Volunteering at ARCHELON as part of the European Solidarity Corps: «The most rewarding experience» - «Τhe perfect mission»!
Lara and Juliette, describe their volunteering experience at the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre and make us proud of having such passionate, hard-working and capable people on our team! Girls, thank you for offering so much. You are more than welcome to come again…
When I first came to ARCHELON, I didn’t know what I expected. I knew I was going to Greece for 6 months as part of the European Solidarity Corps program. I knew I would help‚ save turtles - a very broad, unspecific and cliché way to put it. I knew I would work in an international environment with people from all over the world. What I didn’t know was that I would meet the most dedicated, hard-working, passionate and lovely people I have ever met and will ever meet. I didn’t know I would become so attached to the turtles, the people and the work. Lastly, I did not know how hard and, at the same time, rewarding the work would be.
After I survived the ominous first week as an ARCHELON volunteer (the first week = a TON of new information), there are not enough words to describe my experience. First, I got to know each and every single one of the turtles. I got to know their names, personalities, behaviours, their discomforts, aches and injuries. Then, having the chance to clean, feed and take care of them felt like such an important assignment I tried to own up to every day.
Of course, if you’re in the greenhouse, cleaning one of the turtle’s tanks, it’s 30 degrees outside, and you feel like you’re evaporating, you might start questioning your life choices, and you begin to ask yourself how scrubbing some water container is helping to save turtles BUT none of that matters anymore when you see a positive change in a turtle’s behaviour. When a turtle starts eating after you’ve been trying to get it to eat two times a day for a month without success, when you observe the improvement or healing of a turtle’s injury and, the most rewarding experience, is when a turtle is released back into the sea, back to its natural habitat, back to its home - that’s when you truly know that you are, in fact, saving turtles.
As fairytale-like as all of this sounds, it’s important to know that we don’t only get to experience the beautiful moments. They might outweigh the lesser beautiful ones, but we are not spared from reality. We are a sea turtle rescue center. We are a hospital for turtles which means that we also have to face death. A hospital, unfortunately, doesn’t always have the power to heal and release. The traumas some of these turtles have suffered can be unimaginably gruesome and horrifying. Their injuries can be anything from shell, flipper (due to entanglement in fishing gear) or head injuries (the most common one) to hook or plastic ingestion. Humans or human activity are turtles’ biggest threat. Turtles’ injuries are either passively (nets, hooks, boats, …) or actively inflicted (on purpose or not) on them by a person.
The first turtle I got to pick up was Elpida. The name means „hope“ in Greek. She was named by the people who had found her. It was the 8th of April; I had been a volunteer for 3 months at this point. It was my day off, and I had to get up very early, but I was so excited to finally get the chance to go pick up a turtle and be the first to welcome a new patient. During the whole drive to the bus station, I just prayed for her to be alive. Of course, being alive might be a good first step, but it doesn’t disclose anything about the survival chances. Finally, we got there, and she was indeed alive, which gave me hope.
Nevertheless, her injury was bad. She had already lost one front flipper, and her second one was severely injured: a deep cut at the shoulder’s joint. You have to realise that a turtle with one missing flipper has no problem surviving - it will adapt. A turtle with two missing flippers must have one front and one back flipper on opposite sides to be able to survive. Two missing front flippers are basically like a death sentence.
The same day, I had went to pick up Elpida in order to give her treatment, in order to help and save her, she had to be put down. When we receive a new turtle, everybody’s soul goes into trying to save that creature - the rehabilitation officers’ and the volunteers’. Every death is like a punch to the gut for us. It was neither the first sea turtle death I had witnessed nor the first one that broke my heart. It was the first death by euthanasia and the first one to wake me. The first death to shake me out of the trance all of us are living in. Turtles are dying. Animals are dying. The environment is dying. Because of us. Because of me and you and everyone else. Because of humans. We are throwing plastic into the sea, on the ground, in bins. We are fishing, buying fish, eating fish. We are driving yachts, boats, cars. We are killing them. This is the truth, and the moment I saw the extent of Hope’s injury and I saw the rehabilitation officers’ facial expression, it hit me. And I believe we have to face this ugly truth with open arms in order to be able to change.
It’s sad to think that a turtle had to die for me to wake up. I know that none of the turtles I’ve seen die were meant to die. But if the only meaning to their death is for us to wake up and change, then we should start changing.
My experience as an EVS volunteer has been the best of my life. It has been an honour to laugh, cry and, of course, work together with the most amazing people from all over the world. Everyone involved at ARCHELON works their fingers to the bone to save these incredible animals. I’m grateful these people exist. They fill me with hope. Hope that there are people who care. As one of my fellow volunteers and dear friend said: Be the reason someone believes in good people.
R.I.P. Minnie, Dobby, Fairy, Elpida, Goliath, Etoile, Zazu, Pax
«My name is Juliette. I’m 23 years old and I’m from France. I stayed in Greece for 6 months as a volunteer at the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre to participate in the treatment and rehabilitation of injured and sick sea turtles.
I decided to participate in this project because, after 5 years of scientific studies, I wanted to get involved in an environmental project in which I would feel useful and that would make sense for me. Now that it's over, I can say that it was the perfect mission for that! Indeed, after spending all this time to clean turtles and their tanks, to prepare food, and to feed the turtles, I could see very well the impact of our work on the health of the turtles over time and I was very happy about that!
I also wanted to join the ARCHELON team to work with other international volunteers and make new friends. In the end, it was really more than a meeting of a few friends, but more like I joined a big family. We spent a lot of time with each other, as we are living together every day, so we inevitably end up creating strong bonds.
If I had to use only one word to describe this incredible experience volunteering, I would say GROWING UP, because I have learned a lot and I have grown so much from this volunteering project. Indeed, I learned so much about the sea turtles, some environmental issues, the world around us, and also about myself. I am very grateful to have been able to participate in this beautiful mission. Also, I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to join ARCHELON with the European Solidarity Corps. It allowed me to receive individual support throughout the project as well as financial support.
To sum up, if you have some free time and you want to be involved in an amazing environmental protection project, join ARCHELON!»