Lonely Conservationists

Jessie (Valuing myself)

Story by Jessie Panazzolo

It’s a Saturday night and I am sitting around a dinner table having beers and laughing with friends, when all of a sudden I am the victim of an intense interrogation scene. I hear my partner share his frustrations about the way I had been volunteering for an organisation for six months writing comprehensive ecological reports which are important to future relationships and funding opportunities for the organisation. He went on to say that I applied for a job with another department within the company when one arose, but instead of hiring me they instead offered me another unpaid position.

I worked for two family businesses in a row focusing on grass roots issues within local sectors and communities, and left both times because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was exhausted from being pushed down into a mould and ridiculed for having independent thought, I was tired of not receiving help and getting in trouble for asking for it and I was physically run down from not being able to sleep because I was so anxious of what awaited me when I stepped into the office. I vowed to never work for a family business again and my 2019 resolution was to work for a bigger organisation with sick leave, a HR department and a string of management to report to if things got hairy.

So you can imagine my determination in volunteering in the office three times a week, taking on more responsibility in my work and fighting for opportunities within the office. What I didn’t realise though is that yet again, this organisation was taking advantage of my work ethic, passion and determination to make it in the industry.

“So if they wouldn’t hire you because the election is coming up and you don’t have enough campaign experience- but there is a short time constraint for training, how come they haven’t hired anyone else yet?”

“This organisation isn’t as good as you think, they don’t share their data and they just want their work done for free.”

“I don’t think you are the type of person who is suitable for just one job. You are creative! Find a mentor and explore your own ideas.”

I looked down at the table and tried to process everything they were saying. I had tried to follow my own ideas in the past with the creation of an organisation and educational events- but it wasn’t paying the bills and I had to move interstate and start again from scratch. I kept going in to volunteer for this new organisation because I enjoyed doing the work, but what my friends were saying made sense. I was already in the office enough and if they had trained me from the day they said I couldn’t have the position, I would be more than ready by the time of the election. What made it tougher is that getting a casual retail position to pay the bills was also proving to be hard when on my resume, my current job is “Fundraising Manager” for a large international NGO. What hiring businesses don’t see is that I am paid an Indonesian wage and work only when needed from my home in Australia.

I sat there wondering how I was doing everything I wanted to do. I was writing grants to restore the forests of arguably the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, the Leuser Ecosystem and I was creating important ecological reports for Australian bird conservation, yet I was not getting a cent to support myself. I wasn’t ever in the industry for the money, but I realised that the time had come to start valuing my work and myself as a conservationist, an ecologist and an educator.

For me, the struggle of valuing myself in the industry is real. Even though I have worked across seven countries contributing to conservation projects, won international awards for my presentations and had opportunities to speak at conservation festivals aside leaders in my field, I still have been subject to being pushed down by employers, mentors, leaders and managers..

My honours supervisor told me that I couldn’t get anywhere without using his name, and when I won an award at a conference in Singapore for my research, he refused to make time for my moderation meeting at the end of the year. An employer told me that she was featured in two magazines that week and when I told her that I also was published in a magazine that week, she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. When I told a manager that one of the field staff was sexually harassing me, he wouldn’t do anything about it unless he heard it from my team leader, who wouldn’t damage the staff member’s reputation because he helped him create the camp he was leading.

Sitting at that table, I knew my friends and my partner loved me and were only trying to make me realise that I deserved more than to be taken advantage of in my industry. They were only trying to make sure that I chose a path that I could be proud of walking down, instead of moping down the path, kicking tin cans and wearing a big oversized hoodie.

Cut to the next day where I turned off my alarm, rolled over and slept some more into the late morning. I lazily walked to the couch and lied down to mope the rest of the day away when I received a message from my friend who was stuck in her home town in Spain, waiting for immigration to tell her if she could continue her field work with Malaysian elephants. She was sad too and had been waiting for five months without knowing if she could go back to her work.

This is when I realised that I need to be a part of an uplifting community full of like-minded people who are trying whatever they can to spend the rest of their lives doing the things that they love. I want to come together with all the other struggling people in my field who are just like me, waiting for visas, waiting for someone to pay them for their work, waiting to finish their degree and not knowing what comes next. I want to know I’m not alone and feel okay with the path that I’m taking and the decisions I am making to save global ecosystems. I want to come together to become the change we all want to see.

And so it was created. We are the lonely conservationists.

Follow Jessie on Instagram @ecolojesst

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