphasis on the nearly. We also had developed our routines to go through different tasks efficiently and without asking for instructions all the time. It was a lot of work because there were very few volunteers at the center, but everyone knew what to do. The result was that the cages were clean, the animals were fed on time, the enclosures had enrichments, and the dirty dishes and laundry were regularly done. 

At the beginning of October, both the rescue center (where we volunteered) and the nature reserve (where we lived) started to receive new volunteers. Ah! We thought. Excellent! We have more helping hands so that everything will go much better now. 

My, we were WRONG! More hands did not necessarily mean that things got done better, as we soon learned. We started noticing that despite being more and more volunteers, more things were left undone. How could that be?. 

The main reasons: interpersonal conflicts, additional tasks, and chaotic management

I will not go into detail but let me just say that there was a lethal combination of interpersonal conflicts, additional tasks, and chaotic management. 

Additional tasks: The managers had decided to start new tasks, like taking out the baby sloths and some birds during the tours or babysitting the baby monkeys. That meant that several volunteers had to spend several hours a day sitting on a chair overlooking the animals. Those extra hands were not used in the essential tasks of cleaning, feeding, or enclosure enrichment. 

Chaotic management: With the new batch of volunteers, it was decided that we will have a morning meeting to distribute the tasks. Fair enough. Only that this was not done systematically, somedays, nobody was assigned to distribute the food to the animals, some days and weeks, nobody was assigned to clean the rats, the cages were without enrichments and generally, and there was a trail of unfinished business as people where re-assigned to tasks throughout the day because the manager could not remember who was doing what. 

The general feeling among the volunteers was that we were running like a beheaded chicken, stepping on each other’s work. Hence, interpersonal conflicts. 

The main consequence – increasing frustrations

We both started to get frustrated with the inability to finish things and ad-hoc management. We both found it extremely annoying to be on our way to do a task that one of us had been assigned to find out that someone else was doing it because the manager had forgotten who was doing what that day. And to be unable to finish tasks on time (when we knew it was perfectly possible). 

As we noticed all these things, we told the manager and proposed some changes. Why not write down a list of tasks and people on the whiteboard and stick to it? Why not trying to find a way to make the cages easier to clean and still stimulating for the animals? …. 

Well, let me put it this way, the manager did not welcome some much our constructive criticism, so Frank decided that the best thing would be to stop volunteering at the center and start volunteering at the nature reserve (where some extra hands were needed as some of the volunteers had left). 

Multiple jobs & other issues

So, for the last two weeks in October, Frank has stayed volunteering in the reserve while I have been going to the rescue center some days of the week and volunteered at the reserve the remaining days. And at the same time, I tried to devote some hours to the creation of the biological station during my free days….In sum, more work and less rest. 

A recipe for disaster.  

The cherry on the cake has been that we needed to move out of our house for a week….and back in with no energy to spare. 

The result is very obvious. On the first days of November, I would find Frank sleeping in different places and positions while “Witchtina” was back in full force. 

Note: Photos published with express authorization from Frank. No photos of witchtina available.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Fortunately, things are slowly getting back to normal. Frank officially finished his volunteer work on the 1st of November, but he still devotes a couple of hours every day to raking the paths at the nature reserve. I also finished my three-month volunteering at the center, and now I am full time at the nature reserve. I still split my day 50-50 between taking care of the animals that are in the pre-release enclosures at the nature reserve and the preparations for the set-up of the biological research station.  

The best part? We can organize our days as we want. 

And we finish tasks. 

And that is incredibly rewarding! 


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