My Principals Go Abroad experience was different to what I had expected. It wasn’t the best friend making, non-stop fun experience I’d quietly hoped for. It was however a once in a lifetime experience which I’ve gained so much from. I travelled to Proyecto Caraya – a Howler Monkey Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Cordoba, Argentina. On arrival at the sanctuary I expected there to be volunteers from all over the world. Instead there were two other girls from Argentina and only one person at the sanctuary who spoke English. Looking back now, I should have made much more of an effort to improve my Spanish beyond very basic before I left. The first few weeks were very isolating as most of the time I had no idea what anyone was talking about but once I had settled into the work at the sanctuary, not being able to speak much Spanish became less of a problem. At the sanctuary there was around 160 Howler monkeys, 25 Capuchin Monkeys and numerous other animals from llamas, cockerels (one which attacked me almost everyday), pumas and almost 40 street dogs which the sanctuary had taken in.
The work at the sanctuary wasn’t hard but everyone was busy all day, there was always something to do. As well as taking care of the monkeys each morning I would take a baby puma for a walk, or rather she took me! Nahla, the puma was found in the hills and brought to the sanctuary by one of the dogs when she was just a few days old. She’s now 7 months old and growing fast everyday.
It is easy to see the appeal of having a monkey as a pet after spending time with them but they are wild animals and people find they cannot care for a monkey as it grows into an adult. Many of the monkeys at the sanctuary were taken in from individual homes while others were rescued from the illegal pet trade. All have to be rehabilitated to allow them to relearn their natural behaviours.
The project manager at the sanctuary, Juan, luckily spoke fluent English and without him I don’t think I would have lasted all 7 weeks at the project. His work ethic and love for all the animals at the project was remarkable. Throughout my stay he didn’t have a day off as he was raising two babies, a capuchin and a howler who couldn’t be cared for by their mothers. Monkey babies are a full time job and need as much care an attention as a human baby!
It was a privilege to care for and develop an understanding of monkeys, they are similar to people in so many ways. After coming home it’s easier to appreciate the amazing experience I had and how much I had gained from it. People’s kindness and generosity never failed to amaze me despite our lack of communication.