Imran Viroomal - 2016 Program Participant
What inspired you to go abroad?
I have volunteered abroad many times in Latin America. This time, I wanted to go to Brazil and stay! I have been looking for a job in conservation/environment NGO's for many years now, and over the last year, I saved up enough money in London to support me during my transition to live in Brazil while I found a job I was passionate about. I decided to volunteer again, as it has always been a great way to make contacts (friends really, but, anyways...) who know about other exciting opportunities. What inspired me was the drive to work surrounded by nature, for an NGO whose mission I truly support in Brazil.
Why did you choose IPBio?
I didn't, originally! I was working at another organization when I heard about IPBio- Biodiversity Research Institute, who always received spectacular recommendations by everyone. When I checked out their website, I immediately realised why. Their infrastructure in unparallelled to any NGO I had visited:an aquarium, lab, 500-square meter greenhouse with species of frogs. The topics they study are mind-blowingly interesting, such as bioluminescent mushrooms (that literally light up the forest floor 50 meters from the center) or mammal and amphibians biodiversity.
I talked to the manager, Ana Glaucia, as I was considering coming to visit for a week, but after my conversation with her, I knew I wanted to stay longer. She spoke fluent English (although I speak Portuguese, so it didn't really matter) and was so kind (yet serious) about what I could do at IPBio that I instantly knew this place had a level of professionalism and dedication that I flourish in.
I would be lying if I left out that the chance to visit caves, waterfalls, rivers, and the largest area of Atlantic Forest that remains, did not influence my decision to go as well.
What was your favorite part about Brazil?
Brazil is wonderful: the culture, language, and abundance of nature are all things that have always made it attractive to me. The host town is small (5,000 people) and is in the middle of beautiful hills, surrounded by dense and well-preserved Atlantic Forest. My favorite part was waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys and birds.
What made your research experience abroad unique?
This was unique, as I decided to stay and work for this organization. I have volunteered various times and I have been offered many roles in the organizations I have worked at, but have always declined. There was always a conflict between passions of organizations, lack of organization, or the locations did not seem like somewhere I could settle. After a week of volunteering with IPBio, I knew this was an organization and a place I could stay for the rest of my life. This feeling was new to me, as I always found problems with the organizations I previously worked at,but IPBio met all my expectations and more.
How supportive was the local IPBio staff?
The local staff are incredible! The biologists are all so warm and patient with explaining the wonders of biodiversity to an economics/politics graduate. The whole team became my friends immediately; we meet on the weekends to explore the forest and natural wonders. The manager, Ana Glaucia, is everything you want from a manager. Kind but strict, understanding but demanding, and (most importantly) giving space to work without micromanaging. She is also just a really wonderful person who I consider a good friend.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had found this place earlier. I have been searching for a long time now for an organization like IPBio, and have consistently been disillusioned. This place broke the trend.
Describe a typical day at the Biodiversity Research Institute.
What is wonderful is that there is no typical day (at least in my role as communications and volunteer manager). What I can say, is: I still wake up with a smile on my face going into work.
Let me try and describe a day this week: I woke up to howler monkeys chattering. While I was having my coffee, I saw seven coloured canaries hopping from tree to tree. I got into work at 8:30 a.m. and checked my emails to see if any new volunteers had sent in applications.
My two current volunteers joined me soon after, and we started to pack for a day in the forest. One of them is studying mammal diversity in two different areas of the reserve using camera traps, so we had to go and collect the memory cards so she could analyze the data. The other volunteer is studying frog biodiversity using pitfalls (tubs in holes in the ground). We had to check if any frogs had fallen into document and photograph them. We spent four hours in the forest doing all of this and found (and set free) the beautiful frogs we had caught. We came back to check the images from the camera traps and saw that we had pictures of capuchin monkeys and various other stunning mammal shots.
After work, the volunteers and I relaxed until dinner, for which we cooked together some spaghetti carbonara. Then we watched some good old David Attenborough ("Life of Mammals") and went to sleeps, ready to go the next day.
How did you spend your free time?
I visited caves. The second-largest mouth of a cave is about a 30-minute drive, so we went to explore it among many others we visited. There are so many gorgeous waterfalls, where you can swim and have a picnic. We also like to buoy cross down the river, which is a lot of fun and very relaxing. We also go wildlife watching. You can also relax at the hammocks at the center and have a couple of beers. There are some nice bars with live music playing, and we often organize nights out with both volunteers and the staff.
What was your accommodation like?
I was so surprised about the quality of accommodation at IPBio, considering it being a remote location in the forest. The Darwin House is a cute cabin with a fully-equipped kitchen and hot water shower. There is a washing machine just outside the house and the rooms have air conditioning (I really didn't expect air conditioning). We also have access to the patio on the reserve, where we have dinner outside together and relax.
What should people know before signing up with IPBio?
BE PREPARED TO HIKE! It is super enjoyable.
What has been the biggest impact of the program on your life?
I have decided to stay in Brazil, so this is my new home. I think that shows the impact going abroad can have.
I have fundamentally changed my life due to my experience here.
Would you recommend IPBio to others?
Yes, I have volunteered in various organization before, and this is honestly the best NGO I have ever worked at. So much so, that I decided to stay and make it my life’s work.