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Intern Success Stories: From Working With The Perhentian Eco-Education Project To Sun Bear Conservation In Borneo

Intern Success Stories: From Working with the Perhentian Eco-Education Project to Sun Bear Conservation in Borneo

4 mins read

Next up in our Intern Success Story series is Nicholas Wei Chang Tan, a Malaysian student who interned with Ecoteer in 2014. For 3 months Nicholas acted as the Team Leader at the Perhentian Eco-Education Project. He worked closely with the local Malay community on the paradise island of Perhentian Kecil.

Since assisting with our community and environmental education project, Nicholas has taken his career down a slightly different path. Yet he still remains in the ecology and conservation field. He previously held an esteemed position at a Sun Bear Conservation Centre before securing a place on his dream masters degree abroad. Nick shares his experience with Ecoteer, the skills he acquired, his work conserving sun bears, and how his internship helped him in his goals.  

What were you involved in at the Perhentian Eco-Education Project?

7 adults and one child standing in front of a painted mural map

Mural panting the map of Perhentian in the village

As Team Leader, I worked side by side with the project manager making sure the project runs smoothly and we contribute to the local community in the best way. My responsibilities included scheduling activities every week, liaising with the community and organising events involving both the locals and the volunteers.

Together with my colleagues, we managed volunteers in our weekly activities with the locals, such as teaching English to school children and environmental awareness talks.

How did you contribute to the local community?

For me, especially as a Malaysian citizen myself, it was my utmost priority to instil the importance of nature in young minds who will become pillars of our future. Throughout my 3 months I believe that I made some real progress in this goal. It was amazing to see both the children and adults learn about the environment and make a difference for the better.

Also, the team and I worked hard to try and create a positive relationship between volunteers and the locals. We were involved in activities as small as painting in the village, to as big as starting the Perhentian Island Ladies Association (PILA) to engage local women in community tourism.

What was your most memorable parts of the internship?

The first thing that comes to mind is of course the location! Being stationed at the Perhentian fishing village, a beautiful island village hidden on the East Coast of Malaysia really made the whole internship. It was also a truly unforgettable learning experience working so closely with the local community. However despite being a Team Leader, I must admit that the true heroes were my colleagues, interns and volunteers. Without them I would not have gained all the vital skills in community conservation, teaching, logistics and management.

Since your internship what have you been getting up to?

8 students in a field with research equipment

A field trip during Nick’s Masters programme

After my time in the Perhentians, I joined the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as a Centre Coordinator. The year after, I started my Masters degree in Applied Ecology abroad. This allowed me to meet people from around the world, and finally brought me to do my own research project on African wildlife in South Africa.

Tell us about working in sun bear conservation

The centre is quite small with only 20 staff members when I was there, and so almost everyone had to be involved in all aspects of the centre. I took part in bear husbandry, rehabilitation work and managed volunteers and interns. In fact, administration, designing booklets and outreach programs to rural schools was also my responsibility.

What was your favourite part of working there?

A group of adults posing with a sign advertising the Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Nicholas’ team at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The team is incredibly passionate and dedicated to wildlife conservation. So for me, working with the easy-going and fun staff that shared the same conservation values as me made the experience particularly memorable. At the same time working with these gentle bears was a huge plus. Especially whilst being surrounded by lush green forest.

Has Ecoteer helped you in your career path?

Ecoteer has definitely contributed a major part of my career development. Especially through communication skills, people skills and problem solving. It’s also provided me with many connections in the field of conservation. So much so, I still remain in touch with the project and the people involved. In fact I even visited the project again earlier this month.

I’m unsure I’d have been accepted into my position at the centre or my Masters programme without my experience with Ecoteer. I am very grateful.

What advice would you give to others interested in conservation and ecology?

My advice to future conservationists out there is to always do what you are passionate about. If you fail, try again and if it’s hard, try harder. I think that Ecoteer is definitely a great place to start. The Perhentian Eco-Education Project is still growing and has lots of potential that the right intern or volunteer can unlock!

If you’re interested in interning to gain employability skills, check out our current internship opportunities. Or, if you’d like to volunteer with the Perhentian Eco-Education Project in 2019, get in touch!

Have you interned or volunteered with us in the past and have an inspirational story? We’d love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us, and share your success! 

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