How my expedition led me to a career in environmental conservation
23 July 2019 15:25
By Brittany Harris, British Exploring Society Member & Amazon 2009 Young Explorer
How did you hear about British Exploring Society?
Past explorers from my school gave a presentation about their experiences. I was enchanted by their tales of adventure, and eager to learn and push myself.
What thoughts and feeling did you have when you first signed up?
Pure excitement – I have always wanted to see the world, and had a deep love of nature. This was an amazing opportunity for me to explore that further. I guess I was also a little nervous about being with 40 other people I didn’t know on a boat in the middle of the Amazon; however I have always enjoyed making new friends and I Was thrilled by the possibility of ‘re-inventing myself’ with new people. The Irony being, in my attempt to re-invent myself, I simply became more certain of who I was, and that I actually liked that person, but as a teenager I feel you are always questioning that, so it was a wonderful lesson to learn so early.
How did you fundraise for your expedition and what skills did you learn?
I wrote to organisations like the Rotary Club to access larger sums, but also did smaller fundraising activates such as odd jobs around my community. It was lovely to engage with our local Rotary club, and to present our experience on returning. There is lots of support available to young people who wish to learn in a new environment (like through BES), and is has certainly had a profound and lasting impact on my life.
Describe your expedition, describing how it made you think and feel, what were the highs and lows?
It’s so hard to describe, it was one of those iconic points in my life, that feels stolen from a movie. I was constantly in awe of the surroundings, the trees, the animals, and the eclectic group of people that took part in the expedition. It was exhausting and at times very challenging, dealing with the complex social dynamics of making new friends, forming subgroup of those friends, trying to support those people that found the experience much more challenging, and also trying not to rip their head off when you too were tried and stretched.
I distinctly remember the trip up river, in the first couple of days, as the boats departed Nauta; a few of us were on the stern deck looking back and the town and the river. As we watched Nauta slip away behind river side vegetation, the clouds behind us were building. Great columns of grey cloud shooting up into the sky, and then collapsing back on themselves, forcing another up in its place; like pistons in an engine, firing up for a big storm. It was the first time I had seen that particular meteorological phenomenon, and with such ominous clarity. Meer seconds later we were hit by a heavy stream of hot air, pushing us up river and signalling the approach of torrential rain. The rain was so heavy, and so warm, that we could all stand out on deck and shower in it. It was a biblical moment.
I was wide eyed about so many things on the expedition, from the size of buttress roots, to holding a Camen, from the bustle of Iquitos, to the deafening raw of howler monkeys. But the most warming moment by far was the hand over night. We switched boats halfway through the trip, meaning we met up with the other half of the expedition in a big shed on the banks of the river, shared stories and played games. I took a small guitar on the expedition, much to the enjoyment of the Peruvian crew who took great pleasure in nabbing it from the top deck and taking it into the bowels of the boat for a sing and a dance. During the handover, we all came together (staff, crew, students and explorers), and sang songs around the campfire.
What’s the best thing about the whole programme?
Learning. Learning in every part of your life, from social resilience and personal discovery, to how to spot a spider monkey, and catch and cook a Lissa (fish).
Were there practical lessons you learnt on expedition?
There are all kinds of lessons to learn, from basic patience, to hand washing your clothes. The expedition was the first time I was introduced to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). I didn’t know it then, but I ended up building a company around this specific process/tool.
How did you apply what you learnt through the programme, to life back home?
The love of travelling and fascination with other cultures and environments has only grown, I have working in other countries as an engineer from Hong Kong to Kenya, including returning to Peru to a coastal town called Lobitos with Engineers Without Borders.
Most importantly, I realised that I truly love learning and exploring and figuring stuff out, and as such I chose a career in engineering (over musical theatre), and I have never looked back.
What are you doing now?
I run a technology company called Qflow that works with construction projects to help them track and manager their environmental impact. I basically carry out real-time environmental impact assessments on construction activity, to help them improve.
If someone was looking to support the programme with a donation, why would you tell them it’s worth it?
The programme creates an opportunity for young people to reinvent themselves without the constraints that their upbringing or social expectations have put on them to date. It is an opportunity, not just for them to explore the world, but themselves, at one of the most critical times in their lives. The outcome of which can be truly transformational. I am in no doubt that my BES trip to the Amazon in 2009 has shaped who I am today, and the work I now do. I only wonder what others could achieve with the same opportunity.