GCSEs done. Summer beginning. I had nearly 3 glorious months stretching out in front of me. Having saved for the past year waitressing and looking after horses, I practically bounced onto the plane that was to take me on my first volunteering trip abroad. Frontier had interviewed me and sent me my T shirt months ago and I had my pickup details memorised. Armed with my 10kg carry on luggage I was ready to conquer Tenerife and Marine Conservation.
Looking back, customs was surprisingly easy by myself despite having never flown alone. Although, a portable charger would have been a god send as I used up most of my time at the airport charging my phone! It would also transpire that the same phone would die a dramatic death a week later from overheating… but at this point I was blissfully unaware.
Another concern I had embarking alone was meeting other volunteers on the project – what if they were already in set friendships? Would I get on with them? Sitting down at a table full of other teenagers deep in their own conversations was initially daunting. But this helped push me out of my comfort zone and by the first day the whole group was going kayaking together. Everyone was in the same boat and wanted to explore and travel too; by volunteering on a group project you are 99.9% guaranteed new friends.
The project involved carrying out coastal surveys and monitoring cetacean behaviour (of common dolphins and pilot whales). In addition to this, we had to go in to Los Cristianos and try to engage with the public – sharing the issues around sustainable tourism. This proved the most difficult aspect of the volunteering as most people just didn’t want to know! The briefing during our first day induction covered the major issues such as: plastics, jet skiing and unregulated tourist boats. However, we were given a degree of choice in which issue we chose to speak about.
The monitoring of cetacean behaviour was carried out on regulated tourist boats, which we gained free entry onto in exchange for light work. This involved helping to serve food and clean up – which was similar to my waitressing job apart from having the added factor of balancing on a swaying boat. Once the dolphins or whales arrived, we filled out a spreadsheet with observations and took pictures for an identification document. This would then be updated at the end of the day on the computers back at the volunteer house. Coastal surveys were slightly more active, they involved hiking up a nearby hill to reach views over the fish farms. Whilst a tough climb in the sweltering heat, using the binoculars to spot dolphins and admiring the landscape below was 100% worth it. As we were mostly accompanied by marine biologists, the techniques and skills we used throughout the project were both interesting and beneficial to learn.
The social side to volunteering in Tenerife was just as memorable. Meeting other teenagers from different backgrounds was incredible and I would highly recommend a group project for anyone wanting to volunteer abroad. The volunteer house was hostel style accommodation and we had weekends free to travel. I took full advantage of this and we went on group trips; to Mount Teide, snorkelling, clubbing and surfing (the latter which put us in a Spanish hospital). Simply exploring a foreign country with new friends is an experience every teenager should have.
I volunteered with Frontier, who offer hundreds of trips online. The entire process was supported and straightforward, with an online application programme. Despite some projects being more expensive, Marine Conservation in Tenerife cost me under £400 for 2 weeks in project fees. Therefore, it is worth checking their website even if you have a more modest budget.
Tenerife itself is a top destination for anybody chasing a sublime combination of heat, fun and nature. Spanish speaking, it is an easy country to navigate and the locals are both friendly and approachable. It was an ideal first destination for a volunteering trip overseas.