The beginning of this year saw me struggling to adapt to a new phase of life. I’d fully relinquished my status as a student and was finally (though not very willingly) a full-fledged working adult. I was also adapting to some changes in my personal life.
Many times, I questioned my decision to join the teaching fraternity, only to quickly realise I was burning out way too fast, too soon.
So I initiated an immediate intervention, and time was luckily on my side.
During the March Holidays, I took a quick trip to Pulau Tioman – an island in Pahang Malaysia.
(Click here to find out how to get from Tioman to Singapore.)
But this trip wasn’t just a normal backpacking trip. I was so burnt out, I knew I needed to do something meaningful in order to recharge and regain my sense of self again.
I went ahead to volunteer at a Juara Turtle Project.
Trust me, many people around me were surprised to hear that I was going to volunteer with an animal-based project. I was too! I’d stumbled upon the project whilst mindlessly looking for a place to stay in while in Tioman (my original plan was to just go and dive away my blues), but truly, the quote holds: “What you seek is seeking you.”
The Juara Turtle Project is a conservation and research effort, which focuses on awareness education and outreach, nest protection, and research and data collection.
One of the things I did there was to be a guide to visitors, where I shared about protecting sea turtles for environmental and economic reasons. I also gave a tour of the facilities there, which included the extremely cool hatchery!
The hatchery mimics the condition of the original nest, especially the shade! This is in order not to mess up the order of nature because it plays a pivotal role in gender determination.
Fun fact: The temperature of the nest determines a hatchling’s gender. This is called Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination (TSD). Warmer temperatures produce mostly females, and cooler temperatures produce a majority of males.
Volunteers also have to do beach patrols in the early mornings and at night to look out for new turtle nests. We detect new nests by looking out for nesting tracks, which are prominent on private beaches, but a headache to find on public beaches because of footprints and kayak tracks.
Nests are looked out for in order to relocate the eggs into the hatchery, where it is safe from poachers and other predators. It is also to ensure that the baby sea turtles have a higher chance to be released into the ocean once they have hatched.
The highlight of my trip was easily on my very first day, when I witnessed the finding of the first ever sea turtle nest for the year and helped to transfer it to the centre’s hatchery. All 157 green turtle eggs! Some volunteers stay for months but don’t get this opportunity.
Details of the original nest are taken down and measured so that it can be replicated in the hatchery.
Meet Jo, the resident sea turtle in JTP which is blind.
I enjoyed introducing Jo to the visitors and telling them how Jo was actually born in the hatchery, but is blind from birth. The JTP staff realised that s/he was blind because she didn’t move towards the ocean, but instead moved in circles. They took her in, knowing that she stands no chance out in the wild, and nurtured her until today.
Fun fact: It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
The project offers accommodation options for staff and volunteers, so I stayed onsite.
As on every trip, I meet people who are answers to my prayers:
Liz is a volunteer too at the Juara Turtle Project, and my only roomie in our huge 6-bedded room.
She just ended a 2-year teaching contract in Korea and was moving to New Zealand (& will figure out what to do there when she’s there). Our conversations were pretty intense, especially those on the jetty as we watch the sunset after a day of labour at the centre. One of the days was particularly crazy because the tourist groups kept coming and we’d jumped into Jo’s tank to clean it (not an easy task to scrub a big tank with a 9-year old turtle swimming around & could potentially bite, lol, but it was an uhhhhmazing experience to put on the snorkel and clean the tank while dodging Jo.)
We talked about teaching, family, relationship, religion – all the sorts. But till today, she left me thinking about this particular quote:
“The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.” Now I say, “I will take care of me for you if you will take care of you for me.” – Jim Rohn
Besides the staff at JTP, I had the blessing to meet other souls as well. I often walked around and explored the neighbouring village, where I’d crash some of the beachside stalls to eat keropok lekor and cendol.
One evening, as I was waiting for the sun to set and the adzaan for maghrib, the makcik who owns the stall sat down with me and asked what was troubling me. Taken aback, I smiled and honestly told her, “I don’t know. Too many things”. I didn’t even realise it was obvious I was troubled. She then gave me the simplest advice:
“Do not lose hope. Or God. Or prayer. These are your gifts. He will not test you without giving you the means to overcome them. Use your gifts wisely.”
That encounter left me reeling the whole 20-minutes walk back to JTP, and the rest of the night. Ah, verily every person you meet is an aswer to your prayers – even those who hurt you.
Time there allowed me to stop and reflect on what was important for me, what battles I shouldn’t bother fighting, and what I needed to stand up for. I came back to Singapore (and to work) with a clearer head and a steadier heart.
Sometimes all it takes to really find yourself again is to be quiet and to get involved in things greater than yourself.
Lots of love,